The draft is over and now the work begins. There's a lot that will change between now and September, with most of the battles being sorted out at training camp -- so consider this my very early look at the players I think will suit up for the first game of the regular season.
Carolina tends to give a veteran bump early in camp, which is why we often see players start in depth roles and quickly rise. Not all the rookies will start, in fact I'm only penciling in Trai Turner right now. A lot could change in this regard.
FB: Mike Tolbert
WR: Jerricho Cotchery/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Tavarres King
LT: Byron Bell/ Nate Chandler
LG: Amini Silatolu/ Phillipkeith Manley
C: Ryan Kalil/ Brian Folkerts
RG: Trai Turner/ Chris Scott/ Edmund Kugbila
RT: Free Agent Signing/ Garry Williams
- I know Marvin McNutt isn't on here. Look, I totally get why so many have fallen head-over-heels for him, but the more talent scouts I talk to the more believe it's Tavarres King, not McNutt who will win a roster spot. King is younger, showed more potential coming out of college and was a victim of circumstance in Denver, where he was selected with a fifth round pick. Everything will hinge on camp, where I think he'll shine.
- No, Kelvin Benjamin isn't starting... yet. A raw receiver combined with Cam Newton's rehabilitation puts him behind the eight ball to start immediately. It's important to understand he needs work, which can't occur properly if he's taking on a starter's workload too. Benjamin can win early in the slot, causing huge mismatch problems for nickel corners. That's where I think he excels for at least half a season.
- Free agent right tackle. There's one position the Panthers need to address during in-camp cuts and that's finding a right tackle. I don't pretend to understand why the team is convinced Byron Bell can play the left, but here we are. The possibility of grabbing a starting right tackle shouldn't be too difficult when teams start to jettison veterans. Two names to look for: Eric Winston and Michael Roos. The latter in particular is almost assured to be leaving Tennessee, and would plug in right now.
DE: Greg Hardy/ Kony Ealy
DT: Star Lotulelei/ Colin Cole
DT: Kawann Short/ Dwan Edwards
MLB: Luke Kuechly/ A.J. Klein
OLB: Thomas Davis
CB: Melvin White/ Bene Benwikere
SS: Roman Harper/ Tre Boston/ Colin Jones
FS: Thomas DeCoud/ Robert Lester
- Ultimately I see Kony Ealy backing up Greg Hardy when the Kraken slides inside on passing downs. Mario Addison did a good job being spelled with Charles Johnson last year, so there's no reason to fix it.
- I left one spot on defense open for Frank Alexander when he returns from suspension. The guy messed up, badly -- but I don't see the team releasing him over it.
- Melvin White showed enough in 2013 to get the nod this year. It allows Cason to play the nickel role out of the gate and if the second-year UDFA struggles, then the veteran can shift over.
Special Teams (3)
K: Graham Gano
P: Brad Nortman
LS: JJ Jansen
KR: Kenjon Barner
PR: Corey Brown