Feb 24, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin runs with the ball after making a catch during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers Could Be Frustrated in April NFL Draft

Yesterday I posted a snapshot of what the defense looks like right now, and there are just too many holes on both sides of the ball to address in the April Draft.

With their third-round pick in the San Francisco 49’ers hands with last year’s draft day trade-up to grap DE Frank Alexander from Oklahoma and a necessarily quiet free agency period due to salary cap woes, Carolina Panthers’ General Manager David Gettleman is in a tough spot from a lot of directions.

It looks like there are too many needs to address purely through the draft, so the team will probably exit the draft wanting for at least a couple of positions.

A complicating factor is the breadth of talent along both the offensive and defensive lines in this year’s draft class. The Panthers have the 14th overall pick, and the top three offensive tackles will probably be gone by that time. There’s a drop-off after that, so their top pick probably will not be a tackle…even if they’re looking for a right tackle. Current LT Jordan Gross is still one of the better left tackles in the league.

Feb 23, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Chance Warmack does a foot work drill during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Guard play was a huge issue even though the team drafted Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State with their high second round pick last year and unless he makes huge strides, he’s been a liability especially in the passing game. He has the talent to be a big success, but he needs to get it all together – and fast.

Whomever happens to be playing the right guard spot is average at best, as the line got shuffled around due to center Ryan Kalil’s injury. Even when he’s healthy, they need help at guard. Alabama guard Chance Warmack would be wonderful but he’s also no secret, coming from the BCS national championship team last year and will probably be the first guard in years to be drafted in the top ten. UNC guard Jonathan Cooper is moving up the draft boards nicely and I’ve seen him mocked at #17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers so he would be around when Carolina picks.

WR Cordarrelle Patterson may be gone, but California WR Keenan Allen, who is injured and hasn’t been able to work out, was a playmaker on a team with poor QB play so production is a strength of his. At this time, it’s unsure if he’ll be at 100% for the season opener, so he’s been sliding down the draft boards.

If the Panthers are patient, they could possibly take him but they need help immediately. If they want the most dynamic player in the draft, they could get West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, a 173 pound sub 4.3-speed slot receiver. But what about Joe Adams from last season? He spent most of the season in Rivera’s doghouse for fumblitis and that’s a quick way to stay off the field for a rookie.

Patterson and Allen are the two top-tier WRs that have the size and speed to play on the outside – the position opposite Steve Smith that Brandon LaFell hasn’t been able to stake a solid claim to. Either way, it looks like LaFell will start in 2013 by default. Since Smith has lost a step and isn’t getting any younger, the passing game isn’t evolving on the big plays.

The point to all of this is that the make-up of the draft and the Panthers’ position in that draft really is limiting what they can do. I’m sure they would love to trade down, but that means a team has to fall in love with a particular player AND be scared a team in front of them will take him.

That’s a possibility, however remote due to circumstances. The Panthers just aren’t drafting quite high enough (#7 or better this year) for a blue chipper to slide without good reason. It happens every year, but the “slider” is usually just taken by a team who sees the guy as “falling into their lap” – much like 2011 when Auburn DT Nick Fairley had fallen to Detroit, who already has Ndamukong Suh.

There’s a larger than usual talent pool on the defensive front seven and offensive lines, so teams needing those players will be wanting to trade down to get an extra body but will be facing the same problem.

The only way I see a team trading up to grab someone is if West Virginia QB Geno Smith gets by Arizona at #7 and Buffalo at #8. Realistically, I don’t see that happening. More probably, someone would trade up to #6 but that presents a unique problem too.

Cleveland previously traded down with the Falcons, who took WR Julio Jones. I don’t think the Browns will go for that again, so perhaps trading up to #5 with the Detroit Lions would do the trick to take Smith…but the Panthers won’t be involved with any of that. I just wanted to point out how the cards are looking, and the “Cleveland at 6″ with “trade possibility” just made me think of what happened a couple of years ago. Funny how they’re in that position again, but hey we’re talking about Cleveland!

Don’t forget – last season, Cam Newton set a team record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception with 176, so he’s learned to take care of the football a lot better. With their 4-headed running attack (D-Will, Stewart, Tolbert, and Newton), it would be wonderful to be able to upgrade both positions on the right side of the offensive line.

Hmm, sounds about like time to start looking into doing a mock draft!

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