Dave Gettleman took part in his first draft as the Panthers general manager last season and found plenty of great value, players who have helped turn this team around and now sit just a game behind the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South crown and the number two seed in the NFC. After years of previous management ignoring the Panthers need for help at defensive tackle, Gettleman made it a priority in 2013 drafting Star Lotulelei in the first round and Kawann Short in the second round. Both rookies have not only played well but paired with Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, have formed an elite unit.
Gettleman now has had a full year to prepare for the 2014 NFL Draft and will have another chance to fill needs on both sides of the ball. The Panthers 2014 class will be focused on three things. Protecting Cam Newton, bring in more weapons in the passing game and improving the Panthers’ secondary. Gettleman will have a full ammunition of picks to work with, and won’t be afraid to move up and down the board in one of the best draft classes in recent memory. With another strong draft, the Panthers could emerge as one of the favorites to win the NFC in 2014.
First Round: Allen Robinson Wide Receiver, Penn State
While it is true that using the excuse “he doesn’t have any weapons” for a quarterback’s struggles has plenty of flaws, there are valid points to it. Tom Brady has dealt with it this season and overcame the drops, Aaron Rodgers was playing at a high level without his top receivers and Newton has been playing great as well. But if the Panthers front office wants him to take the next step and become an elite quarterback, they need to bring in more playmakers in this offense.
While improving the offensive line and secondary will be vital for the Panthers draft success, they go best player available in the first round and still fill a vital need on offense. Robinson has followed up an excellent 2012 season with even better production this year and he has elevated his draft stock into the first round. He is more than just speed, at 6’3” you can throw the ball up in his direction and he will come down with it even if he has to fight for it. One thing he does better than most is body control. It doesn’t matter where the ball is, Robinson can control his body and put himself in perfect position to catch the football. He can come in the first day and instantly become the Panthers’ number two wide receiver and work very well with Steve Smith.
Second Round: La’el Collins Offensive Tackle, LSU
Newton has made tremendous strides this year as a quarterback, and really hasn’t been given enough credit for how much work he has put in to get to this point. You are seeing an improved version of Newton every time he takes the field and he is doing all of this while having an ugly offensive line in front of him. Seriously, the Panthers are starting Byron Bell at right tackle, he shouldn’t be starting for the Jaguars let alone a Super Bowl-contender.
Collins has really started to shine this season for the Tigers and the protector of Zach Mettenberger. He has risen from little-known player before the season to one of the bigger names on the rise as the end of the season nears. He has been outmatched at times playing left tackle, but could handle the transition to the right side perfectly. He still hasn’t reached his full potential, but has done a very nice job creating running lanes for his running back. Playing on the right side, he could open up lanes for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to break off big runs and lift this Panthers team to even further heights.
Third Round: Aaron Colvin Cornerback, Oklahoma
Carolina may fall just short of the NFC South crown in 2013, but they have a real chance of being the team to beat in 2014 with nice 2014 draft class. One area they will have to address is the secondary which was exposed last week by Mike Wallace as he showed that they can be beat deep easily and often. Fixing the secondary will be no easy task for Gettleman, but the 2014 cornerback class is filled with talent and depth, which can allow the Panthers to wait until the second or third round to draft a corner.
Colvin has dealt with his share of injuries this season, but when he is on the field the senior cornerback has shown improvement this season on a weekly basis. While he lacks great athleticism and is slow in his movements, Colvin makes up for it with his physical play, instincts and size. Colvin also offers the versatility to play either cornerback or safety, and knows how to make plays by reading the quarterbacks eyes and anticipating the throw, allowing him to get to the spot just in time and create an interception. His technique has improved this season and his draft stock should rise even further after the Senior Bowl.
Fourth Round: Spencer Long Offensive Guard, Nebraska
If I could ask the Panthers to do one thing in this draft, please protect Newton. For all off the highlight plays he has avoiding pass rushers and running around behind the line of scrimmage, he shouldn’t have to do that on every other play. Bolstering the interior of the offensive line will be key for the Panthers in the offseason and the draft is a great place to start.
Long has missed most of the 2013 season with a knee injury which has really damaged his draft stock, but he will be healthy for the 2014 season and offers great value in the fourth round. Long offers nice size at 6’4” 315 lbs, but is actually more athletic than some might think. He has shown the ability to pull and get to the second level quickly and making sure he seals his block. Once his knee checks, out he will be ready for training camp and motivated to take over as a starter in training camp.
Fifth Round: Boseko Lokombo Outside Linebacker, Oregon
Carolina already has a terrifying front-seven, but they would have a tough time passing up on a talent like Lokombo. When you see some of the great teams in the NFL like the 49ers one thing you immediately notice is how deep they are on defense. It doesn’t matter how many times they are hit with the injury bug, as there is always someone on the depth chart who steps onto the field and reveals himself to be a stud. It’s something that the Panthers should take notice of and by adding Lokombo, an opportunity they take advantage of.
Lokombo could take his time adjusting to the NFL and wouldn’t be rushed into a prominent role right away. Lokombo is making plenty of big plays again this season for Oregon but he is still benefiting largely off of his freakish athleticism. When he arrives in Carolina and works with coaches, Lokombo can continue to work on his technique, strength and learning the Panthers’ scheme. He would be a situational player while he develops and just add another piece to a frightening front seven.
Sixth Round: Wayne Lyons Cornerback, Stanford
The Panthers front seven is loaded with talent and is a big reason why they have one of the best units in football this season, but the front seven can only cover up some of the holes in the secondary. The Panthers may be seventh in the league allowing just 216 passing yards per game, but a lot of that is because the opposing quarterback doesn’t have a lot of time to test their secondary. Adding depth to the position with Lyons is just another addition to help turn around this secondary and turn this defense into one of the best in football.
Seventh Round: Shaq Evans Wide Receiver, UCLA
After adding Robinson in the first round, the Panthers still need to focus on bringing in more weapons for Newton. While Newton has had an incredible year and lifted the Panthers to Super Bowl-contenders, he has even more room to grow and adding another option like Evans will only help. Evans has again showcased talent this year, but unfortunately he plays for a Bruins team that has struggled throwing the football. The offense still obsesses on short passes and screens, not giving Evans the chance to always show of his abilities. But he has NFL-talent and would give Newton more options to work with in the future.