The lack of wide receiver depth and talent haunted the Carolina Panthers in 2017. In the playoffs, Carolina started Russell Shepard, Devin Funchess and Moze Frazier. Yikes. With Norv Turner running the offense next season, look for Carolina to give him the tools to be successful.
Jonathan Stewart is over 30 and his production is starting to show it. While he’s a solid player, he isn’t a guy you can argue is still the standout type of player to motor a rushing attack regardless of line play or the defensive unit he is going against. Add that Stewart could very well be a salary cap casualty and a running back like Derrius Guice will be a likely consideration. But a running back can often be found effectively later in the draft. Norv’s offense requires a player like Josh Gordon or Vincent Jackson that he has had in the past. This offense needs a big, fast wide receiver who can gain separation. Not only is it an important component of Turner’s offense, the Panthers' two biggest areas of need are at wide receiver and offensive line. Who they select in the first round will likely come down to who's available when the no. 24 pick comes around. Those over at mytopsportsbooks.com pick SMU WR Courtland Sutton as the early favorite (5/1) but he could easily be gone by no. 24, at which point management might look to O-line prospects like UCLA tackle Kolton Miller or Western Michigan tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (both 7/1).
Sutton, who is 6’4, 220 lbs receiver, is twitchy and runs precise routes. He has 22 touchdowns and averaged over 16 yards per catch over the past two seasons. I could see him as the Panthers’ #1 Wide Receiver sooner rather than later. If he is the pick, the Panthers’ wide receivers will haunt NFC Defensive Coordinators as opposed to Panther fans. I'd give it a 15% chance that Sutton is the guy.
Sutton falling to 24 would be great, but if he doesn’t that doesn’t mean Carolina won’t consider a different wideout as their first-round selection. The teams’ leading receiver was Devin Funchess with 840 yards and eight touchdowns. The next leading wideout was Russell Shepard with 202 yards and one TD. In fact, no wide receiver that ended the season had more than 1 TD other than Funchess. The Panthers’ wide receiving group needs help in a big way. Carolina could consider a polished route-runner with top-end speed like Deontay “Big Play Tay” Burnett at 24. Burnett is an exciting prospect. He runs clean routes and can take the top off a defense. In fact, watch his highlights and see why I think he made Sam Darnold look better than he actually is. Burnett would be the help the Panthers need if he is still available at 24. I'd give him a 15 % chance of being the pick at 24.
The Panthers have to look towards life at Ryan Kalil. It is coming either in 2018 or in 2019, and they must look to replace him with top-level talent. Tyler Larsen is okay but not elite. The Panthers would be smart to strongly consider Billy Price out of Ohio State. He has elite movement skills and can play all three interior line positions. He is the best center in the draft and should the Panthers keep Kalil for a year and happen to lose Norwell to free agency. He could fit right in at left guard on day 1 and later replace Kalil when the time comes. I'd give him a 10% chance of being the Panthers selection.
By Mel Mayock
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