CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) General manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t believe the Carolina Panthers have one glaring area of need entering the NFL draft.
That’s a welcome change for the third-year GM.
”With the things we have done in the offseason – and I’m not saying we’re perfect because we have a long way to go – but I feel good about where we are at right now at a lot of positions,” Gettleman said Tuesday at a pre-draft news conference.
”Can we use a guy here or there? Yes, who can’t? But we’re not walking into this draft like we were last year.”
That makes the Panthers, who have the 25th overall pick in the draft, slightly unpredictable entering Thursday night.
Last year the Panthers were forced to address one of three glaring needs – wide receiver, offensive tackle or the secondary with the 28th overall pick. They settled on Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who turned in a nice rookie season with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.
The team has more options this year.
It’s possible the Panthers could look for a wide receiver to pair with Benjamin. They may look for a franchise left tackle they didn’t get in last year’s draft.
Or perhaps Georgia’s Todd Gurley is still on the board and the Panthers look to fill the void at running back left by the offseason release of veteran DeAngelo Williams.
”I feel a lot better going into this draft than we did last year,” Gettleman said. ”A year ago today I knew we had to remake three position groups – the wide receivers, the tackles and the secondary. And we made good strides, good enough to get to the second round of the playoffs and play a Super Bowl team (Seattle) pretty tough in their joint. Do I feel like we need a (particular position)? No.”
The Panthers entered the offseason looking to upgrade their speed, special teams and left tackle position.
They found potential stopgaps at tackle by adding free agents Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin, addressed their speed and the return game by bringing back Ted Ginn Jr. and filled a number of other holes on special teams and in the secondary by signing some experienced, low-risk free agents.
”We felt we hit those check boxes and I feel really good about that,” Gettleman said.
Some things to know about the Panthers in advance of this week’s draft.
TACKLE TALK: Gettleman said there are ”four to five” players in the draft who can develop into quality left tackles in the NFL, although he wouldn’t mention any by name.
”Is there a long-term guy at the left tackle spot who could be available for us at 25? Yes,” Gettleman said.
The Panthers will start their third left tackle in as many years this season. Jordan Gross played there in 2012 before retiring, and Byron Bell – now with the Tennessee Titans – started there last year.
”You don’t want any position to be a revolving door,” Gettleman said.
TRADING PICKS: Carolina, which has won back-to-back NFC South titles, has nine picks overall – something Gettleman could use to package and trade up later in the draft.
Gettleman doesn’t appear keen on trading up in the first round and paying a huge price to get a particular player.
”I don’t subscribe to that theory that we’re one player away,” he said.
FIRST-ROUND SUCCESS: The Panthers have had plenty of success with their first-round picks over the years.
Benjamin was a major contributor last year, and the Panthers got defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, linebacker Luke Kuechly and quarterback Cam Newton in the previous three years. All are key players and considered part of the team’s core.
CHARACTER CONCERNS: Gettleman said the Panthers will continue to be cautious when it comes to drafting players with character concerns, particularly after the bad publicity they endured last year with Greg Hardy’s domestic assault case.
”Players have to understand they are representing the Carolina Panthers,” Gettleman said. ”We won’t bring someone in here we feel will tarnish that.”
RECEIVER DEPTH: While last year’s draft was loaded with quality wide receivers, Gettleman believes this year’s draft is actually deeper at that position. That means help for Benjamin could come after the first round.
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