Carolina Panthers: Think Twice Before Drafting a Wide Receiver

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Carolina Panthers: Think Twice Before Drafting a Wide Receiver

With the NFL Combine already behind us, professional teams are starting to evaluate this upcoming draft class. They are trying to determine who will make the cut and benefit the team in the next season.

The Carolina Panthers have several holes or concerns in their roster that need to be addressed. First, let's eliminate the positions that aren’t a concern.

The quarterback position is locked down with Cam Newton. Let's be honest, he won’t be sitting on the bench for a while unless struck with injury. The Panthers are building their offense around Newton. They haven’t quite figured out the perfect balance between his pass and run game, but they aren’t far from getting it right. With the right protection and play calling, Newton has the potential to take the Panthers all the way and earn a spot as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Jonathan StewartIf the Panthers waste an early pick on a running back, I would be astonished and probably cry. They have one of the deepest rosters at running back with the dynamic duo in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Yes both running backs have had their health issues, but whose worried when you have a Pro Bowl “bowling ball” in Mike Tolbert. He can shake opponents out of their cleats or knock the sense out of them, you pick. If all else fails, let Newton run the ball.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers have a solid and young squad. Between Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, the Panthers dominate opponents, earning a spot as the second best defense in the NFL. The team totaled 60 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, and 20 interceptions. In last years draft the Panthers selected a pair of defensive tackle that looked very promising last season.

The Panthers linebacker core is also one of the best in the league. Thomas Davis played like a machine after three surgeries to his knees, and Luke Kuechly has played at hall of fame level consistently over his first few years on the team.

The Panthers biggest concern for the upcoming 2014 season is the offensive line, defensive secondary, and wide receivers. With rumors surrounding the return of Steve Smith, many people are speculating and hoping the Panthers pick up a wide receiver early in the draft.

Here is my concern. Steve Smith isn’t going anywhere. He is nearing the end of his career and it shows in his statistics. He won’t leave Carolina, the only team he ever played for since getting drafted in 2001. Brandon Lafell is finally coming into his game since being drafted in 2010. He has had a very slow start to his career but he really made a big impact last season and proved he could be a threat. Even Ted Ginn proved he could finally play at the wide receiver position and not just contribute mainly as special teams player. The Panthers have one of the most reliable, veteran tight ends in the game with Greg Olson. The Panthers aren’t as desperate for a wide receiver as they may be for other positions.

Besides, looking at the history of drafting wide receivers, the Panthers have nothing special to brag about. In the past ten years the Panthers have drafted about 11 wide receivers, and two of them have had good or great seasons and the rest went unknown. All together, Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith are the only wide receivers to consistently play at a high caliber level and make a positive impact on offense. You can argue Keary Colbert had one decent season, and Brandon Lafell is getting started, but besides them, everyone else has faded.

The wide receiver draft class is very solid this year, but I am not convinced. Over half of these kids are underclassmen. They are young and inexperienced. They have great potential but will need much work transitioning from the college level to the professional level. Many of these young athletes performed quite well in the combine, but there's always next year. It seems as though every year the draft class gets better and better, so why not wait. The Panthers can and should spend their early picks on other positions that need it most.

The position that needs most attention is the offensive line. With Captain Jordan Gross retired, and the rest of the lineman known for their injuries, the Panthers need to build on their depth and work on protecting Newton. Quarterbacks are useless if they spend most of the game on their backs. The offensive line just needs to stay healthy and do their job. If the Panthers can draft several solid players, they can coach them into a good blocking unit and hopefully have them for many years to come.

The next biggest issue is the secondary. Last year the Panthers struggled with injuries. They had to rely on several veteran players with a little wear and tear on them, or young and inexperienced guys. They had a solid season but also gave up many deep plays in crucial moments. The Panthers need a few fresh legs to build competition for a starting spot and to bail the team out if they get bashed with injuries again. The Panthers seem to have their game plan figured out when it comes to defense and they really trust the defensive coordinator. They need to add some youth to the roster so he can coach them into a unit that will dominate opponents in the future.

With the 2014 NFL draft approaching, the pressure builds for teams to prepare their respected draft picks. Head coach Ron Rivera has been establishing a winning attitude ever since taking the team over three years ago, and the Panthers are close to being as good as when they went to the Super Bowl in 2003. They have a great foundation for building a winning team. Now is the team's chance to build on that foundation with some young talent and take the Panthers all the way to the big game.

By +Patrick Newton