Carolina Panthers: 2017 NFL Draft Preview

Dalvin Cook (left), Leonard Fournette (right)

If Gettleman decides to use his first pick here, the choice will be either Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette.

G.M. Dave Gettleman has done a marvelous job since taking over for Marty Hurney in 2013 and is considered one of the brighter minds in football today. The next few years will be crucial for him and the organization as they look towards delivering a championship with Cam Newton entering his prime. To that end, doesn’t it make sense to provide Newton with the best weapons any way you can?

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Key additions

  • S Mike Adams
  • WR Charles Johnson
  • OT Matt Kalil
  • CB Captain Munnerlyn
  • DE Julius Peppers
  • WR Russell Shepard

Key subtractions

  • WR Corey Brown
  • DE Kony Ealy
  • WR Ted Ginn Jr.
  • CB Leonard Johnson
  • DE A.J. Klein
  • OT Mike Remmers
  • FB Mike Tolbert

Priority needs (Offense)

  • RB - Even though the Panthers signed Jonathan Stewart to a one-year extension, Gettleman will need to find Stewart’s understudy somewhere within the team’s first three picks. If Gettleman decides to use his first pick here, the choice will be either Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook.
  • FB - The Panthers will miss Mike Tolbert’s pass protection the most. Since Tolbert was used for nearly 30% of the team’s offensive snaps, this is a position to keep an eye on.
  • WR - It all comes down to how much faith the Panthers have in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Also, did the free agent additions of Russell Shepard and Charles Johnson alleviate the loss of Ted Ginn Jr. enough to pass on taking a receiver? With a class this good I doubt it.
  • OL - Left tackle Matt Kalil joins his brother Ryan and hopes to regain the form displayed during his first few seasons in Minnesota and not his last few. For $55 million over five years he’d better. The next important move will be to re-sign left guard Andrew Norwell before he becomes a free agent after the ’17 season. If they can accomplish that deal, the Panthers will still need to get more from the right side of the line as Daryl Williams, Trai Turner and Michael Oher are just average players at best. Williams has a cap friendly deal for two more seasons so he has more time to prove himself, but Turner has to step up before becoming a free agent after the upcoming season. If Turner fails in a full-time role, his versatility could keep him around at a reasonable rate. I expect Gettleman will look to draft one lineman in the middle rounds who could be groomed to take over next season if neither Turner nor Williams shows staying power. Oher meanwhile could become a cap casualty after June 1st.

Priority needs (Defense)

  • DL – Chances are Gettleman will have to decide between tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, on which to invest in for a long term deal after next season. Even with 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler in the fold, this is a position that needs attention. The ends are talented, but old. Returning Julius Peppers to play his natural position with his original team was a smart move that can temporary offset the trade of Kony Ealy to New England. While the Panthers defensive line looks solid next season, there is little doubt that more young bodies and specifically pass rushers are needed, so why not take an early look at upgrading now.
  • LB – Thomas Davis is an all-time great Panther, but he’s 34 and coming off a so-so season. It doesn’t help either that the team lost their top reserve with A.J. Klein moving to New Orleans. Even though this is an excellent unit, the top returning backup (David Mayo) played only 31 snaps last season. And don’t forget that their star player, Luke Kuechly suffered a serious concussion last November. Concussions are serious issues in football and can reoccur at any time. Better to be safe than sorry as I expect this position to be more valuable on draft night than one might think.

Final analysis

Gettleman has done a marvelous job since taking over for Marty Hurney in 2013 and is considered one of the brighter minds in football today. The next few years will be crucial towards delivering a championship to the organization as Cam Newton enters his prime. Newton can’t do it all which is why it’s paramount Gettleman acquire a talented young runner who can take the pressure off the passing game. That’s why many people believe Leonard Fournette to be a perfect fit in Carolina. That might very well be an accurate analysis, but Gettleman should also keep an eye on a pass rusher and linebacker at No. 8. If he does, he can always look for a rusher at 40, 64 or later like Joe Mixon, Kareem Hunt and James Conner. The wild card with their top pick could be a receiver. As we mentioned, Newton needs more help, and his young leftover receivers did not do their part last season. With Ginn Jr. gone, would Gettleman look to replace that speed with NFL Combine sensation, John Ross? Corey Davis is a better player, but after his ankle injury forced him to skip both the combine and his pro day you have to wonder if that will drop him down the draft a bit.

Top first-round options

  • RB Dalvin Cook
  • RB Leonard Fournette
  • WR Corey Davis
  • WR John Ross
  • LB Reuben Foster
  • DE Taco Charlton
  • DE Derek Barnett
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