USA TODAY Sports
The Carolina Panthers have myriad needs, but is there a player worth trading up for in a class known for depth?
If there's a year to trade down in the draft, it's this one. A combination of depth throughout the first two rounds, paired with a widely held belief that from picks 10-25 prospects are similar, has led to a situation where teams sitting in the teens could easily tempt a top-ten team to move down, without a huge degree of compensation. Make no mistake -- trading up is foolish for a majority of teams. Unless you're looking to land a franchise quarterback, or find the final piece to the puzzle, moving up in the draft holds little allure. Assume for a second the Carolina Panthers see an elite talent; is there anyone worth it?
An offensive tackle
Jordan Gross is 32-years-old, no longer the elite left tackle he was three years ago, and carries a large contract figure. This combination alone would make him prime to be cut, however it's a luxury the Carolina Panthers don't have. Make no mistake, he's a veteran who understands his role on the Panthers, and has been willing to restructure in the past. Ultimately this is the path likely traveled, and he'll remain with the organization on a more cap-friendly deal.
However, there are three offensive tackles likely to go in the first 12 picks. Luke Joekel, Eric Fisher, and Lane Johnson are rated first, forth, and seventh respectively on CBS Sports' top 100 rankings. Any of these players would help solidify Carolina's offensive line, and support Cam Newton. The key to the organization is keeping Newton healthy, and building the entire organization to the goal of giving him tools.
Is it worth it?
Despite the court of public opinion, Jordan Gross is not as bad as hyperbole screams. His struggles have been ever present since he arrived in Charlotte; Gross struggles with speedy 3-4 rush linebackers, and athletic defensive ends get the better of him. That being said, he's smart, technically sound, a consummate pro, and one of the team's leaders. You don't cut a player like that simply to save money short-term.
Trading up for a left tackle would be tantamount to a gambler looking to double-down to make up their losses. The Panthers should have been perennially drafting offensive linemen since 2005, continually keeping the shelves stocked. They failed, and are now in the lurch. Despite this misstep, it would be short-sighted to move up for an offensive tackle. Odds say only one of these three top OTs will be worth it, and the cost isn't. Instead, the Panthers should look towards the second, forth, and fifth round -- even if it takes double-dipping. Find the developmental players, and hope they can learn from Gross over time. That is the only sensible option.
A team doesn't casually name drop Mike Wallace unless they're trying to make a point. Whether the Steelers' receiver is really the target is inconsequential -- it shows an organizational belief in surrounding Cam Newton with weapons. To this end there's one player catching the eye of scouts -- Cordarrelle Patterson.
It's time to get out of the notion that he's a second round prospect; those days are gone. Much like Julio Jones was once seen as a fringe first-round pick, so too Patterson has emerged as the draft's best wide receiver, and the player most likely be selected in the top-ten.
Did the Atlanta Falcons pay too much for Julio Jones? Perhaps, but he's also added over 2,000 yards receiving, and been the perfect complement to Roddy White. It's hard to know whether Patterson is a true analog for Jones, but if they're as close as scouts believe -- then the Panthers may need to consider the idea of moving up.
Is it worth it?
For all of the ability, and as dangerous as Patterson is with the ball in his hands -- it's impossible to justify trading up in the draft for him. If the Panthers were a 9-7 team right now, not 7-9 then this is a different conversation. That two-win swing may seem small, but it denotes the number of gaps the team has right now. Wide receiver is a need, especially for the future -- but it's not the only need.
Should he be available at the 14th pick, this is an easy decision. If it means moving up into the top-ten, it's also an easy decision -- no way.
Previously thought unattainable
What do the Carolina Panthers need more than anything? Say it with me folks.... DEFENSIVE TACKLE!
For the better part of a decade, the Panthers have been without a signature defensive tackle to hold the point of attack, and make life easier for pass rushers. Six months ago when the Panthers were sitting at two wins the idea of getting Star Lotulelei was a silver lining in a terrible situation -- then it became an impossible dream at #14.
I would make myself hoarse talking about how his health is the primary concern, so I'm taking that off the table. Let's assume he is healthy, and thankfully he doesn't have a heart problem. There's no guarantee Lotulelei would be gone in the top-five picks. He's built for a 4-3 defense, and it's difficult to find a fit for him in the top five picks. If he's available later in the top ten, then this becomes an intriguing situation.
Is it worth it?
Now we get to something. The notion that elite defensive tackles are always gone in the top five is largely spurious. No, Lotulelei isn't the next Ndamukong Suh, but he fought constant double teams in college on every down, and still found a way to be an impact player.
Want to help Luke Kuechly? Give him a DT who can hold his own.
Want to help your defensive ends? Give them a DT who commands a double.
In 2011 the Carolina Panthers took the absolute best quarterback in the draft. They followed this up by taking the absolute best linebacker in 2012. If there's a player worth trading up for, who could take an improving defense to the next level it's Star Lotuleilei.