I've decided to resurface with a 2 part NFL Draft special, this initial post will detail the Panther's needs and some players to watch out for on day 1 (rounds 1-3). The next part, with an ETA of some time this week. Anyways, on to the major needs of the Panthers (in order of importance):
Safety: A MAJOR need, or at least I feel like this is a major need. Mike Minter is the patriarch of the defense, and has taken a pay cut and decided this will be his last season, and he's the good safety. Last year, the free safety (we'll call Minter FS and the off safety SS for this exercise), was a platoon of Shaun Williams and Colin Branch. (Essentially the FS and SS are interchangable, at least within the Panthers defense) Anyhow, with Minter gone next season an upgrade at the SS and potential replacement for Minter is necessary if not now, next year. And I, and hopefully the organization, will realize that it would be better to find that player now and start him for a year next to Minter. In the wings waits former 4th rounder Nate Salley who has potential, it would be a pleasant suprise if he turns into a starting caliber player for next year.
Who? Laron Landry LSU (top 10 range), Reggie Nelson UF (15-20th range), Micheal Griffin Texas (early 2nd), Brandon Meriweather Miami (2nd), Eric Weddle Utah (2nd), Tanard Jackson (CB/S) 'Cuse (late 2nd)
Tight End: After safety there are more ?'s about the plans of the team. Safety is the most well defined postion in terms of need, Minter WILL be gone next year and a fill in is needed. Tight End, however, is more of a question mark. The new Offensive Coordinator, Jeff Davidson, loves passing to TEs and currently only last year's second day pick Jeff King fits that description. So, assuming Davidson has his way, another TE should be in the Day 1 draft plans, however, they may just use what they have.
Who? Greg Olsen Miami (15-25th), Zach Miller ASU (2nd Round), Ben Patrick Delaware (3rd?), Matt Speath Minn. (3rd?)
Linebacker: And the questions mount. How will Dan Morgan come back? How will James Anderson play? Will Seward be able to fill in if Morgan gets injured. This position should also be addressed on the first day, though not necessarily early on day 1. As of now, the starting 3 look like: Davis, Morgan, and Diggs. The main issue is the Panthers would like someone who can play middle and outside, so that if Morgan regains his health the draft spot wouldn't be wasted, Willis is one of the few that fits that mold. If Willis is around at 14, the team would be hard pressed not to jump on him being the best talent though not necessarily the highest need position. **Ok, this is why I wanted to have a blog, 2 years ago, I said I'd like us to pick up USC Linebacker Lofa Tatupu if we could to strengthen the LB core, the response was, he's too small, not worth it, not a huge need. He turned out to be a BEAST. Now, out on a limb I go again. JON ABBATE, ILB, Wake Forest. I would love for the Panthers to nab him in the 4th round. He has a strong strong motor, and tackles VERY well, and at worst would be an excellent special teams player. I don't care WHERE he went to school, he lead a resurgent Wake defense against one of the premiere conferences in the ACC.
Who? Patrick Willis Ole Miss (top 15, rumored gone at 13), Paul Posluszny Penn St (15-20), Lawrence Timmons FSU (1st), David Harris UM (1st), John Beason Miami (late 1st), Brandon Siler UF (1st/2nd), Stephen Nicholas USF (3rd)
Defensive Line: Did you say questions? There are plenty of questions here. Mike Rucker is coming off surgery that could really dampen the end of his career. Also, Kris Jenkins could very well be traded for an extra pick. If this happens, expect it to be draft day, and I'd hope it wouldn't be for anything less than a late 2nd round pick. This would allow the Panthers to address more needs immediately by taking a small step back on the DLine (Maake & Damione). Anyways, assuming this does happen, DT might need to be addressed on day 2. On day 1, if a prospect is there with good value (slipping too far down the board) at the DE position, it may be addressed, but don't expect it.
Who? Jamaal Anderson Ark (top 15/20), Adam Carriker Neb (1st), Jarvis Moss UF (late 1st), Anthony Spencer Purdue (2nd)
Kick/Punt Returner: This was, aside from 3rd down percentage, the worst part of the Panthers game last year. Hopefully a KR/WR can be found some time in the later rounds (5th-7th), though if Ted Ginn was around in the 1st, it would make the Panthers think twice since the recieving core beyond Steve Smith is either aging or not living up to expectations.
Who? Ted Ginn OSU (15-20), Jason Hill Wazzu (early 3rd), Jamalle Cornelius UF (5th)
In summary, my Panthers Draft Board for round 1:
Laron Landry S (1%) - has to be the top prospect, impact player at position of need, will likely be gone by the 14th pick
Patrick Willis LB (9%) - ditto as above essentially, would fill the MLB/OLB void, but is rumored to be going to St. Louis if he's around at 13.
Greg Olsen TE (30%) - a possibility, but the focus of the Panthers' drafts is usually defense
Reggie Nelson S (40%) - this is the most likely pick, position of need and Nelson isn't that far of a drop from Landry
Ted Ginn WR (20%) - a wild card that would spice up the Panthers' offense and definitely turn the special teams around, this may be the pick if it is decided that value can be had at S or LB later in the draft
Lastly, what I'd like:
1st (14) - Ted Ginn (hey, i don't have accountability, and offense is COOL)
2nd (45)- Brandon Meriweather (can't go wrong drafting from "The U")
2nd (trade for Jenkins) - Zach Miller (Jeff gets his 2nd new weapon in as many rounds)
3rd (83) - Quinn Pitcock (DT OSU) or Quentin Moses (DE UGA) - Assuming Jenkins is traded (as I do here), addressing the D-Line should be an issue
4th (118) - Jon Abbate (I'll put off drafting a killer LB until next year, I have faith in Morgan, Anderson and Seward, and as is the policy with groceries BUY LOCAL)
5th-7th (155, ???, ???) - Offensive Linemen Prospects (2 please), an extra LB prospect couldn't hurt either
I got a lot of my info from the Charlotte Observer and NFL Draft Countdown, both quality sites. Also, I'm a big FO fan, so I'll go down on record agreeing with this article, saying that Jamarcus Russell, while not a huge bust, will not be worth the #1 overall pick.