Matt will be reviewing each team's pre-draft analysis by talking about the draft range of targeted players.
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Carolina Panthers (Last Year: 7-9)
It looks like an uphill climb for the Panthers again in the NFC South with the favorites being the Saints and Buccaneers, but you simply can't count out any team in this division. The South is very unpredictable. Carolina made one of the best (and luckiest) moves last year by trading down 11 spots with the Jets and still getting their guy in Jon Beason, who had an outstanding rookie season.
More help is needed on both sides of the ball for Carolina to be a playoff team, so let's get right to the No. 13 pick range in the 2008 NFL Draft:
Ryan Clady/Chris Williams:
There is nothing definitive about Jordan Gross playing left tackle, but Travelle Wharton is moving into left guard. It's a hard call whether Carolina will go with a Clady or Williams here, but I'd hardly call it a bad move. It all depends on what they think Gross can provide on the left side.
With nothing in the cupboard at free safety, the Panthers might seriously consider taking Phillips at No. 13, or trade down in the first round like they did last year with Beason (check out my other draft analysis for projected trades, one of which will be with Carolina.) The criticism is that Phillips would obviously be a consensus reach here, but reaches are made every year in the draft.
Rashard Mendenhall/Jonathan Stewart:
If John Fox liked DeAngelo Williams so much, then why didn't he give him more playing time? I really liked Williams as a prospect, and I think he can be a No. 1 back, but I am not sure if the Panthers' front office feels the same way.
I have a hard time seeing Buffalo pass up on Harvey if he is still on the board, but if they were to go in a different direction, GM Marty Hurney might want a pure pass rusher on the right side and move Julius Peppers full time on the left side to provide a lethal pass rush.
Carolina's trend is that they love big defensive lineman; Julius Peppers, Maake Kemoeatu, Mike Rucker, and Kris Jenkins all come to mind. Merling is big and more athletic than given credit for. Like Peppers, he has the versatility to play either side of the line. I think Merling is the front runner for the Panthers at No. 13.
Damione Lewis is not an adequate starter at tackle, so they certainly must be looking to replace Kris Jenkins in the next two rounds. Pat Sims is the pretty much the prototype of what they look for as a bulky player who can clog the running lanes. He's pretty athletic for his size, but he is very raw and inexperienced. Ahtyba Rubin, Red Bryant, and Marcus Harrison are in that Round 2-3 range as well.
If they don't go with a first-tier back in Mendenhall or Stewart, I think they will have to add some depth here later in the draft. Tashard Choice is a possibility early on. He's a smart player who brings a lot of toughness to the position and would be the ultimate complement to the game-breaking speed of Williams. They could also be considering Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, or Matt Forte early on.
In the mid rounds they might want to add some offensive line depth. Eric Young and John Greco can play guard or tackle, so they make sense in Rounds 4-5.
Free safety is also a position of great concern. Reggie Smith and DaJuan Morgan are options in the second round. It's a weak safety class, so don't be shocked if they draft a corner and plan to move him to free safety to find the next Tanard Jackson.
Carolina Panthers 2008 Offseason Needs
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