Many have posted their draft thoughs so far, and raised some very good points, but let's try to rank the Panthers draft needs in order of importance, and then look at the players who might best fit those needs. This is done with the warning that the current player information can change greatly by the Combine, and their Pro Days. Let's also hope the Panthers draft needs aren't changed by more injuries (knock on wood).
Offense Or Defense:
The Panthers now have a top 5 offense 418.2 YPG (5th in passing, 13th in rushing at 120.8 YPG, but 5th in YPC at 4.9), but they are ranked 16th on defense at 359.3 YPG (11th in passing at 219.0 YPG, 24th in cpmpletion percentage at 64.2%, tied for 29th in YPA at 8.9, and tied for 24th in sacks with only 9. 31st against the run, averaging 140.3 YPG, and 25th at 4.8 YPC). How odd is it that the Panthers are averaging 58.9 YPG more than their opponents, but have a 1-5 record? These numbers argue that the greatest need for the Panthers is on defense, and that stopping the run is a bigger need than improving the pass defense, though an improved pass rush should improve the pass defense.
NT - The Panthers have 3 or 4 small 3-4 NT in #67 pick Fua (6-1 1/8, 308), Ronald Fields (6-2, 314), #231 pick Frank Kearse (6-4, 315), and Ron Edwards (6-3, 315) if he's able to return from injury. What the panthers don't have is a big space eating NT who can't be pushed back off the line, and that's killing the Panthers run defense. Key to any decision about a NT is the question do the Panthers want a big 3-4 NT, or a smaller 4-3 NT.
A Pass Rushing DT - #65 pick Terrell McClain and 2010 UDFA Andre Neblett (a seldom used backup) are the Panthers UT's, and so far their pass rush is limited to a QB pressure or 2, not any better against the run. The Panthers need a better run stopper at UT, and a much improved pass rush.
A Big Backup DE - The current Panthers backup DE are small DE/OLB types, and the starting DE's (CJ and Hardy) need rest. This need will probably be filled by either the pass rushing DT or 3-4 pass rushing OLB they will add in the draft.
OLB - This could be the greatest draft debate. Should the Panthers go for a fast 4-3 OLB who's good in coverage to replace Thomas Davis, or more of a pass rushing 3-4 OLB, and at the moment it could go either way. If the Panthers are committed to a base 4-3 defense then it's the fast 4-3 OLB, but the more they decide to a 3-4 defense then the greater the need for a pass rushing 3-4 OLB becomes.
MLB - Hopefully Jon Beason will be able to fully return to health from his injury, but his backup Dan Connor will be a free agent at the end of this season, and if he doesn't return they will need to find a replacement.
CB - This could be he slowest group of CB's in memory. Using the nfldraftscout.com rankings, thier 2nd ranked CB is LSU's Morris Clayborne is the fastest of the top CB's at a 4.45-40, the #91 overall player is CB Brandon Boyd at a 4.44-40, then #177 Asa Jackson at 4.40-40, then the next CB to run faster than a 4.45-40 is the #411 ranked player overall, and only 1 of their 78 ranked CB's, ranked up to #738 overall runs a sub 4.4, #501 Chris Gatewood at a 4.39-40. All 6 of the current Panthers CB's run a 4.44-40 or lower, so this might not be a great year to draft a CB.
S - The Panthers are all set at S, with starters Godfrey and Martin, Pugh as the top backup, and recently acquired SS Jermale Hines, though they might select a S with a very late round pick.
WR - It all comes down to BPA. Steve Smith is getting older, but not slowing down yet, and he has 2 promising backups in Armanti Edwards (5-10 7/8, 187, 4.43-40) and Keloha Pilares 95-10 3/8, 199, 4.42-40). The Panthers have 4 big WR, David Gettis (6-3, 217, a Combine 4.49-40, a Pro Day 4.39-40), Brandon LaFell (6-2 1/2, 211, a Combine 4.62-40, a Pro Day 4.54-40), Legedu Naanee (6-2, 226, 4.41-40)), and Seyl Ajirotutu(6-3, 211, 4.56-40). So with 3 good (not great) big WR's, and a still very good Steve Smith, the Panthers can wait until 2013 to fill this need, unless it's a case of the BPA (Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffery).
OT - It's very tempting to draft Ryan Kalil's brother LOT Matt (6-7, 295), but Though Gross is over 30, his play hasn't started to decline yet, but ROT Jeff Otah's injury problems persist ,and he will be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. The Panthers do have a promising backup OT in Byron Bell, and also Lee Zeimba. So as tempting as drafting LOT Matt Kalil may be, it can wait for the 2012 draft, because the defensive needs are more urgent.
