NFL News & Analysis

3 draft needs for the Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 26: Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers runs the ball against the New England Patriots in the 1st quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on August 26, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Carolina Panthers are one of the rare examples of a team selecting in the top 10 in the NFL draft without having a ton of needs. That does not mean that they have elite or above-average players at every position, but the team’s core is extremely young and general manager Dave Gettleman will probably give these inexperienced players some more time to develop before thinking about replacing them. The Panthers have already had a good offseason so far as they were able to bring in some veterans for positions where they looked thin, including edge defender, safety and cornerback.

Here's a look at the areas the Panthers can most improve come draft day.

Need: Offensive tackle

This offseason does not seem to favor teams with a need at offensive tackle as neither the free-agent market nor the draft offers promising options. However, the Panthers have already tried to address the position by the signing of former Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, but Kalil’s form in recent years does not suggest that he can be a long-term solution. In addition, the right tackle position is also uncertain as Michael Oher has been unable to replicate his early-career form in recent seasons and Daryl Williams is still inexperienced and was not extremely convincing when he got on the field last year.

Early-round target: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

The eighth selection might be slightly too early to pick an offensive tackle in this draft, but if there is someone that could go that high, it is probably Wisconsin’s Ramczyk. Although he played only one season at the FBS level, Ramczyk is considered one of the very few complete offensive tackles in this year’s class as he performed just as well in pass protection as he did in run blocking. Furthermore, the former Wisconsin Badger allowed just 12 total pressures – including one sack – on 373 pass-blocking snaps in 2016.

Mid- or late-round target: Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA

While McDermott has flashed plenty of ability at UCLA, the biggest knock on him has been consistency as he has not been able to make the same, tough blocks or protect the quarterback on a consistent basis in college. However, he has the athletic ability to start in the NFL down the road, especially with the way he can make blocks on the move. McDermott is still a work-in-progress and NFL teams will have a lot to teach him regarding technique and how to be consistent and not have games like the one he had against Texas A&M in 2016, where he gave up 11 pressures in a single game.

Need: Wide receiver

The Panthers let veteran wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. leave in free agency and now have two young – and somewhat inconsistent – pass-catchers atop the depth chart in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Neither player have really lived up to pre-draft expectations have been struggling with dropped passes; although, Benjamin improved in that regard in 2016. As a result, the Panthers might be looking to add a receiver in the draft to help out quarterback Cam Newton and take some of the pressure off of tight end Greg Olsen, who has been the team’s No. 1 pass-catcher in recent years.

Early-round target: Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Jones is probably the most unspectacular wide receiver in this year’s class and is also a complete opposite of Benjamin and Funchess. While Benjamin and Funchess both ranked in the top 25 in yards per reception and can create big plays, Jones is more comfortable in working the underneath areas and moving the chains with short receptions. In addition, the former East Carolina player has probably the best hands in this year’s class as he dropped only six of his 164 catchable targets in 2016. As a result, he could be the sure-handed underneath weapon that the Panthers have not had in recent years.

Mid- or late-round target: Jalen Robinette, WR, Air Force

Although Robinette is a raw developmental project at this point, his tape and playing style makes him an intriguing option for Carolina. The former Air Force wide receiver’s skill set does not differ significantly from Benjamin’s and Funchess’, but he can provide depth and even earn playing time as a deep threat. Robinette led all college wide receivers with 5.48 yards per route run as he caught all 17 of his catchable deep targets and gained 699 yards on them. The level of competition and the limited route tree he ran remain concerns, but Robinette’s size and ability to go up and catch jump passes can earn him playing time very early in the NFL.

Need: Running back

While Jonathan Stewart has been a steady presence in Carolina’s backfield over the past few years and is still going strong, he just reached the critical age of 30 and is expected to experience some sort of decline over the next couple seasons. In addition, Fozzy Whittaker has never really been more than a career backup, and Cameron Artis-Payne hasn’t come into his own, so the Panthers might be already looking for a successor to Stewart in this year’s draft. Fortunately for them, the 2017 NFL draft has one of the better running back class in the past years and it includes several future NFL starters.

Early-round target: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

The Panthers should be looking for a playmaker on offense and the best player for that role might be McCaffrey. Viewed by some as a gimmick player or a third-down back, McCaffrey is a lot more than that as he can be a lead back and can also contribute and make plays as a wide receiver or even as a kick or punt returner. McCaffrey is the most elusive running back in this year’s class as he forced a total of 64 missed tackles in 2016 and can form a lethal duo with Cam Newton in Carolina’s creative running game.

Mid- or late-round target: Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

The large number of elite runners in this class pushes players like Hood down the board and makes him available even in the later rounds. Hood, a local product, may actually be the perfect successor to Jonathan Stewart as their running style are very similar in that both can gain yards during contact and can take advantage of bad tackle attempts. While Stewart has better speed, Hood can excel on runs between the tackles as he averaged 3.7 yards after contact over the past three years. In addition, he could get past first contact on 37.5 percent of his runs in 2016, which ranks fifth in this year’s running back class.

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