It must be nice to head into the NFL Draft knowing that you hit a home run the previous year. That's the feeling carried by general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers after they added quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick in last year's draft. Fresh off a sterling rookie year, Newton is one of the most dynamic young players in the league and the Panthers have their longtime franchise quarterback. So with the ninth overall pick, the question becomes whether they should bolster that explosive offense or help out a defense that finished 28th in the league in total defense.
On offense, the Panthers have undergone a bit of a reconstruction on the offensive line, losing guards Travelle Wharton and Mackenzy Bernadeau from last year's team. Stanford's David DeCastro is considered far and away the best guard prospect in the draft and, if the Panthers think he's worthy of a top-10 pick, he could be their man. Riley Reiff could be a possibility, but the Panthers have Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah entrenched as tackles, making DeCastro a likelier option.
With Steve Smith signed to a new long-term contract, it would be a surprise to see the Panthers add a wide receiver here, but Kendall Wright has the kind of deep speed that would work wonders running under long balls from Newton. Wright's stock has quieted, but don't rule him out here.
Still, defense is the most pressing area that needs addressing. The Panthers' 2011 draft was successful not just because of the addition of Newton, but because their two third-round picks Terrell McClain and Sione Fua both stepped in to start alongside each other at defensive tackle. But defensive tackle is where the value could come at this point, especially since it's a position of rotation in the first place. Fletcher Cox is the consensus top defensive tackle at this point, but Dontari Poe has been a long-rumored Panthers possibility at nose tackle and Michael Brockers would bring the run-stuffing capability Carolina could covet.
South Carolina's Melvin Ingram is said to be one of the more talented pass rushers in the class, and he could intrigue the Panthers to pair with Charles Johnson on the outside.
In the back seven, Luke Kuechly is a real possibility with the long-tenured duo of Jon Beason and Thomas Davis both getting up there in years and coming off injuries. Add to that the loss of Dan Connor in free agency and Kuechly becomes a real possibility. Then there's cornerback, where South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore is said to be expected to come off the board earlier than some expect, perhaps as high at the top 10. Gilmore would fit well in Sean McDermott's defense, where he could eventually supplant Captain Munnerlyn opposite Chris Gamble.
So what do you think? Bolstering the offense or aiding a defense in need? Or, could there be a trade at the no. 9 spot, perhaps for Cox. As always, you make the call.
1. Indianapolis – QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. Washington – QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
3. Minnesota -- OT Matt Kalil, USC
4. Cleveland - RB Trent Richardson, Cleveland
5. Tampa Bay - CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
6. St. Louis - WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma St.
7. Jacksonville - WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
8. Miami - QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
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