The best way to get a sense for what will happen in April's draft is learning from free agency. The Dolphins might not need a WR if they land Mike Wallace, the Chiefs looking to re-sign Glenn Dorsey might preclude them from taking one of the big-three defensive tackles, while the Carolina Panthers just wait to see how the top ten shakes out. Dan Kadar of Mocking the Draft put out a 'free agency-eve' mock draft, and once again Carolina get a player a lot of fans would be happy with.
14. Carolina Panthers: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Panthers rarely take defensive tackles this highly, and the lack of talent on the roster proves it. Lotulelei is the best player available by far and tackle is the biggest hole for the Panthers to fill this offseason.
Other possibilities: Sheldon Richardson, D.J. Fluker
What makes this mock most interesting isn't who the Panthers took, but rather who they passed on. Kenny Vaccaro (who went to the Saints) and Cordarelle Patterson (Rams) were both on the board -- yet the Panthers decided to go with Star. Given the circumstances, I have to agree. This is also a mock draft that doesn't have two defensive tackles going before Carolina's pick -- Sharrif Floyd is selected by the Raiders third, and from there it's a wait until Carolina.
Kadar likes Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker a lot more than I do. Ultimately having him selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 21st pick, he also lists Fluker as an alternate for the Panthers. It's not that Fluker wouldn't be an upgrade over Byron Bell, he would, but it's that he excels and struggles in the same areas. He's not a natrual athlete, and while he's a mountain, it remains to be seen if Fluker can handle speedy edge rushers -- especially at the NFL level. It feels a little like the improvement would be incremental, of course I felt that way about Luke Kuechly over Jon Beason a year ago too.