>\n\nWorst to First: 17. Carolina Panthers \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 17. Carolina Panthers

Written by Ben Morgan on 04/12/2010

It's been an offseason of huge player turnover in Carolina with stalwarts Jake Delhomme, Maake Kemoeatu and Julius Peppers cast aside (amongst others) and all this with no first round pick in 2010. It's starting to look like the dreaded "rebuiding year" in Carolina. Worse still it seems like in an uncapped NFL the Carolina Panthers are attempting to cut costs to a minimum and you can see that in some of their RFA tenders and lack of effort in re-signing their own free agents. Still, they're gonna get a tonne of Compensatory picks next year! Which is of course, scant compensation. Panthers fans can at least look to their Offensive Line with pride and point to the success rate of their draft picks there too. Every year they seem to lose guys and every year they seem to keep playing to the same level. Some prodigious rushing totals in 2009 highlight a team that still has a lot of talent but lacks it in some key places with the roster turnover. Let's work our way through the roster and figure out who the Panthers might pick next week...

2010 Free Agent Losses 2010 Free Agent Additions
Jake Delhomme QB (UFA-cut), Na'il Diggs OLB (Rams,UFA-cut), A.J. Feeley QB (Rams,UFA), Landon Johnson OLB (Lions,UFA), Damione Lewis DT (Patriots,UFA-cut), Rhys Lloyd K (Vikings,UFA), Julius Peppers DE (Bears,UFA), Dante Wesley CB (Lions,UFA), Maake Kemoeatu DT (Redskins,UFA-cut)

Wallace Wright WR (Jets,RFA), Marcus Hudson DB (49ers,RFA),
2010 Unsigned Free Agents 2011 Potential Free Agents
James Anderson OLB (RFA), Thomas Davis OLB (RFA), Brad Hoover FB (UFA-cut), Jeff King TE (RFA), Louis Leonard DT (RFA), Richard Marshall CB (RFA), Josh McCown QB (UFA), Muhsin Muhammad WR (UFA), Quinton Teal SS (RFA), Hollis Thomas DT (UFA), Tank Tyler DT (RFA), Keydrick Vincent G (UFA), C.J. Wilson CB (RFA)

Nick Hayden DL (RFA), Marcus Hudson DB (UFA), Dwayne Jarrett WR (RFA), Charles Johnson DL (RFA), Ed Johnson DL (RFA), Ryan Kalil C (RFA), Derek Landri DL (RFA), Charly Martin WR (XRFA), Kenneth Moore WR (XRFA), Matt Moore QB (RFA), Rob Petitti OT (UFA), Dante Rosario TE (RFA), Jordan Senn LB (RFA), DeAngelo Williams RB (UFA)
Quarterbacks Minimal Need
The Panthers waved goodbye to long term QB Jake Delhomme and will move forward with young Matt Moore. And after Delhomme's problems in 2009 and the way Matt Moore finished off the season, who could really blame them? Moore twice had 3TD games in the last 4 games and didn't throw an Interception in that time either. Moore is young and currently only signed through this season. A new CBA could see him be an unrestricted free agent in 2011 so the Panthers may face a quandry, not wanting to over commit to a young QB they still have questions over. But on the other side of the coin, what if Moore excels and a new CBA comes in? He's going to be a hell of a lot more expensive at that point and may opt to test the market. Hunter Cantwell's currently the only other QB on the roster and in reality he's a backup type at best (though Carolina have had their successes developing QBs) but they could definitely use a veteran to compete/back up Moore. Cantwell would be a serviceable #3 in that situation. Carolina's probably not in the market for a QB in this draft, at least not in the early rounds... but they really do need that veteran.
Runningbacks No Need
After Jonathan Stewart's fine end to 2009 some folks speculated that DeAngelo Williams might be getting traded. And there's still a few rumours about it, but I just can't see it. The Panthers would like to extend Williams but the lack of a CBA kicked in a "30% rule" meaning players can only get a maximum 30% rise in salary in a contract extension. This means that unless the Panthers give him a big signing bonus it's going to be virtually impossible to extend him. Which in turn means he could be headed onto the free agent market in 2011. That has to be something they address in 2011 and I don't think it will factor into their draft strategy in 2010. They have 2 absolute star RBs, who after a couple of seasons of, not struggling, but not quite living up to their hype, have very definitely found their groove in the NFL. Stewart is somewhat injury prone but he's a trooper and plays through pain many others wouldn't or couldn't. Chuck in second year players Tyrell Sutton & Mike Goodson and they're dead set for this season at least.

Wide Receivers Major Need
Even though he seems like he's been torturing Cornerbacks forever and a day, Steve Smith is actually only 30 and despite a down year (mostly blamable on poor QB play) he's still got that mojo. Sadly, outside of Smith the Panthers have absolutely nada except bust Dwayne Jarrett. If you believe in motivation, Jarrett will be playing for his football career in 2010. It's nut up or shut up time. In all likelihood the only reason he'll make it on the roster is he's currently the second best WR on the team. Which speaks volumes about the rest. So much so they may even consider bringing back octagenarian Muhsin Muhammad after the draft. They have brought in former Jet preseason wonder Wallace Wright. I expect he'll destroy all competition in training camp then disappear in September. There's no denying that WR has to be EXTREMELY high on their list of picks in round 2. There could be some good guys still around then. I'd expect Golden Tate to ultimately be a late first rounder but you never know, 47 is not beyond the realms of possibilities. Others who might fall into that sort of area, Arrellious Benn perhaps or Marshwan Gilyard, Brandon LaFell or Demaryius Thomas. No shortage of options but by round 2 generally you're looking at Wideouts with some big knock against them, be it speed, or size or lack of production. You're looking at upside guys who may take time to develop in the pros.
Tight Ends Minimal Need
The Panthers run 3 deep at TE, Jeff King, Dante Rosario and Gary Barnidge. None of them standout but the Panthers offensive system rarely asks them too. Even so one of these guys will do what's asked of the position most weeks. None of these dudes are future Probowlers but they're all solid and they all fit pretty well. I don't see huge scope for a draft pick here at the moment. The only consideration might be King and Rosario being free agents in 2011. There's bigger fish to fry than picking a 4th TE.

