10 Draft Prospects Every Carolina Panthers Fan Should Know About
The Carolina Panthers have done a great job asserting themselves this season, and it's led them to a No. 2 seed in the NFC with a chance for a championship. While they've done a great job as a whole this season, there are still areas to improve.
Their most glaring need is a legitimate No. 2 receiver across from veteran Steve Smith. There are a number of guys who would fill their need, but the name that first comes to mind is Kelvin Benjamin. He's a big-bodied, physical receiver who could fit perfectly into Carolina's offense.
As a compliment to Smith, Benjamin would be a great target to have in the red zone. The threat of a 6'5" receiver would open things up for the other receivers like Greg Olsen and Smith.
Aside from receiver, the Panthers have a few other positions that could use some tuning up, and they'll get a chance to address them in the draft.
Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama
Anthony Steen had a solid overall year for the Crimson Tide in 2013, but it was clear his strength lies in run blocking. He will need to improve as a pass-blocker if he is to be a good starter in the NFL. That being said, he's a very coachable prospect that Carolina could nab in the middle rounds and develop until he is ready to start.
The former Alabama lineman has experience in a pro system and could get up to speed sooner than later, leading to a starting role in his first season. He'd be a cheap pickup in the middle rounds that could pay great dividends down the road.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
As I mentioned on the first slide, Kelvin Benjamin would be a great fit for Carolina. He'd bring back that short receiver-tall receiver pairing that the Panthers had back in the day with Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith. Benjamin could very easily be the vertical threat that Carolina has been missing for so long.
One of his best performances came against Loucheiz Purifoy, a top cornerback prospect, in a game where he had nine catches for 212 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
Benjamin's a matchup nightmare in terms of size and speed, making him a dangerous receiver anywhere on the field.
Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Iowa
Anthony Hitchens is one of the more intriguing prospects out this year's group of linebackers. He had a quiet first two seasons in college but burst onto the nation's radar his junior season when he totaled 124 tackles and five-and-a-half tackles for loss. Hitchens followed that up with a strong, 100-plus tackle season for the second year in a row in 2013.
He's a tackling machine with a nose for the football and could be invaluable off the edge for the Panthers as a rotational player. Hitchens is currently slotted to go between rounds four and six by Walter Football, a spot in which Carolina could easily draft him.
They already boast one of the best, most athletic linebacking groups in the league, and Hitchens could be a worthy addition.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
As one of the most instinctive corners in the country, Bradley Roby had a rough ending to an overall impressive collegiate career. He's a taller, longer corner at 5'11" and is a dynamic playmaker in the secondary.
Roby's speed also makes him a valuable cover man as he's rarely outrun by receivers. He could be a very solid pick in the second or third round should the Panthers decide to target him.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks is a smaller, more compact receiver with blazing speed.
B/R's Matt Miller mock drafted him to the Panthers in the first round as a replacement for Smith, who will be 35 years old this spring. Even though he's yet to speak of his retirement or when it'll be, adding a player like Cooks into the offense would only strength an overall mediocre receiving corps outside of Smith.
He could work as either a slot receiver or return man until he's ready to take on more in the offense.
Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin
Jacob Pedersen isn't much of a receiver, but his value as a blocker makes him someone worth a look. The Panthers already have a great receiving tight end in Greg Olsen, and Pedersen could make for a nice pair with Olsen as a blocker.
He would surely be a great addition in Carolina's running game as either an in-line tight end or H-back.
Although he doesn't shine in the passing game, he is competent. He's got good speed for his size and pretty good hands. Pedersen could be nabbed in the later rounds but has the potential to strongly contribute right away.
Morgan Moses, OT, University of Virginia
Morgan Moses has the ideal build for a tackle at 6'6", 325 pounds and had a strong senior season. He was an integral part of UVA's rushing attack that featured a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2004. Moses averaged eight knockdowns per game and allowed just two sacks all season.
Moses demonstrated a smooth kick step and showed that he knows how to utilize his long arms. Even though his game could use some polishing up, he has all the physical attributes you look for in an offensive tackle and is worth the risk. After all, you can't coach size.
His best game came against Clemson's star pass-rusher Vic Beasley, whom he yielded just one tackle against.
Denicos Allen, OLB, Michigan State
Denicos Allen would be a great selection by the Panthers as he is a disruptive pass-rusher and could likely contribute immediately. He finished off his 2013 season with 98 tackles and 5.5 sacks with 15 quarterback hits and 10 hurries.
Allen's a little on the short side at 5'11" but makes up for it with his knack of getting to the passer. His ability to get off the edge and into the backfield would make him a great addition to Carolina's rotation in the front seven.
Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
It's not like the Panthers aren't already set at quarterback, but it never hurts to have more talent. Plus, Devin Gardner is much more than a quarterback.
He's one of the most athletically gifted passers in this year's draft, and his ability as a runner was well-displayed during his years at Michigan. In 2013 alone, Gardner had 3,443 total yards and 32 total touchdowns—and he didn't even play the whole season.
While Gardner is not likely the quarterback of the Panthers' future, he has a similar skill set to Cam Newton's and could be effective if he is called upon in Newton's absence. Besides that, he could be a new wrinkle in Carolina's offense in some version of the Wildcat or triple option, or just as a running back.
Tevin McDonald, S, Eastern Washington
Although he's a risky prospect due to off-the-field issues, Tevin McDonald could be a great pickup late in the draft for Carolina. He's a big, hard-hitting safety who is extremely athletic. He flies all over the field and at times seems like he's in on every tackle.
McDonald's a project for sure—but for a cheap price, he is worth the risk. If he does pan out, McDonald could be an enforcer on the back end of the defense and could make an impact in a big way if given the chance.