Nov 11, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers tackle Byron Bell (77) is introduced before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers Still Left With Holes to Fill in 2014

Okay, I just wanted to officially be the first person to write about the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. Seriously though, after the draft every year, people look at their favorite team’s draft and wonder about the positions that were NOT filled, and what might be done about that.

The Carolina Panthers hit their defensive line needs early and often, using their 1st and 2nd round picks on defensive tackles. They also brought in a versatile linebacker for depth/spot starting/special teams, an offensive guard who should help with depth there and a fast running back from Oregon U’s “Quack Attack.”

From what I can see up to this point is that the offense was, for lack of a better word, rather neglected at areas of need.

Yes, Edmund Kugbila will probably back up Geoff Hangartner and/or Amini Silatolu, but with Silatolu’s “arrested development” coming from Midwestern State last year, I have to wonder how much Kugbila from Valdosta State will contribute in 2013. I was hoping he’d be able to start, freeing up Geoff Hangartner to be able to be the offensive line’s “sixth man” who can play any interior spot. Recall, he was moved from RG to C when Ryan Kalil went down with a knee injury.

Kenjon Barner could have been the best player available when he was chosen in the 6th round, but he’s in a crowded backfield. He’s a pick for the future as much as anything.

Jan 3, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Kenjon Barner (24) is pursued by Kansas State Wildcats linebacker Arthur Brown (4) in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

What was not helped at all was the offensive tackle position. As much as I dislike saying it, Byron Bell needs to be replaced at right tackle, and right tackles aren’t quite as hard to find nor so sought-after as left tackles are. The team has Jordan Gross, a former Pro-Bowler, but he’s not getting any younger and Bell just isn’t getting the job done.

With Amini Silatolu solidifying his left guard position in a best-case scenario this fall, the team gets back All-Pro Ryan Kalil at center, allowing Hangartner to slide back to the right guard spot. Hangartner is best described as a versatile journeyman. He has his place with that versatility as I mentioned, but it’s probably best used from the bench.

The Carolina Panthers, with their backfield talent and dual-threat quarterback, would best be suited to be a power running team that employs the read/option just enough to keep defenses on their toes and honest first. With the running game always a threat, the play-action vertical passing game will open up more. That’s the ideal world in Charlotte.

Big issues other than the offensive line, however. Greg Olson is a top-ten TE receiving threat but below-average at blocking and that was an area the Panthers were hurting last year. Perhaps they can pick up a TE that can run hitch routes and catch it when signing UFAs (undrafted free agents) and get some help blocking there, but the guards still concern me. Both of them.

Wide receiver should be the position the Panthers hit most often in the 2014 draft, period. I obviously can’t say that David Gettis will break out and have a 1,000 receiving yard season. Steve Smith is slowing down and that became more obvious last year. He’s high on the pay scale, so 2013 could be his last season with the team unless he rebounds with some explosive scoring plays, and even at that, he’s closing in on that magical age of 35 for wide receivers where production tends to drastically decline.

Dec 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell (11) gets tackled by New Orleans Saints defensive back Rafael Bush (25) and defensive back Elbert Mack (44) during first quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers have a ton of #2 wideouts and none have shown they are going to step up and be a threat. The cash-strapped team got burner Ted Ginn, jr. on the cheap, and he is an electrifying kick returner, but there’s a reason he came on the cheap. The former top-ten draft pick by the Miami Dolphins never has come close to matching production with talent, and he lacks in a few specific areas that wasn’t really known until he actually arrived in the NFL – high top-end speed, yes. Below-average acceleration, however, means he has to build up a head of steam to reach top speed.

Then there’s his hands. Let’s not even go there. He’s a kick returner and might make an occasional big play as a receiver but drops balls and isn’t consistent.

WR Joe Adams was hoped to be a slot WR with dangerous feet but can’t hang on to the ball. He’s got a long way to go.

I don’t want to be too down on this team because as it is now, they could become a defensive team built to stop the run and harass the quarterback, but do lack a ball hawk at safety. Eyes on D.J. Campbell this year, mark my words. He’ll be the key to any free agent/draft considerations as he tries to hold on to the starting spot he got during that mad stretch run the Panthers put together at the end of 2012.

Aside from a truly outstanding outside linebacker or shut-down corner that all teams would love, the Panthers seem pretty well set on defense so long as the rookies at DT approach expectations.

The needs will be heavy on offense. Frankly, they could draft replacements for every last one of them with the idea that Smitty can certainly still play, but he’s no longer the dominant #1 WR he used to be. I think David Gettis is worth keeping this year to see what he can finally do when he’s 100% healthy again, but the receiving cupboard is rapidly becoming bare.

Without regards to any pickups they’ll make between now and the draft next season, I’d say “needs” right now, more or less in area of importance, are:

RT, WR, OG, WR, TE2, WR

depending on how 2013 goes, add FS and the other OG spot to the list.

If the guards come through and Bell doesn’t completely fall apart, the Panthers could be a ball-control offense with an unpredictable, dangerous QB with a defense tough against the run and can apply pressure with a number of defensive ends and push the pocket with strong young defensive tackles.

With the talent the Panthers DO have at key positions in such a scheme, that could well equal the playoffs.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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