Offensive Line MInimal Need
Jordan Gross is Carolina's best Offensive Lineman but he was lost to season ending broken leg. Not that it slowed down the Panthers run blocking any. Jeff Otah nails down the other side, and most opposing Defensive Ends. He's a mauler. Ryan Kalil has been yet another good draft pick by the Panthers who just seem to have a knack for identifying and developing OL talent. With not much in the way of draft picks this year and a couple of major needs at other slots they're really going to have to put that to the test this offseason. I've little doubt that they already have the guy who'll replace Keydrick Vincent on the roster but they could use a couple of late picks on a Guard and a Tackle to develop as well. When they lost both Otah and Gross to injury they were stretched. But who wouldn't be? I think most teams would happily trade Offensive Lines with the Panthers.

Defensive Tackles Major Need
There's 2 things I think of when I go through the Panthers DT situation. Yuck, and Double Yuck. Any time you lose a player of the quality of Maake Kemoeatu it's going to affect you. But Carolina really struggled to defend the run last year. WIth Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis moved on it's only going to get worse as well. You have to look at this as Major Need, they currently have some numbers and a couple of them would be good depth but if it was my team? I wouldn't want any of these guys starting if I had a choice. Corvey Irvin was a 3rd round choice last year who lost his rookie season to injury. I'm not sure he's an answer for them either so they've got to be looking at guys in this draft. As much as they'd love a WR in round 2 if some top end DT slides into round 2 it could tilt the balance. But there could still be some good options left in round 3.

Defensive Ends Minor Need
Now the Panthers had one of the best pass defenses in the league. Part of this is that their run defense was so awful teams didn't have to pass on them much. And this is also a reason why the Panthers struggled for sacks. When you're not facing 3rd and long very often, you have little chance to get to the QB. Having used the 43rd pick last year on undersized pass rusher Everette Brown they probably can't afford to go early at the same position again. Especially as this looks like something of a down class for out and out 4-3DEs but a good draft for 3-4 rush OLB types instead. Though that didn't seem to stop them last year, Brown could easily fit in as a 3-4 rush OLB. So hey, maybe it's an option and aggressive guys like Jerry Hughes might tempt them at 47. But I think they really need to improve their run defense first and give their pass rush a better chance to succeed. Tyler Braxton, Brown and Charles Johnson are capable of getting to the QB. They just need to do it more consistently. I'm not going to underplay the situation, this is still something that could be improved but in a rebuilding year they need to find out what they have before they decide to move on.

Linebackers Minor Need
There's not really enough superlatives to describe Jon Beason, he's a ridiculous talent and he's signed for the next 2 seasons. MY guess is he'll be extended a long time before his current deal runs out but it may not be this offseason. Thomas Davis is coming off knee surgery but he'll be an important player and he's gotten the highest RFA tender too. When healthy he's also an excellent Linebacker. He was having a great season before the knee injury too. Having cut ties with N'ail Diggs the likely starter on the strong side is Dan Connor, James Anderson is an option too. Neither of them is what you'd call a mind blowing option but Beason and Davis make this a strong group overall. With the loss of Diggs I could see a draft pick going on a potential strong side Linebacker but we're probably talking 4th round at the earliest. 

Cornerbacks Minor Need
Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall make up a fine pair of Cornerbacks and I have to admit to being surprised that teams haven't jumped on Marshall as he's only been tendered at the second round level. Is there a better CB than him available in the second round? Probably not. Course the Panthers would have right of first refusal but still, I'm surprised. As a Steelers fan I would happily give up our second rounder for him. Let's assume he remains a Panther though. With Dante Wesley moved on there's a definite weakness in depth. Captain Munnerlyn has an awesome name but far less than awesome size. It's expecting a lot of him to be a nickel corner but that could be what they're hoping for right now. Sherrod Martin could work in there but after a pretty stunning turn filling in at Free Safety last season he may be best off used there this season. A lot's going to depend on Martin I guess but right now I'd say depth is suspect at CB.

Safeties No Need
Carolina's returning their 2 starters from last year and promising rookie Sherrod Martin. They've also added Marcus Hudson to backup Safety so things should be pretty good to go here. After all this was a good pass defense last year.

Specialists No Need
John Kasay had something of a down year by his high standards but his roster spot won't be in doubt. Baker at Punter is average to above average in NFL terms but he's more than serviceable and again, I doubt they look seriously at anyone else. Rhys Lloyd used to handle kickoffs but he got too expensive so the much cheaper Todd Carter has been added to see if he can take over that job.

Return Game Major Need
Ah now here's somewhere that could do with a major upgrade. No-one returned kick offs with any authority last year. Captain Munnerlyn did a decent job on punts but they could and should look to dramatically upgrade the kick off return game this offseason.

Dream Day One
 1.47 Golden Tate WR Notre Dame
Player Visits
Trent Guy WR Louisville
Tony Pike QB Cincinnati
Armanti Edwards QB Appalachian State
Dan LeFevour QB Central Michigan
Garrett Lindholm K Tarelton State


Last Edited: 04/12/2010

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