Preseason games haven't even started yet, but someone mentioned next years draft in another thread, so it's never too early to talk about the next years draft. So I took a look (cbs.com and walterfootball.com) at what positions the Panthers might need, and what players might be available to fill those needs.
First off, where will the Panthers be drafting (they have all but their 7th round pick)? Baring an injury to Cam, or a rash of injuries, the Panthers will likely be drafting in the middle of the 1st round (around #12-22). I know a lot of you think 12th is much to low, and that it will be on the high end, around #20, but remember a lot of "experts" (like NFL Network) are predicting the Panthers will finish last in the NFC South.
Of course a lot will happen this season that could change how the Panthers view their needs for the 2014 season, but some things probably won't change. With both starting OT's being FA's (Gross a URFA and Bell a RFA), drafting an OT in the first 2 rounds seems like a lock. Two more O-Linemen will also be URFA's, current starting RG Garry Williams (also a backup OT) and OT Bruce Campbell, so they will likely need to draft 1 or 2 more O-Linemen later in the draft, probably from the 3rd or 4th round on. However, they may have a problem drafting an OT in the 1st round, here's a list of likely 1st and 2nd round OT's from cbs.com, with their overall draft position ranking.
2. Jordan Matthews (Texas A & M) - 6'5", 305, est. 5.14-40
4. Taylor Lewan (Michigan) - 6'7", 308, est. 4.95-40
7. Cyrus Kouandgo (Alabama) - 6'5", 310, est.5.12
12. Cameron Ewing (Florida St.) - 6'5", 310, est. 5.26-40
22. Antonio Richardson (Tennessee) - 6'6", 332, est. 5.16-40
25. James Hurst (UNC) - 6'6", 305, est. 5.43-40 (WF a 5.26-40)
54. Seantrel Henderson (Miami) - 6'7", 345, est. 5.26-40
61. Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A & M) - 6'5", 300, est. 5.15-40
Unless the Panthers want to draft an ORT, they might be out of luck. It looks like the OLT's will go in the top 10, out of the Panthers reach, or at the end of the 2nd round and beyond. They could end up trying to re-sign Gross.
The fans will probably agree that a future #1 WR is the Panthers 2nd greatest need, and most seem to want Clemson WR Sammy Watkins (Lee is likely out of reach in the middle of the top 10). They need a WR who runs at least a 4.5, but most of the late 2nd through 4th round WR's run in the high 4.5's, and/or are small (under 6 feet) WR's. So, here are a few of the WR's that I think the Panthers might be interested in.
21. Sammy Watkins (Clemson) - 6'1", 205, est. 4.49-40 (WF a 4.40-40)
38. Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) - 6'3", 205, est. 4.52-40
45. Donte Montcrief (Ole Miss) - 6'2", 224, est. 4.49-40
143. Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin) - 6'2", 188, est. 4.59-40 (WF a 4.41-40)
The Panthers 3rd greatest need might be for secondary help, but I want to see how things go this season before deciding how high to draft a DB, and whether to draft a CB or S, or both. So the best value in a 2nd TE who can both block and receive, may require their 3rd round pick, and here are the 2 best TE's fitting that description in the draft.
40. Austin Seferia-Jenkins (Washington) - 6'6", 265, est. 4.60-40
77. C. J. Fiedorowski (Iowa) - 6'6", 265, est. 4.65-40
If DE Greg Hardy leaves as a URFA, the Panthers will need to draft another DE, and he needs to be a speed rusher. Here's who might be their best choice to fill that need.
112. James Gayle (Virginia Tech) - 6'4", 253 (266 pounds in 2013), est. 4.62-40 (reportedly ran a 4.44-40 last summer)
If Jon Beason should happen to miss this season with injuries again, or just be cut because of his high cap number, they will have to find a replacement. That replacement will probably be A. J. Klein, but if they chose to draft a replacement, then Kyle Van Noy might be a great choice (great in coverage and blitzing). Van Noy was a projected 2013 1st round pick, if he left early, but he's now projected at the top of the 2nd round.
34. Kyle Van Noy (BYU) - 6'3", 235, est. 4.67-40
Both backup QB's will be URFA's after this season, so they may need to draft a QB late, or sign a good rookie FA QB. Here are a few such possible FA QB's.
239. Tyler Russell (Mississippi St.) - 6'4", 220, est. 4.87-40
259. Zach Mittenberger (LSU) - 6'5", 230, est. 5.14-40
284. Casey Pachall (TCU) - 6'4", 230, est. 4.67-40
438. James Franklin (Missouri) - 6'2", 230, est. 4.59-40
With the uncertain level of need in the secondary (1st to 7th round), it might be best to check the links below.www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/prospectrankings www.walterfootball.com?draft2008P.php#2014positions