In recent draft pick discussions some have suggested drafting a future LOT in the 1st round, mostly focusing upon Matt Kalil. I think it's best to start by looking at were the Panthers currently stand with their O-Line, to see just what their needs are.
2011 Panthers Starting O-Line:
LOT - Jordan Gross (6-4, 305), is in his 9th season, and will be 32 years old next season. He's under contract for 3 more years, 2012 - $8.5 million, 2013 - $8.7 million, and 2014 - $6.7 million.
LOG - Travelle Wharton (6-4, 312) is in his 8th season, and will be 31 years old next season. He's under contract for 2 more seasons, 2012 - $5.7 million, and 2013 - $5.9 million. ProFootballFocus.com ranks Wharton as "one of the worst OG's in football", so he might have to rework his contract downward, or risk being cut.
C - Ryan Kalil (6-2, 295) is in his 5th season, a Pro Bowl player, will be 27 years old next season, and won't be a free agent until 2017.
ROG - Geoff Hangartner (will discuss later)
ROT - Byron Bell (6-5, 339) is a un-drafted rookie, in his 1st season, and will be 23 years old next season, with 2 or 3 more years with the Panthers, at the minimum salary.
2 Rookie O-Line Backups:
OG - Bryant Browning (6-4, 312) will be 23 years old next season, was a UDFA, and should be Panthers property for the next 2 or 3 seasons, at the minimum salary.
ROT/OG - Lee Ziemba (6-6, 318) will be 23 years old next season, was the Panthers 7th round pick this year, and should be Panthers property for the next 2 or 3 seasons, at the minimum salary.
2 Players On IR:
ROT - Jeff Otah (6-6, 330) was the starting ROT, before he was injured again (he's been on IR the last 2 1/4 years), and will only be age 26 next season. This is his 4th season, 2012 salary is $1,076,250, and he will become a URFA in 2013.
OG/C - Zack Williams (6-3, 304) will be 23 years old next season, has been on IR all season, was the Panthers 6th round pick this year, and should be Panthers property for 2 or 3 more seasons, at minimum salary.
2 Players On IR Who Will Be Restricted Free Agents This Off Season:
RG - Geoff Schwartz (6-6, 331) was the Panthers starting RG until he required hip surgery, is in his 3rd season on the Panthers 53 man roster (he spent his rookie year on the Practice Squad), and will be 26 years old next season. He needs to be resigned. His 2011 salary is $480,000.
OT - Gary Williams (6-3, 296) will only be 23 years only next season, though he's been with the Panthers for a few years now. He was forced to start at ROT for most of 2010, but he lacks the ideal bulk for ROT. Unless the Panthers draft a LOT, then he needs to be re-signed, because he's the only backup LOT (besides starting LOG Wharton). His 2011 salary is $480,000. (Williams was signed to a 2 year contract extension 12 hours after this post)
2012 O-Line Unrestricted Free Agents:
OG/C - Geoff Hangartner (6-5, 301) is in his 7th season, and will be 30 years old next season. He's starting at ROG this season due to Schwartz injury, after he was claimed when the Bills cut him. The Panthers need to re-sign him as a backup up C at least, and maybe as a a lower cost starting LOG to replace Wharton.
OG - Mackenzy Bernadeau (6-4, 308) is in his 4th season as a Panthers backup G/C, and will be 26 years old next season. His 2011 salary is $1.2 million, and I doubt the Panthers will re-sign him, unless he takes a pay cut.
The Panthers currently have 12 O-Linemen on their 53 man roster, and on IR, but only carry 8 or 9 on their 53 man roster. However, 4 of the O-Linemen will be free agents at the end of this season (2 URFA's and 2 RFA's). So the Question is, the Panthers have more O-Linemen than they need next year, so why draft any?
3 Of the Panthers current starters will be over 30 years old next season, so how much do they have left? Rated as one of the worst G's in football, starting LG Travell Wharton (31) may have fallen over the hill, and can't get up again. RT is the big problem which must be addressed, Bell has played like a UDFA, and Otah can't be counted on to stay health. LT Jordan Gross made the Pro Bowl last year, and should be solid for another year or 2 at LT, and maybe a little longer if moved to RT. Schwartz will return at RG, if he recovers well from surgery, and if not then Bell can move over from RT to RG.
Here Is What The O-Line Will Look Like Next Season, Using Current Players:
LT - Jordan Gross
LG - Travelle Wharton or Geoff Hangartner (if re-signed, and Wharton is cut)
C - Ryan Kalil
RG - Geoff Schwartz
RT - Jeff Otah
Backup O-Linemen: LT Gary Williams, RT/RG Byron Bell, C/G Zach Williams, and maybe RT/OG Lee Ziemba
Do you think this set of O-Linemen is good enough for next season?
Only if everyone is healthy, and they have no injuries next season.
To me it seems that the Panthers don't need quantity, but they do need a little more quality. That means the Panthers probably don't need to consider drafting any O-Linemen after 3rd round, with only 2 or 3 possible exceptions. This draft has 3 LT's and 1 OG that will likely go in the top half of the 1st round, all underclassmen, and here they are (from nfldraftscout.com).
3. LT - Matt Kalil (6-6, 295, 5.06-40)
5. LT - Riley Reiff (6-6, 300, 4.94-40)
10. OG - David DeCastro (6-5, 312, 5.22-40)
16. LT - Jonathan Martin (6-6, 305, 5.29-40)
The only players thought capiable of playing LT, other than those 3 are:
55. OT Zebrie Sanders (6-5 3/4, 295, 5.25-40, 33 1/8 inch arms)
92, LT Nate Potter (6-5 7/8, 295, 5.30-40, 34 5/8 inch arms) has a history of shoulder problems
95, OT Brandon Mosley (6-5 3/8, 300, 5.25-40, 34 inch arms) only moved from TE to OT last season
134. OT/G Mitchell Schwartz (6-5, 318, 5.38-40) can play both OT spots, but RT might be best
The best G's after the 1st round are:
85, OG Kevin Zeitler (6-3 1/2, 322, 5.20-40), is it him, or the talent around him at Wisconsin
160. RT/OG Marcus Sanders (6-5, 3/4, 287, 5.09-40, 33 1/8 inch arms) he needs more weight
Un-Ranked G/OT Brandon Brooks (6-3 1/4, 332, 5.30-40) from Miami (OH), he's not listed by nfldraftscout.com, or walterfootball.com, but profootballweekly.com. grades him at 5.60 (around the middle of the 1st round)
What I Think Are The 3 Best Options:
1. Draft 1 of the 3 LT's in the top half of the 1st round
2. Draft OG David DeCastro in the 1st round
3. Draft OT/G Mitchell Schwartz in the 4th or 5th round, and wait a year or 2 to draft Gross replacement at LT. This is my top choice, because it allows the top 2 picks to be used for defense.
Re-sign RG Geoff Schwartz, G/C Geoff Hangartner, and LT Gary Williams, and decide wheter or not to cut Wharton based on how he does in training camp, unless they need his salary for cap room.