Carolina Panthers: A Look at the Pre-Draft State of the Team-Part 1

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers looks on during warm ups prior to their NFL game against the Oakland Raiders on November 27, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers looks on during warm ups prior to their NFL game against the Oakland Raiders on November 27, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

 De White breaks down what the Carolina Panthers look like heading into the Draft.

To begin, two quotes from Carolina Panthers General Manager Marty Hurney stood out in his pre-draft press conference last Wednesday:

"“We feel good about what we’ve done in the offseason; now we just have to continue”.“Coming in we wanted to address offensive and defensive line depth and we wanted to put weapons around Cam (Newton) and help our skill positions. That really hasn’t changed, and the draft is just a continuation of everything we’ve done in the offseason”."

So, what can be said of the team’s pre-draft moves and what may come as the next step in roster building draws nearer? Variety, depth, improvement, all can be used to describe the moves taken by Hurney and the Panther’s front office. And honestly, the team isn’t as far away from being contenders as some may think.

In an unpopular opinion, the offensive line isn’t in shambles like it was last year. The unit looks to strengthen its core with re-signing a healthy Daryl Williams, signing Matt Paradis, bringing back promising guard Brendan Mahon after injury, returning guard/center Tyler Larson to a reserve role, signing AAF stars center Parker Collins, tackle Brandon Greene, and guard Kitt Collins, as well as and returning Taylor Moton, Trai Turner, and Greg Van Roten. To be honest, a starting line of Moton, Larsen/Mahon/Collins/Van Roten, Paradis, Trai Turner and Daryl Williams could be highly successful. Moton, Paradis, Turner, and Williams have shown that when healthy they can all be tremendous assets for the Panther’s front line, but the only area of concern would be the left guard position.

I truly believe that Mahon could be the perfect on-roster fit for the team since he showed tremendous promise before injury robbed him of a rookie season. Larsen and Van Roten have proved to be serviceable players who can and should start in the event of an injury, but their level of play isn’t on the level of NFL starter at this point in their careers. Call me crazy, but the Panthers could be better than average as of right now. The insurance of adding another player in the event that Williams departs next year would be understandable, but what if he decides to stay again? And what if the team decides to hold off on drafting for depth until next year when they could possibly draft a first-round talent at offensive tackle?

The same could be said of the defensive line. After signing Bruce Irvin, the Panthers now employ a serviceable veteran who fits what they can do defensively with multiple fronts and someone who could possibly stave off a rookie defensive end for the year. Still, the possibility of adding another game-changing end seems too much to ignore.

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Sure, Irvin could give similar or better results than the newly retired Peppers, who managed 22 combined tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in his final year, but the Panthers sorely need a player who can bring youth as well as raw talent to the end position. Mario Addison was the defensive line stat leader for the Panthers last year with 9 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, but the 31 year old won’t be expected to continuously lead the team in sacks at age 31. Not to mention, the 9 of the team’s 35 total sacks only tied Addison for 24th place in the NFL. But to be blunt, the Panthers need more. Nine sacks as the team leader is unacceptable for a team with playoff hopes. The Kansas City Chiefs finished the season with two players in the top 10 in sacks and most of the successful teams had at least two players with at least 6 sacks each. So improvement is definitely the course of action for defensive end.

At defensive tackle, the Panthers are decent. With Kawann Short and Dontari Poe leading the pack, the Panthers should hope to improve more in the interior. Poe’s arrival left much to the imagination as his level of play didn’t match expectations or even match the previous year’s stats. Vernon Butler didn’t show enough improvement to warrant more time as well. The Panthers did manage to bring back 32 year-old Kyle Love while signing AAF talent T.J. Barnes and free agent Destiny Vaeao. Barnes, a veteran who’s bounced around the league probably offers the team possibly a camp body, but Vaeao is a soon to be three-year player who had enough potential to stick around the Philadelphia Eagles for two years (including the Super Bowl winning team) on their practice squad.

A foundation is there for the team to get better. Nonetheless, the Panthers’ 35 sack total were abysmal and had the team finishing 27th in the league. Leading defensive tackle Kawaan Short only finished with 3 sacks and the defensive tackle unit only managed 6 total. Subsequently, the team can and should look to improve in the draft. Carolina has always been a defensive led team, and returning the front seven to what it was in the past should only catapult the team into contending status.