Oct 7, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) runs as Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Ron Edwards (96) and linebacker Thomas Davis (58) defend during the first half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers Pre-Draft Needs - Part 1 of 4

Now that everyone is over the shock of the April Fool’s Day Cam Newton non-trade, it’s time to move on and, hopefully, not bring so many readers to the brink of a mental breakdown. Don’t worry, folks, Cam ain’t going anywhere. Boy, I had some of you going though, didn’t I? Even if just for a few minutes? I’ve always wanted to pull a good April Fools prank and I finally had the chance to do just that. I hope most of you got a chuckle out of it at least…after you were relieved that the post was a prank after all and Cam was staying put!

Yes, the Panthers have been necessarily quiet in free agency due to salary cap problems and that leaves them with many of the same holes to fill as last season came to a close. Here they are ranked in order of team need, and is certainly open for discussion:

1 – Defensive tackle: The good news for the Panthers here is that a top-3 DT WILL be available at #14 overall, and it’s quite possible the Panthers could have their choice of any of them if the draft board breaks the right way. The wild card here is Florida DT Sharrif Floyd. I’ve seen mock drafts having him go anywhere from #3 to the Raiders to #14 to the Panthers. Utah’s Star Lotulelei (low-too-luh-LAY) was just cleared by doctors for unrestricted activity after a phantom heart issue turned up at the NFL Scouting Combine. He or Floyd should be off the board first, and Star projects more as a 3-4 defensive end than does Floyd, who projects as a prototypical 3-technique DT (ie: a 4-3 DT).

Floyd and Sheldon Richardson are probably the two best fits for the Panthers’ 4-3 defense in the first round and Star Lotulelei’s medical clearance might actually be a blessing – meaning someone at #1-#13 may grab him, freeing up one additional draftee for the other teams to look at before the Panthers pick at 14. If Lotulelei is still there at 14 with Floyd and Richardson both gone, he could still get the job done as a 4-3 DT…but in that scenario, the Panthers may well look to another need area. Remember, the NFL is ALL about matchups, and a guy like a Kenny Vaccaro could be tempting to pick if he’s around with those DTs gone off the board as he’d be the best safety available and the Panthers need one.

Jan 2, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd (73) sacks Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) during the second half of the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you not familiar with what “0-technique,” etc means, here’s the secret:

You start directly over the center, and start counting at 0. Defending straight-up opposite the center is the zero-technique. Start counting outwards in either direction and count shoulders. For every shoulder on every player of the 5 in an offensive line, you add a number. Hence, playing on either shoulder of the center would be a “1-technique,” the center-side shoulder of the guard would be a “2-technique,” the outside shoulder of the guard, the one next to the tackle, is the “3-technique,” where a 4-3 DT usually lines up. Playing on the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle is the “5-technique’ and usually is where the end plays, depending. There are very few alignments that use even-numbered “techniques” so remember “zero” is straight-up over center…usually a nose tackle in a 3-4. “3-tech” is a 4-3 DT, and “5-tech” is an end. 0 = Nose Tackle (3-4). 3 = DT (4-3). 5 = end.

So, if the Panthers do NOT trade back, Sheldon Richardson of Missouri should be around and might fit the Panthers’ scheme better than Star. If the Panthers wait for the second round to nab a tackle, the talent level won’t drop off all that much there due to draft class depth at the position.

Just recently Gil Brandt, a writer at NFL.com and ex-Dallas Cowboys executive, talked about the draft class, and I’m paraphrasing:

He said the top-ten in this draft aren’t quite as good as the top-ten last year. QB Ryan Tannehill, who was the 3rd QB drafted last year going #8 overall to the Miami Dolphins, would be the #1 pick in this season’s draft, according to him. I tend to agree.

He went on to say that the top 15-50 or so in this year’s draft are slightly better than the same in last year’s draft. In short, he’s saying there were a few more projected pro-bowl players in the top half of last year’s NFL draft as opposed to this years’ draft, but that this year’s has a larger, broader “second-tier” type of player.

To be sure, from what I see, Alabama guard Chance Warmack is a future Pro-Bowl guard. Possibly the same for UNC guard Jonathan Cooper. No top-tier QBs are in this draft class, but a few linemen on both sides of the ball have great talent. There’s a lot of very good talent in the first two rounds as well.

Stay tuned for the rest in this series – just too much to write in one or two posts.

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