The Carolina Panthers own the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and they will get things started in our Fan Mock Draft.
The Panthers wrapped up the 2010 season with a 2-14 season. The Panthers scored a league-low 17 touchdowns which was only 12 fewer than Cleveland who was next-to-last in the league in touchdowns. The defense wasn't atrocious as they ranked 18th in yards, but was 26th in points. And when the offense is not scoring any points, it really doesn't matter what defense you have.
It's a new era in Carolina as former Eagles assistant Ron Rivera takes over as a first-time head coach in place on John Fox. After nine years with Carolina, Fox's contract was not renewed following last season. Rivera is a defensive-minded coach having learned under the late Jim Johnson and running defenses in Chicago and San Diego prior to getting the Carolina job. Carolina is also now the home to former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
What should the Panthers do? Obviously, the first spot to look at is the quarterback position. Longtime starter Jake Delhomme left for Cleveland and the Panthers thought that Matt Moore could step in and be the answer. Moore ended the season on injured reserve, but wasn't a difference-maker before that anyway. The Panthers used a second-round pick last year on Jimmy Clausen who started once Moore was injured and wasn't impressive. Yes, Clausen was a rookie, but there is also a new coaching staff with no allegiance to him.
Most mock drafts at this point believe quarterback Cam Newton, who shined last year winning the Heisman and leading Auburn to the national title, will be the first pick. If the Panthers want a quarterback, but not Newton, it would be Missouri's Blaine Gabbert who has all the makings of a NFL quarterback except for the fact he has not played from under center. The only other offensive player who should be considered here is wide receiver A.J. Green from Georgia, who is considered by many the most talented player regardless of position in the draft.
If Rivera wants to fortify the defense, he will have a slew of options. At defensive end, there's Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers who had 15.5 sacks last year. There are two issues with Bowers. He was a one-year star, what happened the previous two years? Also, he is coming off a knee operation which delayed his workout for front office execs until last week and the reports from the workout were not the most positive. At defensive tackle, there will be teams hoping to snag the next Ndamukong Suh, who had 10.0 sacks as a rookie last year. Alabama's Marcell Dareus doesn't have the upside of Auburn's Nick Fairley, but was a productive, impact player who wasn't a one-year wonder like Fairley.
There has never been a cornerback selected No. 1 overall and while it's likely it won't happen, LSU's Patrick Peterson makes a very compelling case. Peterson has the size of a safety, the athleticism to play corner and is an explosive return specialist on top of all of that.
Needs: QB, CB, TE
All Good: RB, DE