2014 NFL Draft primer: Carolina Panthers
This is the latest primer in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit. The draft begins Thursday, May 8.
PICK NO. 28: CAROLINA PANTHERS
2013 record: 11-5
Key offseason acquisitions: WR Jerricho Cotchery, CB Antoine Cason, SS Roman Harper, WR Jason Avant, WR Tiquan Underwood.
Key offseason departures: WR Steve Smith, WR Brandon LaFell, WR/KR Ted Ginn, WR Domenik Hixon, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LT Jordan Gross, FS Mike Mitchell.
Biggest holes: Wide receiver, tackle, cornerback.
The Steve Smith Era has come to a messy end in Carolina. There's an old cliché that "you can never replace a player like that guy", but in the Panthers' case, they just don't have anyone to replace him, period.
That's because the Panthers' top four wide receivers from 2013 - Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon - all left or were cut in the offseason. The quartet accounted for 156 catches, 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013. That's 53.4 percent of Cam Newton's completions, 58.6 percent of his passing yards and 62.5 percent of his passing touchdowns. The Panthers signed ex-Steelers wideout Jerricho Cotchery, former Eagle Jason Avant, and former Buccaneers receiver Tiquan Underwood. That trio combined for 108 catches, 1,491 yards and 16 touchdowns, but they still could use one more target to round out the group.
Indiana's Cody Latimer has been a hot name lately. Latimer is a polished route runner with good hands and awareness. He can also high-point the ball well and uses his 6-2, 215-pound frame to create separation. He lacks explosiveness and top-end speed, though, which limits him to more of a West Coast style of offense.
A name that hasn't been mentioned nearly enough among the top wide receivers in this class: Fresno State's Davante Adams, who the Panthers have reportedly brought in for several visits. The 6-1, 212-pound Adams has excellent hands (233 catches in two seasons), good speed (4.56 40 at the Combine), a 39 1/2-inch vertical and an exceptional catch radius. He's not as tall as Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin, but he's just as good of a red-zone threat. Adams' jumping ability and concentration allow him to high-point the ball with great ease. There are questions about his route tree since Fresno State's offense relied mostly on shorter, quick-hitting routes and screens. He's a borderline first-rounder right now, but he could end up as one of the top receivers in this class in three years.
The Panthers also need to replace left tackle Jordan Gross, who retired midway through the offseason, as well as upgrade across the rest of the offensive line. The top linemen will be off the board by the time Carolina is on the clock, but the Panthers would have their pick of the top second-tier guys: Nevada's Joel Bitonio and Virginia's Morgan Moses.
Bitonio was a solid tackle in college, but at 6-4 and 302 pounds, he projects best in the NFL as a guard. He tested toward the top of the OL class in the 40-yard dash (4.97 seconds), vertical jump (32 inches), broad jump (114 inches), three-cone drill (7.37 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.44 seconds) at the Combine. He's a tough kid who has a good mix of awareness and athleticism, no matter where the Panthers would put him.
Moses has great size for either tackle position at 6-6 and 318 pounds. He's an excellent pass blocker, thanks to his 35 3/8-inch long arms, his solid base and his hand use. However, Moses does need some refining as a run blocker, which could be troubling given that the Panthers often rely on the run.
The Panthers also need a replacement for cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with the Vikings. However, all of the top-tier cornerbacks likely will be gone by this pick, since several secondary needy teams pick directly ahead of the Panthers.
Possible Day 2/Day 3 picks include Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson, LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood, Miami tackle Seantrel Henderson, Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort, Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins, Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens and Missouri senior E.J. Gaines.