2017 Panthers Draft Needs

Since Atlanta's 48-33 thumping of the Panthers & Matt Ryan and Julio Jones setting franchise records for yards in a game at their positions, I figured I would go ahead and post this piece I wrote on Friday:

Since we're only about to enter week four of the 2016 NFL season, it's a bit early still to be thinking about next year, but after a 1-2 start, the team's weaknesses have been exploited by smart & physical opponents, so I have some early thoughts on what positions might garner particular attention from GM Dave Gettleman in next April's NFL Draft. Read on for my list, starting with the most-needed position and assuming no big free agents are signed.

Offensive Tackle

We've all seen Michael Oher's struggles this season, especially against the Minnesota Vikings where he absolutely got run over on the play where Cam had to take a sack & safety. It was ugly. Oher has been ruled out for week four with a concussion, so there's speculation that it may have contributed to his lousy game, but I'm unsure.

One thing I AM sure of is this: Whether or not Oher returns to "normal form," he hasn't been the solid LT that was expected. He's on a fairly short contract, I think over the next two seasons perhaps, and it takes time for most tackles -- especially blind side ones -- to truly develop into NFL starters. If you look at many of the recent highly-chosen tackles, a lot of those guys either never have hit their stride or are still in the process of it. 

That's exactly why the Panthers need to take one in 2017. The idea here is to develop some talent behind Remmers and Oher as they play. Certainly, Daryl Williams (who is starting this weekend) is nice to have, but he has "average" athleticism and is pretty much locked into being a right tackle with his limited feet. Beyond that, the cupboard is bare and I'd rather not wait too long to get a really talented young man in the pipeline...whatever one thinks of Oher.

Defensive End

Oddly enough, none of the starters on the defensive line even have a single sack yet through three games. Kony Ealy has yet to show much consistency that one would expect out of a third-year pro. When he's good, he's awesome. When he's bad, he's horrible.

If you asked all 53 players on any given NFL team to give one word to describe what you need to succeed in the league, I'd bet the most-spoken word would be "consistency." If you can't be counted upon to do your job on every play, that messes up the entire plan. 

Charles Johnson is on the flip side of his career and is going to need a replacement soon as well. In fact, a drafted DE would likely challenge for CJ's position before Ealy's; that's how dire the situation is starting to look on the D-line, and there is no "complete" DE on the roster behind those two. It's either a pass rusher or a run-stopper, but nobody that is good at both.

Time to get a Blue Goose there. Perhaps even two, as Gettleman has shown a proclivity for doing like he did in the last draft nabbing three corners, or when he double-dipped at the top for Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the same draft.

Running Back

Jonathan Stewart is a top-ten RB when he's full-speed, but the problem is that he's rarely going at full-speed. Cameron Artis-Payne hasn't stepped up to be the solid backup that he was hoped to become so far, and late-round fliers on guys like Tyler Gaffney and Kenjon Barner haven't worked out. Artis-Payne was a 5th-round pick.

I am still seething a bit that Derrick Henry wasn't taken at the end of the first round this year, but nothing anybody can do about that now. If a talented & fresh young set of legs doesn't arrive soon, the long-term outlook for the running game isn't looking too good. It's the basis for Carolina's offense, so I would think obtaining one would be a fairly high priority, assuming nobody on the current roster steps up in 2016.

Strong Safety

Here, Tre' Boston is the issue. Again, inconsistency is his issue and as the name implies, a "safety" is often the last line of defense. Boston often gets fooled or takes a "false step" as it's called before correcting his course. That just can't continue. More solid and consistent play is a must-have, and if Boston doesn't show he can grow into it this year, I'm thinking he may well never do it at all. Once the season is over, evaluate the position and draft accordingly. Either that, or consider switching former Duke Blue Devil Jeremy Cash BACK to his old college position...that of a Strong Safety. Otherwise, opponents can continue to attack him.

Tight End

No complaints whatsoever about Greg Olsen. He has been a rock to the team ever since his arrival years ago when he replaced Jeremy Shockey, if memory serves, who made a fairly brief stop in Charlotte. Olsen won't turn 32 until next March 11th (also my birthday, Greg!), but I question how much longer he can keep being the top-three receiving TE that he is. Drafting his replacement isn't quite so urgent, but getting one in 2017 would be a great idea.

Doing so would give Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula a lot more options in the playbook. It's well-known that the New England Deflatriots love to run a double-TE formation and abuse the mismatches that can create. With two mammoth WRs on the outside and two either/or TEs inside, the "either/or" being capable of blocking or going out in a pattern on a given play, there would be many options available on the field in single-back sets.

Keep an eye on some of these young or new starters like Boston and Oher and Ealy and track their progress throughout the season. 

Whoever steps up their play will most certainly make Mr. Gettleman's job that much less complicated.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye