2011 NFL Draft | Carolina Panthers Team Needs
The Carolina Panthers couldn’t have had a worse 2010 season, and John Fox couldn’t have a more unceremonious exit in his final season.
The team went into the season hoping Matt Moore’s late-season charge in 2009 would be enough to make them a contender, but an injury and inconsistent play got the Jimmy Clausen era started early, and it was simply downhill from there.
Carolina struggled to move the ball and score points all season, and while their defense held their own despite such an awful offense, they still clearly missed Julius Peppers and weren’t the dominant force they’d been in years’ past.
When a team goes 2-14, you know there’s plenty of areas to address. Here’s a breakdown of the most pressing spots where Carolina needs to spend extra special attention in free agency and the 2011 NFL Draft:
Biggest Needs: QB, WR, TE
Let’s face it, Jimmy Clausen looked absolutely lost about 99% of the time, and the only reason he stands a chance at getting another crack at making a career of it in Carolina is because Andrew Luck withdrew his name from the draft. But that doesn’t mean Carolina won’t consider trading down and grabbing the best available passer. On the other hand, if the Panthers are even remotely interested in Blaine Gabbert, further scouting and a good combine could push them in that direction with the top pick.
While quarterback is a mess for the Panthers, there’s a pretty decent chance they give themselves a mulligan for last season and start over with their new coaching staff in hopes that a new system and philosophy can help Clausen turn it around. But if that’s going to happen, he’ll need more than just Steve Smith to help him make plays and evolve into a complete passer. Carolina isn’t about to spend their number one pick on a receiver, but they could still potentially nab someone like Jonathan Baldwin in the second round, or even grab a safer receiver in Oregon’s Jeff Maehl in the third round.
Everyone knows Carolina’s offensive line is pretty much in shambles, so instead of picking it apart, we’ll just plainly agree with everyone else and say the Panthers need to address it, both in talent and in depth. But there’s also a position that could use some serious upgrading, and if Clausen is still their guy, improving upon it is a must to assist his growth. The position in question is the tight end position, where Jeff King and Dante Rosario continue to hold down 1A and 1B on one of the most mediocre tight end corps (and that’s putting it lightly) in the entire league. This is an offense that hasn’t had an elite tight end option since Wesley Walls. If they could come away with Kyle Rudolph or Lance Kendricks, their offense would receive a huge jolt.
Biggest Needs: DT, DE, CB
As troubling as things can be on the offensive side of the ball (and boy, are they bad), things weren’t always the prettiest on defense, either. That was Fox’s forte, so he probably made the defense look better than it was, but it was still painfully obvious that the defense didn’t make a ton of plays, and couldn’t consistently stop the run.
Truth be told, the middle of this defense is basically non-existent, as they haven’t had a true force up front since Kris Jenkins left for the New York Jets, and even before that they constantly had him off the field with injuries. Hence, the talk about possibly taking Nick Fairley with the top pick. Adding a meaty man in the middle who can stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback would overhaul a defense that simply is lacking an identity.
On the other hand, some people have fallen out of love with Fairley a bit, and see defensive end as the guy who could really make an immediate impact as the top pick. Funny experts should say that, because Carolina has equally as much need for an outside pass-rusher as they do for interior help. Da’Quan Bowers is an elite pass rush specialist that would help Panthers fans forget about the painful loss of Julius Peppers, and would in turn help the guys working on the inside, not to mention beef Carolina’s already solid pass defense.
Speaking of the pass defense, Carolina is fine there, but could really use some fresh legs and maybe one or two more bodies to compete and rotate. They don’t really need to bring on an elite corner to compete for a starting spot, but free agency and dropping of general talent could beg for some depth at a position in which Carolina is actually generally pretty strong at.
Overall, the Panthers really can’t get it wrong in terms of where they need to attack with their first few picks. It starts in the trenches, and adding some defensive linemen will go a long way in making their defense elite again, while adding some real talent opposite Steve Smith and at tight end could really help Clausen in year two. Regardless of the direction they go in, its clear the Panthers have their work cut out for them.