NFC South: Panthers in need of protection

Cris Carter
Yahoo! Sports

Cris Carter's draft analysis:
Overview | AFC: East - North - South - West | NFC: East - North - South - West

Craig James' draft analysis:
Overview - QBs - WRs - More offense - Defense

Editor's note: As part of Yahoo! Sports' coverage of the NFL draft, Cris Carter will break down the needs of each NFL team leading up to draft day.

Carolina Panthers
There is good news and bad news for Carolina. After making it to the Super Bowl last season, it holds the No. 31 pick in the first round. That means the Panthers had a great season, but they won't get the quality player that they are accustomed to getting in the first round.

The Panthers have some holes to fill. They lost starting guards Jeno James and Kevin Donnalley to free agency and retirement, respectively, and they released Todd Steussie in the offseason. Now they are looking at an offensive line with huge needs.

Also, Carolina could use more playmakers on offense. If you look at who may be available at No. 31 in the first round, wide receiver Michael Jenkins from Ohio State stands out. He could be right there. It would be tough for the Panthers to pass on him if he is ranked so much higher than the best remaining offensive lineman.

With their main needs on the offensive line, the Panthers could address cornerback and safety in the middle and late rounds – although those holes are filled more easily through free agency. They definitely will look at the veteran cuts on June 1.

Carolina needs to add some players to get back to the level of 2003.

New Orleans Saints
On defense, the Saints have struggled in the secondary. They took a chance on Dale Carter, but he didn't work out and they cut him after the season. There will be plenty of good cornerbacks available at No. 18 in the first round. I just hate to say it, but another Ohio State guy, cornerback Chris Gamble, might be there for the taking.

Also, I wouldn't rule out linebacker D.J. Williams from Miami. Those are the kinds of players for whom the Saints will look – explosive guys who can make plays on defense.

Looking at head coach Jim Haslett's personality, if he had his way, he would draft all defensive players. They will be able to fill a defensive void at No. 18 in the draft.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers went through a minor facelift this summer on defense, losing Warren Sapp and John Lynch. After a 7-9 season, they hold the No. 15 pick in the first round.

The Buccaneers always have had a long history with University of Miami players. I'm looking for the Bucs to snatch Hurricane defensive tackle Vince Wilfork – if he still is on the board. In an ideal world, Wilfork would replace Anthony McFarland and McFarland would slide over to Sapp's position. Tampa Bay would jump at that, but I don't think Wilfork will be available.

Jon Gruden wants to improve his offense with a receiver that can flat-out burn. He added Joey Galloway through free agency, but he still has taken a long look at Lee Evans from Wisconsin. Evans runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, and Gruden would like to add him as another offensive weapon in his West Coast offense.

Atlanta Falcons
After a 5-11 season, the Falcons hired new GM Rick McKay and brought in the younger Jim Mora as their new coach. Atlanta has one of the NFL's marquee players in Michael Vick playing QB. How do you complement a quarterback? You go get a wide receiver.

The upcoming draft is possibly the best for wide receivers in the last 20 years. And there will be a great receiver available at No. 8. The question is: Do the Falcons take a playmaker or does the defensive-minded Mora get his way and draft a defensive end? Mora and the Falcons would love to add someone who immediately could put some pressure on the quarterback.

Also, you have to factor in what the Falcons did last year in free agency by adding Peerless Price. They set up half of a 1-2 combination to help Vick. Now they need someone that can play the other side.

With their first two picks, the Falcons need another weapon on offense and another pass rusher. Will Smith from Ohio State may be a good option if they choose the defensive route.

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