On one hand, the Carolina Panthers won their final four games of the season, found a way to succeed in the running game with a hodgepodge offensive line, had two 1,000-yard receivers at the end of the season and won a playoff game.
On the other hand, there are still many holes to fill on this roster.
The Panthers are going to have to add depth and get better along the offensive line. Cam Newton could still use another weapon in the receiving game. The secondary improved by leaps and bounds in December, but help at safety is still a priority.
Picking at No. 25 is a hefty price to pay for making the playoffs. Especially since their 7-8-1 record would have landed the Panthers the 14th pick had the NFC South not been a train wreck in 2014. Carolina is going to have to make the most of its end-of-round picks, because building up a seven-win team from that deep in each round is a challenge rarely endured.
With 93 days remaining until the 2015 NFL draft, it’s still a bit too early to fully run a seven-round mock draft. But pondering the first three picks from the Panthers could be a lot of fun.
Here a mocked version of the first 24 picks:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jameis Winston, QB — Florida State
2. Tennessee Titans — Leonard Williams, DT — USC
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — Randy Gregory, DE — Nebraska
4. Oakland Raiders — Amari Cooper, WR — Alabama
5. Washington Redskins — Shane Ray, DE — Missouri
6. New York Jets — Marcus Mariota, QB — Oregon
7. Chicago Bears — Landon Collins, S — Alabama
8. Atlanta Falcons — Dante Fowler, Jr., OLB — Florida
As you can see, four of the top five offensive tackles have been selected, as have the top three wide receivers. There is only one first-round-rated safety, and Collins was a top 10 pick.
The Panthers could look at a running back of the future. There are two intriguing names available in Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley. But there are just too many other needs that are more important.
The question here is to grab T.J. Clemmings, the tackle from Pittsburgh, or get one of the four receivers left on the board that have first-round grades. Clemmings’ stock took a bit of a hit at the Senior Bowl, so the Panthers are going to add a target to the offense for Newton.
Pause for a moment and imagine what Green-Beckham and Kelvin Benjamin would look like standing next to one another. Both are 6-foot-5 behemoths who could make it nightmarishly difficult for defensive backs in the league to match up.
Green-Beckham is a top 10 talent. But off-the-field red flags are going to hurt his draft stock. The Panthers are going to have to consider taking the risk.
With enough speed to be a downfield threat, Green-Beckham can separate to become another dangerous target. But he’s also great on intermediate routes, and fights for every football within his reach. Add Greg Olsen in the mix and the Panthers would have a trio of receivers that remind folks of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, a group that used to wreak havoc in Atlanta.
Round 2, Pick 25 — Jeremiah Poutasi, OT — Utah
The Panthers have to improve upon their offensive line. The unit that finished the season sure did come together, but it overachieved.
Poutasi played on the left side for Utah for the last two seasons, but stared his career on the right. That versatility may also lead to a move inside to guard as well. He’s a 6-foot-6, 330-pound mauler who was great pushing forward, but still has to improve his first step in reverse in pass protection.
With skills already, Poutasi makes sense here in the second round for the Panthers because of his immense upside potential.
Round 3, Pick 25 — Donovan Smith, OT — Penn State
Smith is another lineman with considerable upside. He showed that potential to the NFL world at the Senior Bowl where he was one of the best offensive lineman during the week of workouts.
At 6-foot-6 and 341-pounds, Smith seemed to win every 1-on-1 battle he entered while in Mobile, Ala. He spent most of his time there on the left side and showed good hands and redirection skills in pass protection, and was quick and powerful blocking in the run game.