Carolina has the seventh pick in the draft and there has been change with new coach Matt Rhule. All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly retired, Cam Newton and Greg Olsen were released, and other good players have left through trade and free agency. There are a few positions that have some mystery as to who will play there.
The Panthers have all a pick in each round plus an extra pick in the fifth, making it eight picks.
I list the needs below, including major, for depth, and areas they are unlikely to look at. I may add categories for a particular situation.
Major Needs (No Particular Order):
Quarterback: The Cam Newton era is history and Teddy Bridgewater was signed from New Orleans to lead the team. In reserve are last year’s third round pick, Will Grier, and Elizabeth alum PJ Walker, who was having an outstanding year in the XFL. If Bridgewater has a good year, this need is decreased. It is debatable whether they take a quarterback, but it isn’t impossible.
Tight End: With Wayne Hills alum Greg Olsen moving on to Seattle, Ian Thomas is the current starter with a good opportunity going into his third year. Chris Manhertz is a reserve who is a good block/no catch tight end, catching only six passes in his four years. Seth DeValve was signed in free agency for depth purposes. Temarrick Hemingway is the other tight end. A pick could be used because Olsen had a lot of production over the years when he was healthy.
Offensive Line: The biggest news was acquiring Russell Okung in a trade with the Chargers for Trai Turner to fill a void at left tackle. Last year’s second round pick, Greg Little, will need to step up this year after battling with injuries and Dennis Daley was another rookie who struggled. Right tackle is in good hands with Taylor Moten, but his contract expires after the season. Guard is a big question mark with Turner being traded and the loss of Greg Van Roten and Daryl Williams in free agency. The Panthers signed John Miller as a starting possibility, but help is needed. Daley or Little could factor here. They may also draft a player to start here. Matt Paradis is a solid player at center and he is backed up by Tyler Larsen, who could also fill in at guard. The interior of the line needs addressing and tackle is another spot that can be considered since Moten and Okung could become free agents next year.
Defensive Line: There will be a different look to the Panthers defense, using multiple fronts, including a four-man line. The top returnee on the line is tackle Kawann Short, who missed most of last year with an injury. Leaving in free agency to Dallas were Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy to Dallas, while Vernon Butler was not re-signed. Stephen Weatherly was signed from Minnesota, where he played in a rotation at end, while Zach Kerr, a tackle, came over from Arizona. Woodrow Hamilton is on the roster and will play inside. At end, Efe Obada returns, while Chris Smith is on the roster. There will be two or three picks for this unit, possibly one in the first round.
Linebacker: The biggest news here was the retirement of Luke Kuechly, one of the best at his position, leaving a void. Shaq Thompson returns and Tahir Whitehead comes over from the Raiders in free agency. Brian Burns, last year’s first pick, will be outside as an edge rusher, whether it be standing up or with his hand in the dirt. Jermaine Carter, Andre Smith, Marquis Haynes, Christian Miller, and Sione Teuhema are on the roster, with some challenging for time. This is one area that will be addressed in the draft and losing a player the quality of Kuechly is hard to replace.
Cornerback: This area needs improvement, especially since James Bradberry left for the Giants in free agency. Donte Jackson returns for his third season, but things are very unsettled after that. The only three on the roster are Cole Luke, Corn Elder, and Dominique Hatfield, with none of them ever starting a game in the NFL. Javien Elliott and Ross Cockrell started at times, but they are unsigned free agents. I expect the Panthers to draft one, maybe two players here and possibly find someone after the draft to improve this group.
Safety: Tre Boston is a good player at free safety and he will be without Eric Reid next to him after being released. Juston Burris was signed in free agency after seeing action with the Browns. Behind them, the only ones are TJ Green, Natrell Jamerson, and Quin Blanding. There is a good chance this area will be addressed and like cornerback, attempts to add another player or two after the draft.
Running Back: As long as Christian McCaffery is healthy, the Panthers are in good shape here. In his third year, McCaffery rushed for 1,387 yards and caught 116 passes for 1,005. Reggie Bonafon is his backup and he showed potential the few times McCaffery was given a breather. It may be wise to give Bonafon more snaps to save McCaffery over the long haul. Jordan Scarlett was a fifth round pick who rarely played. Alex Armah plays when a fullback is needed. Also on the roster are Mike Davis and Marcus Murphy. If there is a back who stands out above all other choices, they should take him – it’s about not running McCaffery into the ground.
Wide Receiver: DJ Moore, a first round pick in 2018, took a big step forward last year and Curtis Samuel, a second round choice in 2017, has shown progress each year. In addition, the Panthers signed free agent Robby Anderson from the Jets, who has speed and productivity. If he can calm down off the field, this is an excellent signing. Samuel can be a free agent next year and Anderson is insurance should he leave. Brandon Zylstra was a reserve on the team last year and they picked up DeAndrew White. In free agency, they signed Pharaoh Cooper, Keith Kirkwood, and Seth Roberts. Cooper has been a successful return man, while the others will be reserves. Ramapo alum Chris Hogan did not produce as expected after coming over from New England and is unsigned, along with Jarius Wright. If they pick a receiver, it will be a fourth player to use in spread formations.
*Information from various sources, including Pro-Football Reference, Sportac, and ESPN.