OG/C - #203 pick G/C Zack Williams will return from IR. OG/C Macknezy Bernadeau may leave as a free agent, but who cares? If the Panthers retain starting RG/backup C Geoff Hangartner, and re-sing last years starting RG Geoff Schwartz, then they shouldn't have any needs for the inside of their O-Line.
TE - The Panthers were very lucky to get Greg Olsen, and blocking TE Ben Hartsock is also under contract for next year, but they will need a backup receiving TE (Barnidge is a free agent), and I hope they can re-sign Jeremy Shockey.
RB - No needs baring injury (knock on wood)
FB - It's unlikely to be a draft need.
QB - Only if Clausen is traded, and then only as a very late round pick.
What Are The Draft Options (Note - Player info is from nfldraftscout.com):
1st Round (likely #5-12) - The question is to keep it, or try to trade back, and gain a 2nd or 3rd round pick?
2. WR Justin Blackmon (6-1, 215, 4.54-40)
4. WR Alshon Jeffery (6-4, 229, 4.56-40)
10. OLB Zach Brown (6-2, 225-230, 4.48-40, walterfootball.com list his time as a 4.41-40), in 2010 he had 42 tackles, 5 TFL's, and 2.5 sacks. It's also claimed that he ran a 4.29-40 in 2009.
13. (walterfootball.com say a 2nd or 3rd round pick) DT/ 4-3NT Brandon Thompson (6-2, 310, 5.04 to a 5.15-40), in 2010 he had 56 tackles, 7.5 TFL's, and 1 sack.
14. WR Malcolm Floyd (6-3, 224, 4.54-40)
17. DE/OLB Brandon Jenkins (6-3, 250-265, 4.67-40) in 2010 he had 63 tackles, 21.5 TFl's and 13.5 sacks.
21-26. NT Almeda Ta'amu (6-3, 337, 5.22-40), in 2010 he had 39 tackles, 5 TFL's, and 1.5 sacks.
32. DE Billy Winn (6-3 or 4, 288-300, 4.89 to a 4.94-40), in 2010 had 28 tackles, 9.5 TFL's, and 4 sacks.
2nd Round (Around #37-44):
21. (he's falling after his season ending injury) DT/DE Jared Crick (6-4 to 6-6, 285, 4.82 to a 4.88-40), in 2010 he had 70 tackles, 14.5 TFL's, and 9.5 sacks, almost exactly the same as with Suh in 2009, with 12.5 TFL's and 9.5 sacks. He had 14 tackles, 1.5 TFL's, and 1 sack this year when he was lost for the season.
28. (walterfootball.com says 3rd or 4th round) DT Devin Still (6-4, 311, 5.03-40) in 2010 he had 39 tackles, 10 TFL's, and 4 sacks. Through 5 games in 2011 he has 30 tackles, 9 TFL's, and 2 sacks.
1st-2nd Round - DE/OLB Dante Page-Moss (6-4, 260, 4.67-40), in 2010 he had 49 tackles, 13.5 TFL's, and 7.5 sacks.
35. Jerel Worthy (6-3, 310, 5.04-40), in 2010 he had 40 tackles, 8 TFL's, and 4 sacks, but this year in 4 games he has 10 tackles, 4 TFL's, and 2 sacks.
36. WR Nick Toon (6-2, 220, 4.52-40)
41. DE/OLB Bruce Irvin (6-2, 235-245, 4.54 to a 4.68-40) in 2010 he had 14 TFL's and 14 sacks, but this season has only 17 tackles, 5.5 TFL's, and 1 sack.
46. (walterfootball.com say top 15) MLB Vontaze Burfiat (6-3, 250, 4.57 to a 4.63-40), "Psyco B" is a lose cannon on the field, getting 2 penalties for hitting a player clearly out of bounds in just the 1st half this week. In 2010 he had 90 tackles, and 8.5 TFL's, but his tackles are down this year.
49. (Walterfootball.com thinks he's a 4th or 5th round pick0 NT Josh Chapman (6-3, 320, 5.19-40), in 2010 he had 31 tackles, 3.5 TFL's, and 1 sack.
52. WR Ryan Broyles (5-10, 188, 4.52-40) in 2010 he had 131 catches, for 1,622 yards, 12.4 YPC, and 14 TD's.
2nd or 3rd Round Pick (through a trade):
1st or 2nd Round - OLB Travis Lewis (6-2, 232, 4.50 to a 4.72-40) in 2010 he had 109 tackles, 5.5 TFL's, and 1.5 sacks.
