2013 Panthers draft needs: Defense in dire straits

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LAST SEASONRush Offense - 130.5 ypg (9th)
Pass Offense - 230.2 ypg (16th)
Total Offense - 360.7 ypg (12th)
Scoring Offense - 22.3 ppg (19th)
Rush Defense - 110.1 ypg (14th)
Pass Defense - 223.0 ypg (13th)
Total Defense - 333.1 ypg (10th)
Scoring Defense - 22.7 ppg (18th)
MOST PRESSING NEEDSOffense: Offensive line and receiver
Defense: Defensive tackle, secondary and linebacker

QUARTERBACK

Superman was hit with some Kryptonite in 2012, but even through difficult times, there's no question who the leader of this team is for the foreseeable future. Cam Newton is Carolina's quarterback for as long as he desires, if he remains healthy. Backup Derek Anderson is an unrestricted free agent and there's speculation that he might want to return to Cleveland again to play for former Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. But if the team can keep him, there's no need to add another young QB to the mix. So Newton, Anderson and Jimmy Clausen will be the three in Charlotte again.

RUNNING BACK

The Panthers have a ton of money wrapped up in their two main ball carriers, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Unfortunately, the two were outgained by their quarterback. Ouch. Given the fact the Panthers don't have a ton of money under the salary cap to address free agency, Williams was a prime candidate to be a cap casualty. But team management hasn't quite seen it that way as of yet. Stewart has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over his career and if he can stay healthy, he should get more touches. It's a complicated situation, but if Williams and Stewart are back, there's no reason to spend a pick on a RB (the team does not have a third-round selection).

WIDE RECEIVERThe Draft Board

2nd roundMarkus Wheaton, Oregon St. (5-11, 189)
Robert Woods, USC (6-0, 201)3rd roundDa'Rick Rogers, Tenn. Tech (6-2, 217)4th roundTavarres King, Georgia (6-0, 189)
Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (6-1, 194)5th roundAlec Lemon, Syracuse (6-1, 202)

At some point Steve Smith is going to expire, but that doesn't appear to be anytime in the near future. Brandon LaFell will fight the ball at times, but he's improving as a receiver each and every year. Louis Murphy may return and won't cost the Panthers an excessive amount of money. But, even if Murphy returns and Joe Adams hits on his potential, the team would be wise to add a dynamic talent from this receiver class.

Markus Wheaton can fly. He needs work on his hands, but he runs great routes and has learned the subtle nuances of selling routes to get open. The Panthers may be gun-shy about former USC receivers after striking out on Dwayne Jarrett, but Robert Woods is a gem in the second round. He's a diva and didn't like the fact that he was overshadowed by Marqise Lee last year, but taking a backseat may drive the former USC star to prove everyone wrong.

TIGHT END

Greg Olsen is one of Newton's favorite targets and remains one of the best tight ends in the NFC. Even though Gary Barnidge and Ben Hartsock are unrestricted free agents, the team more than likely won't spend a pick on a young tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINEThe Draft Board

1st roundG Jonathan Cooper, UNC (6-2, 311)2nd roundT Terron Armstead, Ark.-P.B. (6-5, 306)
G Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 332)3rd roundT Menelik Watson, Florida St. (6-5, 310)
G/T Brian Winters, Kent St. (6-4, 320)4th roundG/T David Quessenberry, SJSU (6-5, 302)5th roundT Xavier Nixon, Florida (6-6, 321)6th roundT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (6-6, 308)

The Panthers have placed a premium on offensive linemen in the draft and for the most part, that's been a sound philosophy. Had Jeff Otah's body not failed him, the Panthers would have a much stronger quintet than it does currently. Without Otah, the team put Byron Bell at right tackle and that has not worked out as the Panthers have hoped. The Panthers drafted G Amini Silatolu in the second round last year and he started 15 games. Predictably, he showed potential, but still made a ton of mistakes. Silatolu could've used the leadership of C Ryan Kalil, who returns after missing most of the season with an injury. The team needs help at both guard and tackle.

There's a chance Jonathan Cooper may be on the board at No. 14, which would force the Panthers to have to determine whether Cooper's production outweighs drafting for need at DT or CB. If the team passes on the former Tar Heel or he's off the board, Terron Armstead could be an option in the top half of the second round. Larry Warford is a hammer at the point of attack, similar to Silatolu, and has succeeded against the best in college football. Keep an eye on Watson, a former DI-A basketball player from England that has great feet and agility.

