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Carolina Panthers' Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 Draft

Charles EdwardsContributor IJanuary 31, 2014

Carolina Panthers' Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 Draft

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers have a few needs going into the offseason, and three of them are quite obvious.

    Carolina is expected to draft or sign free agents who can play wide receiver, offensive line or defensive back. Some of those needs can be addressed simply by re-signing some of their free agents.  However, the team would like to get a playmaker at one or two of those positions.

    Given the limited cap room and the need to extend Cam Newton to a new deal, finding such a player in free agency may be difficult to do.  Couple that with the big contract (or franchise tag) defensive end Greg Hardy expects, and the Panthers' financial room becomes much smaller.

    This is why drafting well is important for the Panthers.

    A solid draft class can set them up for an extended period of success, while a poor class can set them back a season or two.  Bringing in a crop of new and talented players can mean the difference in another winning season or a mediocre one.

    Here is a look at five positions that make up the Carolina Panthers' top needs and the best players who may be an ideal fit to help push the team to the next level.

    Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Offensive Line

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    The Panthers could use an upgrade at both tackle and guard, but the possibility of Jordan Gross retiring and the return of guards Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila would make targeting an offensive tackle the best strategy.  

    There are two tackles who stand out as possible replacements for Gross whom Carolina could take in the first round.  Even if Gross returns for another season or two, a tackle taken in the first round can learn from him and give the Panthers a better alternative to anchor the right tackle position.  This would allow Byron Bell to either move to the inside or be a backup.

     

    Player Fit

    Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama - It wouldn't be surprising to see Carolina take a player from one of the nation's powerhouse schools.  Not only would he fill a need, but he would bring a pedigree for winning as well.  He has all the necessary tools to be a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle, and if he were to fall deep into the first round, he would be a great addition to the Carolina offensive front.  He's already drawn comparisons to Tyron Smith of Dallas.

     

    Others to Consider

    Morgan Moses, Virginia (Round 1)

    Antonio Richardson, Tennessee (Round 1)

    Jack Mewhort, Ohio State (Round 1)

Wide Receiver

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    Many Carolina fans would love to see Kelvin Benjamin fall here, but that may not happen.  In the event that it does, not all is lost.  There are still a considerable number of wide receivers who will be available in the first two rounds who can help the Panthers offense.  The key will be finding the one receiver who will not only come in and contribute, but be able to make a difference from day one.

     

    Player Fit

    Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt - Matthews is the big, fast receiver the Panthers have been needing for a while now.  He helped put Vanderbilt football back on the map during his time at the school and should be able to take the next step as a pro in a Carolina uniform.  

    He has clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.55, and with the combine size and arm length, he can give Cam Newton a quality receiver who will take the focus off of Steve Smith and Greg Olsen.  Matthews had some great games while at Vandy, and he put up some excellent numbers.  There is no reason to believe he can't do much of the same in the NFL.

     

    Others to Consider

    Allen Robinson, Penn State (Round 1)

    Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (Round 1)

    Odell Beckham, Jr., LSU (Round 1)

    Mike Davis, Texas (Round 3)

    Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State (Round 4 or 5)

Cornerback

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    Cornerback is perhaps a more pressing concern than safety, and if the Panthers can get a top player at the position, their top-five defense will become that much better.  

    This position could be addressed in the first round, but the Carolina front office could wait until later before targeting a cornerback.  Considering the need on the offensive line and at wide receiver, it seems logical that the Panthers will wait until the second or third round to draft a defensive back.

     

    Player Fit

    Louchiez Purifoy, Florida - A consistent playmaker, Purifoy can give the Carolina defense the kind of presence its secondary has been missing the past two seasons.  During his senior year in Gainesville, he registered 24 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.  He returned one of those picks for a touchdown. Purifoy would be an interesting addition if paired with veteran Captain Munnerlyn (assuming he gets a new deal), or he could pair with Melvin White or Josh Thomas if Munnerlyn signs somewhere else.

     

    Others to Consider

    Jason Verrett, TCU (Round 1)

    Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State (Round 2)

    Keith McGill, Utah (Round 3)

    Jaylen Watkins, Florida (Round 3 or 4)

Safety

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    The other piece of the secondary puzzle lies with safety.  The need here is not nearly as important because of the emergence of Robert Lester and the return of Charles Godfrey.  Also, if the Panthers bring back either Mike Mitchell or Quintin Mikell, drafting a safety seems less likely.

    However, if both players leave, Carolina will have to shore up the position even though Lester should have no problem stepping into a full-time starting role.

     

    Player Fit

    Ahmad Dixon, Baylor - Dixon has the tenacity and physicality to make a difference in the Carolina secondary, and if he is teamed up with Lester, the Panthers will be in great shape on the back end of their defense.  Assuming Dixon can channel his emotions and not let them get the best of him on the field, he can be a valuable asset to a team early in the middle rounds.  As mentioned before, it's doubtful the Carolina brass will select a safety over a cornerback, but stranger things have happened on draft day.

     

    Others to Consider

    Deone Bucannon, Washington State (Rounds 2 or 3)

    Craig Loston, LSU (Round 4)

    Sean Parker, Washington (Round 7)

Tight End

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    Carolina really doesn't need to address this position, but when it had two pass-catching tight ends in 2011, its offense was one of the best.  Granted, some of that can be attributed to the creativity of former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and the introduction of Cam Newton onto the professional football stage, but there is no question the combined efforts of Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey helped the Panthers move the ball and put points on the board.

     

    Player Fit

    Arthur Lynch, Georgia - His name has come up a couple of times on this site as a target for the Panthers as they prepare for the draft.  Lynch has excellent pass-catching ability, and he can block when called upon. He is slower than some of the more elite tight ends in the league, but he thrives in short-yardage and red-zone situations.  

    Another reason why he would be a good fit is that he's been compared to Olsen. Imagine having two guys on the field who can give Newton a great security blanket if nothing is open downfield.  

     

    Others to Consider

    Marcel Jensen, Fresno State (Round 5)

    Xavier Grimble, USC (Round 7)

     

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