Mid-December means the end of the road is right around the corner for the majority of NFL teams, and for organizations like the Carolina Panthers it's time to start casting an eye to the April draft. The needs for this team are obvious -- upgrades at defensive tackle, the offensive line, safety, and cornerback at of the utmost concern. Concurrently, the Panthers also have a need to cast their eye ahead to wide receiver, and prepare for life after Steve Smith.
ESPN's Todd McShay posted his first mock draft, and projection is a nightmare for a lot of fans hoping for Star Lotulelei, or Luke Joeckel.
5. Carolina Panthers
Johnathan Hankins*, DT, Ohio State
The Panthers are much stronger against the pass than the run, so upgrading at defensive tackle is a priority. Lotulelei would be a great pick if he were available. In this scenario, though, Hankins has the size and quickness to be the right fit as a disrupter in the middle of the defensive front.
Very early in the process, and I haven't watched a lot of film -- but from what I've seen of Hankins, I'm not a fan. He looks like a player who doesn't use his legs enough, and has poor work with his hands. These guys tend to get mauled at the next level by offensive guards who can re-direct them. There's a lot more evaluation to be done, but suffice it to say I wouldn't be thrilled with the pick.
Here's how the picks prior to Carolina pan out in McShay's mock:
1. Kansas City Chiefs -- Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
2. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
3. Oakland Raiders -- Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
4. Philadelphia Eagles -- Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M