Why The Panthers Need To Focus On Both Lines In The Draft

Panthers Draft: Fix the trenches - Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

I perused Carolina Panthers Draft 2013: The Case for Drafting Linemen and it was very good. However, it omitted the main reason why the Panthers need to use this draft - and to a degree the next - on building among the best offensive and defensive lines in the NFL: it will make the best use of what the Panthers already have on their roster.

Consider Pat Yasinkas' piece on ESPN: Panthers need to utilize RBs, talking about how woefully underutilized the Panthers' RBs were last season. Only one commenter stated the truth in response to his superficial piece: "They tried to run w the backs but the O-line struggled so badly @ times during the 1st half of the season...The backs got hit at line or for a lost far too often then they ran w Cam more, several of the blown 4th Qtr leads had a failed pick up of a 3rd & short at the end." Yes, bad coaching played a role, but a big part of it was problems with the OL also.

Here is the deal: no team in the NFL has as much invested in their RBs and LBs as the Panthers do. Not only are Williams and Stewart both former 1st round draft picks with huge contracts, but all 3 starting LBs are former 1st round picks also. It is ridiculous to invest so much in those positions while neglecting the guys that allow them to succeed, the guys who create space for them to make plays.

Of course, resources are limited due to the salary cap and the finite number of draft picks, and in Carolina those issues are even more acute. So you are going to have all that invested in RBs and LBs, savings are going to have to come somewhere. But say that you choose to invest in WRs and save on the OL. That will mean not only a lack of running room and rhythm for the RBs, but no time for Cam Newton to throw the football. So, having a great running game and OL plus a #1 overall pick Pro Bowler at QB should mean that the Panthers should be able to spend less on WRs.

The same goes for the secondary. The great group of LBs stopping the run and making plays in space complemented by a very good DL getting after the passer should remove the need for shutdown CBs (whose value is diminishing in the NFL these days anyway thanks to all the 3 WR and 4 WR formations plus TEs who play like WRs ... few of the last several Super Bowl winners were particularly distinguished at CB).

The Panthers won't be winning games like the Saints, Packers and Patriots. If that was the goal, then Gettleman and Richardson should have fired Rivera, cut or traded not only Stewart and/or Williams but also at least one of the LBs beyond James Anderson, who was let go because he wasn't going to start, not because of a philosophy shift. If anything, their holding onto Jordan Senn and signing Chase Blackburn shows that maintaining quality and depth at LB is as big a priority as before.

That is not the only thing that can be learned from the offseason moves. For the secondary the Panthers retained Munnerlyn and Nakamura plus added D.J. Moore, Drayton Florence and Mike Mitchell to a group that already includes Josh Norman, Charles Godfrey and several other guys that they like to some degree. And at WR, the Panthers added Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn, Jr to be the 3rd and 4th WRs despite not being ready to cut bait with the entire group of Joe Adams, David Gettis and Kealoha Pilares just yet (though you can pretty much say goodbye to Armanti Edwards though).

But OL and DL? Nothing, basically. They did re-sign Dwan Edwards, but in letting Ron Edwards go they are worse numbers wise on the DL than they were before the offseason. The same cannot be said for DB, where they released Chris Gamble but signed Moore and Florence, or WR where they lost Louis Murphy but replaced him with Hixon and Ginn. This was not because it was dictated by circumstance or necessity. There were any number of veteran OLs and DLs that the Panthers could have had with the same sort of 1 or 2 year deals that they invested in the DBs, WRs and LBs that they brought in or back. And since the Panthers have more cap room available than they need to sign their picks, they can still get a Richard Seymour or Brandon Moore, but there isn't any evidence that they want a guy like that.

So, the evidence does seem to point towards the Panthers using their 1st and 2nd round picks on DL and OL. Not only would that be good, but it wouldn't even necessarily be enough. Hopefully the Panthers will be able to trade down with a team desperate for a WR, CB or pass rusher and get extra picks. If not, were the Panthers to take a DT in the 1st round and then go OL in both the 2nd and 4th round, it would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

Let's be honest here. The Panthers have an undrafted 2nd year free agent for whom run blocking is not a particular strength starting at RT in Byron Bell. Geoff Hangartner is undistinguished at best at OG. The other OG spot is held by Silatolu, who may or may not ultimately pan out. Ryan Kalil is great, but he is also the highest paid center in NFL history. Jordan Gross is an expensive player with declining skills at LT. And we don't even want to bring up the word "depth" here. When you compare the Panthers' OL to other teams that dominate with their running games like Baltimore, San Francisco and Seattle do, it would be comical if the joke weren't on the Panthers.

Yes, the Panthers will need to improve at WR and CB at some point. But that may well have to occur with good but not great guys in free agency when the salary cap situation improves. Until then, bludgeoning teams with the RBs and LBs that the Panthers have invested so much in over the years is going to be the best path to victory. So the Panthers need to build the DL and OL necessary to make that happen.

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