I don't even pretend to think I have a clue as to exactly what the Panthers will do on draft day. The Panthers propensity for making trades on draft day the last two drafts laid waste to my meticulous plans. So I'm going to make my first prediction a little more broad.
The Panthers will draft an offensive lineman, maybe even two. Yes, you heard it hear first (maybe) and I realize I'm going out on limb by saying it but yes, a big ugly for the front line. Wait, I'm channeling my inner Mayock...not only will they take a lineman but they will pick one that can play center. Only cutting edge stuff here folks. Okay, maybe it's just a little obvious.
I find it real strange that the Panthers five offensive line starting positions are already set. Yet the competition for the three back-up spots on the roster is wide open. If you use the three back-ups from last season as a template then the players would be a tackle (Frank Omiyale), a guard-tackle (Jeremy Bridges) and a guard-center (Geoff Hangartner).
The Panthers currently have two back-up tackles in 2nd year player Geoff Schwartz and free agent pick-up Jonathan Palmer. Schwartz is a pure tackle but Palmer actually has experience playing all three line spots. Though he's probably too big to play center (6-4", 336 lbs) he seems nicely slotted to compete for the guard-tackle spot. Palmer has been on the Panthers practice squad in September so he has had time to learn the playbook.
The remaining reserve lineman is guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, another 2nd year player that essentially earned the final roster spot last season. That fact suggests that the Panthers think too highly of the kid to leave him exposed on the practice squad so he should have an inside track to retaining one of the key back-up spots. Bernadeau can play guard and tackle though he is slated at guard.
So even though the Panthers lost all of their depth due to free agency they are not without options on the current roster. The only hole is at center. As far as I can tell the Panthers do not have anyone who can play center besides starter Ryan Kalil. They don't even have a long-snapper at the moment as Jason Kyle is an UFA though he has yet to sign with another team. So I'm thinking a center and at least one other pick that could be a guard or tackle.
I'm thinking the Panthers use their early picks on defense but use the later picks for the o-line, the 5th and 6th rounders. So some centers the Panthers might target are Cecil Newton (6-2, 300) from Tennessee St, John Cooper (6-2, 291) from Oklahoma or Dallas Reynolds (6-5, 328) from BYU. Reynolds has experience playing multiple positions, the key characteristic we've discussed.
Updated Walter Football Mock Draft:
The latest Walter mock update seems to validate my assertion that the Panthers will wait until the late round to draft offensive linemen as their 4 round mock has the Panthers going straight defense:
2nd round - Carolina Panthers: Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
3rd Round - Carolina Panthers: Alex Magee, DT, Purdue
4th round - Carolina Panthers: Vance Walker, DE/DT, Georgia Tech
The 4th round selection is a change from an earlier prediction of a WR being picked. A CB and two DT's followed up with 2 offensive linemen sounds about like what the Panthers would target. I really can't argue with it outside of wanting a kick returner. The only wildcard is the Panthers strange propensity to draft TE's every year. Any one else have some thoughts on this?