Offseason review: Carolina Panthers
DT, CB, QB, DE, OLB, WR
Round 1-Cam Newton/QB
Round 3-Terrell McClain/DT
Round 3-Sione Fua/DT
Round 4-Brandon Hogan/CB
Round 5-Kealoha Pilares/WR
Round 6-Lawrence Wilson/LB
Round 6-Zach Williams/G-C
Round 7-Lee Ziemba/ORT
Potential Free Agents of Note
CB, QB (veteran), DE (depth), WLB, SLB, TE (depth)
The Panthers, coming off a very disappointing season in 2010, came in with plenty of needs to fill in this year’s NFL Draft.
They chose to address the future of the quarterback position in Cam Newton with the first overall selection in the draft. Newton is a talented but raw quarterback, so second-year quarterback Jimmy Clausen or a veteran figures to begin the season under center while Newton develops his skills and knowledge of the offensive scheme.
Having a solid running game should help Newton’s maturation process, but the team could lose veteran running back DeAngelo Williams in free agency. If Williams leaves as an unrestricted free agent, fourth-year back Jonathan Stewart will take over as the main ball carrier with third-year pro Mike Goodson backing him up.
The Panthers addressed the weakness on the interior of the defensive line with third-round picks Terrell McClain and Sione Fua. Both should be able to contribute right away based on the lack of depth the team has at defensive tackle.
Should starting cornerback Richard Marshall leave during free agency, the Panthers will have a difficult time replacing him within their current roster. Nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who participated in 694 out of the 1,108 defensive snaps last season, is best used in a sub package role, so the team could look toward free agency if Marshall signs elsewhere.
If starting defensive end Charles Johnson leaves during free agency, the Panthers might have a very difficult time replacing the fifth-year defensive lineman. Third-year end Everette Brown and veteran end Tyler Brayton would likely be the two starters if Johnson doesn’t wind up re-signing, but second-year end Greg Hardy could figure prominently in the mix. Hardy, who saw time in roughly 35 percent of the defensive snaps last season, has a ton of talent and upside.
If veteran linebacker Jon Beason plays inside this season, the team will have some decisions to make for both outside spots. Veteran linebacker James Anderson, who is unsigned, figures to start on the strong side again if he comes back for his sixth season. Anderson participated in 1,070 out of the 1,108 defensive plays last season. Veteran weak-side linebacker Thomas Davis, who missed all of last season due to his second ACL injury in his right knee, has missed 25 games over the past two seasons. He’s technically under contract and should start if healthy. Fourth-year linebacker Dan Connor, who started eight games inside last season before he suffered a season-ending hip injury, is also capable of playing on the strong side.