Carolina Panthers 2015 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs

Now that the major free agent signings have been finalized, the Last Word On Sports NFL Department will be looking at the top three needs for each team heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. To kick off matters in the NFC South, the focus will be on the division’s repeat champions, the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers hold the 25th overall pick in this year’s draft. Despite clinching the playoffs the last two seasons and becoming the division’s best team, there are holes to be filled at various positions on their depth chart. In order to complete the three-peat of the NFC’s Southern division, where does Carolina need to send their draft-day attention?

Carolina Panthers 2015 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs

Offensive Lineman

The retirement of All-Pro left tackle Jordan Gross before last season contributed mightily in Carolina’s offensive line struggles in 2014. Filling in as Gross’ replacements, Byron Bell and Nate Chandler were among the league’s worst-rated offensive tackle pairs in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF also states only two left tackles were ranked lower than Bell. Carolina finished toward the bottom of the NFL in sacks allowed with 42, including 67 hits on the quarterback. After surrendering an average of 2.6 sacks per game, the Panthers must draft a cornerstone tackle who can resist explosive pass rushers on the outside.

Since they pick late in the first round, most signs point to Carolina selecting LSU’s La’el Collins, who is widely considered to be one of the best offensive linemen in this year’s draft class. The Panthers do indeed have other glaring offensive needs, but their main focus should be on solidifying their front line and Collins would be too difficult to pass up if he is available.

Wide Receiver

Kelvin Benjamin proved that he could be a team’s top receiver after his stellar rookie campaign, but the Panthers need another weapon on the outside to compete offensively with the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. After losing Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon last offseason, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant were brought in as the replacements. While Cotchery and Avant are formidable veteran targets, they aren’t transcending players that strike fear in secondaries.

Carolina may want to look at Dorial Green-Beckham, the 6’5, 237-pound freak of nature who was outstanding at Missouri in 2013 before his dismissal from the program. Green-Beckham going opposite of Benjamin, who is also 6’5 and 200-plus pounds, could form mismatch nightmares for defensive backs. Drafting Rashad Green, Benjamin’s teammate at Florida State, would also be smart because of the already-existing continuity between the two wideouts.

Defensive End

When Carolina boasted the league’s second-best defense in the NFL in 2013, they led the league with 60 sacks. Their nightmarish pass rush was led by the disruptive Greg Hardy, who had 15 of those quarterback takedowns. The Pro Bowler missed all but one game in 2014 due to his domestic violence case and now he is a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Without Hardy, Carolina’s sack total dipped significantly, dropping to 40 in 2014, so the Panthers must find his replacement on the outside. Veteran Charles Johnson’s sack total decreased while rookie Kony Ealy accounted for only four takedowns. Johnson will be 29 this summer, and Ealy needs to have an explosive sophomore campaign.

In a year flooded with edge rushers, Carolina should consider drafting someone like Trey Flowers (Arkansas) or Danielle Hunter (LSU) in the second or third round.


Check out all of The War Room content

Main Photo: