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Carolina Panthers: Draft Pick Potential

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COMMENTARY | Following the 2012 season, the Carolina Panthers had a number of problems to fix. The Panthers finished the season 7-9, despite being ranked 10th in total defense and 12th in total offense. I already addressed the first problem in my previous article, "Cam Newton: Why Can't He Win?", the answer being Cam Newton's penchant for turnovers and rash decision making late in games. That problem, however, can be solved internally through good coaching and increased experience. The glaring holes in the Panthers' roster, such as at defensive tackle or wide receiver, must be solved by bringing in new players. The Panthers failed to bring in any big-name players during free agency, unless of course you consider Ted Ginn Jr. a big name, so the draft became the only option. So, how exactly did my beloved Panthers do in the draft?

With their first and second round picks, the Panthers aggressively addressed their biggest need, defensive tackle, by selecting Star Lutulelei of Utah and Kawann Short of Purdue. Each player brings a unique skill set to the table, and if they are applied correctly, then they could potentially be very effective and could serve as an ideal complement to the monster duo of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Lutulelei was a stud in college and was considered a top-3 pick before the scare over his heart condition caused teams to shy away. Star is known primarily as a run defender, a big, strong defender who forces double teams with his strength and quickness. Look for him to become the rock up front, maintaining the line of scrimmage and creating one-on-one matchups on the outside.

Short, on the other hand, is a hyper-athletic lineman who can disrupt plays in the backfield with his pass-rushing ability and push the pocket as well. The combination of Short and Lutulelei, as well as the continued contribution of rotational players Sione Fua and Dwan Edwards, should give Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy an opportunity to increase their already impressive sack numbers. With these new additions, the Panthers boast a truly fearsome front line, one with 40+ sack potential, as well as a top-5 front seven when paired with the stellar linebacking trio of Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and a healthy Jon Beason.

Despite these stark improvements to the defensive line, the Panthers still failed to address two glaring needs. While the Panthers only had 5 draft picks they still failed to use the 3 they didn't use on Short and Lutulelei to address their holes in the secondary and their perpetual lack of a #2 receiver opposite Steve Smith. Defensive back is easily the weakest position group, especially with the recent departure of Chris Gamble. Josh Norman has potential and Captain Munnerlynn has some playmaking ability, but neither of them have the coverage ability to be starting cornerbacks in the NFL at this point. Charles Godfrey is the only credible defender in the secondary, but his play cannot overshadow the deficiencies that surround him.

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers yet again passed on drafting a true #2 receiver. I'm not sure if they have trust issues after the Dwayne Jarrett debacle, but they need a true #2 if they want to turn Cam Newton into a franchise quarterback and get Steve Smith into the Hall of Fame. The Panthers did sign Ted Ginn Jr., but Ginn has failed to live up to the expectations of a 7th overall pick and has instead devolved into return specialist. Neither he nor Brandon Lafell are fit to line up opposite of Steve Smith, which will only engender more turnovers from Cam Newton and cause Smith alter his routes due to frustration from constant double teams. While the Panther's defense, especially run defense and pass rush, will improve this year, their refusal to address their holes on offense keep the Panthers from garnering a winning record. 8-8 is my prediction, but I'm counting on the Cardiac Cats to prove me wrong.

Rich has been following the Carolina Panthers for over 10 years.

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