Sep 8, 2012; Winston Salem, NC, USA North Carolina Tar Heels guard Jonathan Cooper (64) plays in the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB

2013 Carolina Panthers Draft - Post-Combine Thoughts

As usual, the 2013 NFL combine version helped some in their draft status – like Margus Hunt, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Sharrif Floyd – while it saw others’ status fall – like Manti T’eo. Gavin Escobar, and DaMontre` Moore. For those who underperformed expectations, their respective pro days will be doubly important so the combine is all we have to go on so far.

But what does it mean for the Carolina Panthers, who have only two picks in the first three rounds?

Going into the 2013 NFL draft, the Panthers’ brass has to know they either need to trade back to get another pick in the offensive lineman/front-seven-heavy class or do some creative drafting to get more than 2 starters out of it.

The Panthers have multiple holes on both sides of the ball, a problem not uncommon for a 7-9 team. It will be quite interesting to see what their ultimate plans are, but with all the movement so far at the defensive tackle position, I can’t help but think they want to wait and get that DT they need in the second round – at the earliest.

Team General Manager David Gettleman has so far made the position a priority. He signed Colin Cole in his first move. Cole is inexpensive, is coming off a bad injury, and has low expectations coming in. The payoff would be if he can return to the form that made him a second-round pick out of college in the first place; if Gettleman is wrong about him, well, the minimal financial investment will still be worthwhile. If he’s got the upside the Panthers are hoping for, he and re-signed starter D’Wan Edwards might be able to at least make their interior DL “average.”

With Luke Kuechly behind them, that could well be enough, but they’ll still want someone from this talented draft class.

If the Panthers are smart, and of course I think they are, they’ll probably want to pick off a player at 14 overall in an area where the draft is otherwise thin. There are very few top-tier players worth trading up for. There is no obvious #1 pick now that the Kansas City Chiefs have signed QB Alex Smith. They won’t be taking Geno Smith with their top pick now, and will probably take the top offensive tackle they have rated.

It looks like Cordarrelle Patterson should now go in the top ten. If not, I’ll be shocked if he gets by the Dolphins at 12 – even if they sign Mike Wallace. If Patterson is taken before the Dolphins pick, they could well go for California WR Keenan Allen, who didn’t work out at the combine.

However, if somehow one of them makes it to #14, the Panthers should grab him and not look back. As I’ve said a number of times, #1 WR Steve Smith has lost a step and is aging at 33. Cam Newton needs another target other than he and Greg Olsen, and in a draft that’s thin at WR, they may be targeting one of those two kids I mentioned…if they last that long.

Barring that, there are two guards that they should take a good, long look at.

I’ve been pining for Chance Warmack since the Super Bowl ended, but despite a slow 40-time and not looking particularly athletic at the combine, the game tape doesn’t lie. He’s got great feet and is quick enough to set up his blocking angles and is a monster mauler, especially in the running game.

The problem is that he probably won’t make it out of the top ten. He’s THAT good. At worst, the Tennessee Titans should grab him at #10.

There’s another guard that moved up the scale at the combine that could be around at #14.

His name is Jonathan Cooper, a guard from UNC. He’s more athletic than Warmack is and might actually fit Carolina’s read/option system better. He’ll be faster in pulling and getting outside, and since it appears the Panthers will go into 2013 with their backfield intact, the offense SHOULD evolve into a smashmouth, power running game. It’s how the team is built, given the personnel they have right now on the roster.

Cooper is equally good in run-blocking and pass-blocking, which is another big plus in his column. The downside? His lower-body strength needs some improvement. He did have 35 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds, which is quite adequate for an offensive lineman, but he needs to build those legs. His vertical leap was only 27 inches – less than yours truly could jump at the same age.

That’s easy enough to fix in the weight room, so with some work there, Cooper would make a great addition to Carolina’s interior offensive line. They could use a right tackle too, but there’s a big drop-off after the top 3 in this year’s draft and they will almost certainly be gone by #14 overall.

Given the depth on defense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Panthers wait for round two to pick up help there.

If the dominoes fall the way it looks like they may, Jonathan Cooper could well hear his name called by Roger Goodell while the Carolina Panthers are on the clock.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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