CAROLINA PANTHERS / 2013 TEAM NEEDS
There’s a lot to like about the Panthers’ potential on this side, but the production needs to be stronger. QB Cam Newton started slowly, the run game was inconsistent and the offensive line had holes. New coordinator Mike Shula is expected to keep much of the offense the same to make the transition smoother for Newton, but Shula might be asked to run the ball more consistently.
TOP 3 OFFENSIVE NEEDS
OL — The Panthers had trouble at right tackle all season in 2012 and probably must develop their eventual replacement at left tackle for Jordan Gross, who enters his 11th season in 2013. Byron Bell just can’t cut it on the other side, and Newton took a lot of big hits last season.
WR — For several seasons, the Panthers have needed to develop a proper complement to Steve Smith. It appears they’ve done that with Brandon LaFell, who stepped up with a 677-yard, four-TD season in ‘12, but more is needed. It’s not as glaring a need as it once was, but the Panthers could use a deep threat and a bigger receiver. Smith turns 34 in May, too.
RB — Hard to believe, right? Well, consider that DeAngelo Williams, due to have a salary-cap figure of $8.2 million, could be cut, and that Jonathan Stewart has been injury-prone. Stewart isn’t going anywhere — the Panthers actually would lose cap space if they cut him, and he was their best runner down the stretch. Figure the team drafts more of a speed back if it indeed must move on from Williams.
Coordinator Sean McDermott will return along with head coach Ron Rivera to build on a defensive performance that was fairly encouraging by season’s end. More youth is needed, but the potential became clear following a slow start once first-round rookie Luke Kuechly was moved to middle linebacker. Assuming the salary-cap cuts are not too gruesome, the Panthers could remain solid defensively in 2013.
TOP 3 DEFENSIVE NEEDS
DT — The defense has been weak up the middle for years, and the team could use a pair of studs up front. Ron Edwards was a salary-cap victim. So that means a gap-eating nose tackle to help shield the linebackers would be desired. But so would a penetrating three-technique with more juice than Dwan Edwards has at this stage of his career.
DB — Help probably is needed at both cornerback and safety, with at least one painful cut coming. That is likely to be Chris Gamble, their best cornerback, whose $10.9 million cap figure is just too unwieldy. Cutting S Haruki Nakamura would save about $1.8 million and is almost a no-brainer. The defense allowed a slew of big pass plays — often in crucial times of games — and must find better cover men.
LB — If Jon Beason is a June 1 cut, this is a bigger need. But either way, a little more youth and speed is needed outside with Beason and Thomas Davis not always proving to be healthy. Kuechly was a great first-round pick, but it’s not likely they’d use a pick that high at linebacker once more.
2012 DRAFT REWIND
1st round (9): MLB Luke Kuechly / Boston College (GP/GS: 16/16)
Skinny: Proved to be a piece team can count on, build around.
2nd round (40): OG Amini Silatolu / Midwestern State (Texas) (GP/GS: 15/15)
Skinny: Promising, but has to cut down on mental errors.
4th round (103): DE Frank Alexander / Oklahoma (GP/GS: 16/3)
Skinny: Impressively worked way into DE rotation.
4th round (104): WR-RS Joe Adams / Arkansas (GP/GS: 9/0)
Skinny: Forced to re-earn coaches’ trust after fumbling issues.
5th round (143): CB Josh Norman / Coastal Carolina (GP/GS: 16/12)
Skinny: Eventually played his way out of a starting job.
6th round (207): P Brad Nortman / Wisconsin (GP/GS: 16/0)
Skinny: Had a decent finish after some very shaky moments.
7th round (216): FS D.J. Campbell / California (GP/GS: 5/4)
Skinny: Showed ability to fill in nicely when injuries mounted.
SUMMARY: Jury is still out on most of these picks, but Kuechly is clearly the long-term solution at position of leadership.
Pro Football Weekly's 2013 Draft Guide is now available at stores where magazines are sold. It can also be ordered by calling 1-800-FOOTBALL.