2nd Round - DE/OLB Alex Okafor (6-4, 260, 4.62-40)
2nd or 3rd Round - DE/OLB Devin Taylor (6-6 or 7, 250-260, 4.69 to a 4.76-40)
59. DE/DT Melvin Ingram (6-2, 276, 4.75 to a 4.82-40) in 2010 he had 28 tackles, 11 TFL's, and 9 sacks.
60. DE/OLB Vinny Curry (6-3, 252-263, 4.66 to a 4.74-40), in 2010 he had 94 tackles, 18 TFL's, and 12 sacks. in 2011 he has 25 tackles, 8.5 TFL's, and 4 sacks so far.
61. WR Kendall Wright (5-10, 190, 4.42-40)
67. NT Sylvester Williams (6-3, 320, 5.19-40)
77. NT Dontari Powe (6-5, 350, 5.36-40) in 2010 he had 41 tackles, and 6.5 TFL's.
87. WR Dwight Jones (6-4, 225, 4.53-40)
96. WR Jeff Fuller (6-3, 220, 4.52-40)
113. OLB Nigel Bradham (6-2, 240, 4.67-40) in 2010 he had 98 tackles, 5.5 TFL's. and 5 sacks.
3rd or 4th Round - DE/OLB Nick Perry (6-3, 250, 4.57-40) this year he has 28 tackles, 5 TFL's, and 3 sacks.
3rd or 4th Round - DEOLB Cam Johnson (6-4, 265, 4.64-40) in 2010 he had 53 tackles, 14.5 TFL's, and 6 sacks.
231. (walterfootball.com thinks he's a 4th or 5th round pick), DE Jake Bequette (6-5, 271, 4.62 to a 4.80-40), in 2010 he had 32 tackles, 8.5 TFL's, and 7 sacks.
128. WR Jarius Wright (5-10, 180, 4.34-40)
179. (walterfootball.com thinks he's a 3rd or 4th round pick) DT/DE Derek Wolfe (6-5, 300-302, 4.92 to a 5.16-40), in 2010 he had 48 tackles, 6.5 TFL's, and 4 sacks, but so far this year he has 19 tackles, 7 TFL's and 4 sacks.
216. (walterfootball.com thinks he's a 3rd round pick) DT Tydreke Powell (6-3, 310, 5.09 to a 5.22-40) in 2010 he had 47 tackles, and 2.5 sacks.
4th to 6th Round - DE/DT Kendall Reyes (6-4, 295, 4.90 to to a 4.99-40), in 2010 he had 39 tackles, 10 TFL's, and 2.5 sacks.
5th Round (this is the spot for an OT):
136. OT Blake DeChristopher (6-5, 320, 5.14-40)
157. OLB Tyler Nielsen (6-2, 235, 4.54-40)
189. OLB Darius Fleming (6-2, 255, 4.56 to 4.65-40), in 2010 he had 49 tackles, 11 TFL's, and 6 sacks. This year he has 20 tackles, 3.5 TFL'sm ans 2.5 sacks.
6th Round (BPA):
95. RB/WR/Returner Chris Rainey (5-8, 178, 4.33-40), this year has 87 carries for 467 yards, 5.4 YPC), and 16 catches, for 245 yards, a 15.3 yard average.
170. RB/WR/Returner Jeff Demps (5-8, 190, 4.26-40)
223. WR Joe Adams (5-11, 190, 4.38-40)
7th round (BPA):
I focused mostly on defensive players because I consider the Panthers top 3 Panthers needs to be a Big NT, a pass rushing DT, and a pass rushing OLB. After those 3 needs it's open for the BPA.
Personally, I would try to trade back in the 1st round, and gain a 2nd or 3rd round pick, and if so the top of my draft might look like this.
1st - NT Alameda Ta'amu
2nd - DT/DE Jared Crick, or MLB Vontaze Burfict
2nd or 3rd (by trade) - DE/OLB Vinny Curry or OLB Travis Lewis
4th - DT/DE Derek Wolfe (if they can't get Crick), or OLB Nigel Burhanam (if they haven't got a LB before)
If the Panthers Can't trade back in the 1st round.
1st - OLB Zach Brown
2nd - Hope NT Alameda Ta'amu falls, but if not DT/DE Jared Crick or DT Devan Still (if Crick is gone)
4th - DT/DE Derek Wolfe (if they miss out on Crick) or the best NT left (hope that's Dontari Powe, Sylvester Williams, or Josh Chapman).
What do you think?