DEFENSIVE LINEThe Draft Board

1st roundDT Sharrif Floyd, Florida (6-3, 297)
DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (6-3, 294)
DT Jesse Williams, Alabama (6-3, 323)2nd roundDT Kawann Short, Purdue (6-3, 299)4th roundDT Akeem Spence, Illinois (6-1, 307)
DT Bennie Logan, LSU (6-2, 309)5th roundDT Everett Dawkins, Florida St. (6-2, 292)6th roundDT Damion Square, Alabama (6-2, 293)7th roundDT Stacy McGee, Oklahoma (6-3, 308)
DT Chris Jones, Bowling Green (6-2, 302)

The Panthers passed on defensive tackle in last year's first round to select LB Luke Kuechly, which was a brilliant decision. But passing on the position has left the interior of the defensive line a bit barren, especially with DT Dwan Edwards an unrestricted free agent. GM Dave Gettleman has said that he'd like to bring Edwards back, but the Panthers aren't blessed with a ton of money under the cap to offer him a competitive contract. Regardless, the draft is rife with interior defensive line talent, starting in the first round.

Over the past few weeks, Sharrif Floyd has sped right past pick No. 14 up into top three consideration. However, if teams truly watch his film, they'll find he's probably a mid first-round talent. If he's gone, Sheldon Richardson is a perfect fit in this defense and excellent value in the middle of the first round. No. 14 is high for Williams, but if the Panthers miss out on both Floyd and Richardson, they'll have to find an impact interior player.

LINEBACKERThe Draft Board

3rd roundOLB Zavier Gooden, Missouri (6-1, 234)4th roundOLB Keith Pough, Howard (6-2, 239)
OLB Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers (6-1, 240)5th roundOLB Nick Moody, Florida St. (6-1, 236)

MLB Luke Kuechly was better than even the Panthers expected. He finished the season as the defensive Rookie of the Year after a 164-tackle season. What also was unexpected was the loss of Jon Beason after four games. Perhaps even more unexpected, WLB Thomas Davis made it all the way through the season and he showed what he could do when he's 100 percent healthy. He finished the season with 103 tackles after Beason went on IR for the year. Obviously, questions abound. Can all three stay healthy for 16 games? Will the team decide to keep both Beason and Davis, rolling the dice that they can play a full season? If Kuechly stays in the middle, does Beason move to SLB while Davis stays at WLB? Does Davis move back behind Beason at WLB? Does this group need to follow its lead from 2012 and draft another young player to complement Kuechly? There are many complex questions that the draft won't completely answer, but it's a start.

Zavier Gooden is built like a Greek god and has sprinter's speed, but those traits don't always translate to production on the field. He'll be a backup at the WLB spot and will be a demon on special teams. Keith Pough got people's attention with his play at the Shrine Bowl, while Steve Beauharnais stood out playing alongside Khaseem Greene. When Nick Moody is healthy, the former safety can be a wonderful prospect at WLB.

SECONDARYThe Draft Board

1st roundCB Xavier Rhodes, Florida St. (6-2, 210)
CB Desmond Trufant, Washington (6-0, 190)2nd roundS Matt Elam, Florida (5-10, 208)
S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (6-0, 214)
S Eric Reid, LSU (6-0, 213)
CB Johnthan Banks, Miss. St. (6-2, 185)
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon St. (6-0, 191)3rd roundCB Robert Alford, SELA (5-10, 188)
CB David Amerson, NC St. (6-1, 205)4th roundCB/S Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (5-9, 186)
CB Terry Hawthorne, Illinois (6-0, 195)
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn (6-1, 195)5th roundCB D.J Hayden, Houston (5-11, 191)
CB Johnny Adams, Mich. St. (5-10, 185)

A shaky secondary got even shakier as long-time starter CB Chris Gamble was released in a cap casualty move earlier this month. That leaves Josh Thomas and Josh Norman as the only legitimate corners on the roster. Norman had an up-and-down rookie campaign, but the team is betting on him as the future. If he is the future, he'll still need help and this draft has plenty of options to add on the other side. At safety, it's not much better. Charles Godfrey is steady at one safety position, but if Haruki Nakamura is starting at free safety again this year, the Panthers are in major trouble. At a minimum, the Panthers have to replace Gamble and Nakamura for 2013.

Xavier Rhodes should be the No. 2 corner off the board after Alabama star Dee Milliner, but Desmond Trufant isn't far behind. The No. 14 pick is bit high for either corner, but it's hard to turn away from Rhodes' physical gifts and 4.4 speed at 210 pounds. Matt Elam is the top safety on my board and he's a better overall football player than either Vaccaro and/or Reid, both of whom possess prototype safety size. David Amerson ran much better than expected at the combine, but his 2012 film defines inconsistency.

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