The need for the Carolina Panthers to upgrade their interior defensive line is clear, and it's apparent to everyone working on their early mock drafts. Whether it's here at SB Nation, over on Rotoworld, or from CBS Sports -- four analysts all predict the Panthers to wind up with a defensive tackle.
Dan Kadar at Mocking the Draft has the Panthers taking an under tackle, and someone you'll hear more about as this process continues:
14. Carolina Panthers - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Because the Panthers play fairly well against the run, adding a tackle that can shoot gaps and get into the backfield would greatly help the defense. For a tackle, Richardson has great athleticism. He compares favorably to Nick Fairley of the Detroit Lions.
Nick Fairley was a player who many mocked to the Panthers with the #1 overall pick in 2011. Obviously he graded out lower, but had a solid 5.5 sack season for the Detroit Lions this year. Richardson led the SEC in tackles for an interior lineman, and would be a solid choice.
Over on Rotoworld it's Josh Norris who has won my heart with his selection for Carolina:
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9) -- NT Jesse Williams, Alabama
Williams is exactly what the Panthers need: an incredibly strong run defender inside that possesses a nasty streak, and he may offer some push when pass rushing. Ron Edwards is likely gone, and although the Panthers saw Greg Hardy take a nice step forward on the outside (and inside in some packages), they need plenty of work on the defensive line.
I couldn't agree more with this for a variety of reasons -- heck, I mocked him to the Panthers earlier this morning.
CBS Sports are offering a pair of mock drafts, from Rob Rang and Dan Brugler. As expected, both are on the defensive tackle bandwagon also.
14. CAROLINA PANTHERS
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: Whomever the Carolina Panthers hire to replace fired general manager Marty Hurney could have his work cut out for him. One of the Panthers' few bright spots this season has been the play of defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Carolina's defensive tackles could use an upgrade and Hankins is viewed by some as a potential top-10 talent.
I'm not a huge fan of Hankins. I see motor and motivation issues, despite his immense talent. It would be a very risky pick, but if the new GM is a gambler it's possible.
14. CAROLINA PANTHERS
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: The interior of the Panthers' defensive line has been a question mark since Kris Jenkins left in 2007 and, ironically, Carolina haven't invested a top-50 draft pick on a defensive tackle since Jenkins over a decade ago. Richardson is an athletic interior lineman who has proven effective against both the run and pass.
As it stands it looks like Sheldon Richardson will be a popular player to mock to the Panthers. If he's able to penetrate and rush the passer, it would be a serious boon to the defensive line.