With the departure of Andrew Norwell in free agency, the Panthers now have a massive hole in their interior offensive line at the left guard spot. As of right now, the Panthers will head into training camp with Taylor Moton, Amini Silatolu and Jeremiah Sirles all competing for the left guard spot, which is not ideal. Silatolu and Sirles are career backups who have struggled when asked to start over the years. Moton is certainly capable of winning this battle, but playing him at left guard leaves the team with no depth at the offensive tackle position.
Quality offensive guards can be found almost anywhere in the draft – after all, Trai Turner was a third round pick and Andrew Norwell was signed an undrafted free agent. The Panthers best bet would be to try and add at least one guard at some point in the draft to compete with Silatolu and Sirles at the left guard spot, while leaving Moton at tackle.
Greg Olsen is still one of the best tight ends in the league, but he’s also 33 years old and coming off a major foot injury. The Panthers will need a long-term solution at the tight end spot soon, but they also have an immediate need at the backup tight end spot following the departure of Ed Dickson in free agency. Despite having many options, the Panthers elected not to address the backup tight end spot in free agency. I have a hard time buying Rivera’s comments about the Panthers feeling good about Chris Manhertz as the No. 2 tight end, so it’s highly likely they add at least one tight end in the draft.
Something interesting to keep an eye on is the type of No. 2 tight end they might add. In Mike Shula’s offense, the No. 2 tight end was mostly used as a hybrid blocker in the backfield (basically, a fullback) and in-line. Norv Turner might prefer using a traditional fullback in 21 personnel sets, which means 12 personnel sets might feature more spread looks with one or both tight ends in the slot.
General Manager Marty Hurney surprised many fans and analysts after he cut starting running back Jonathan Stewart this offseason. Stewart has always been their classic “power” back and their top backfield pass protector, but his play declined over the years. His inability to be a threat as a pass catcher also made the Panthers offensive personnel groupings more predictable for opposing defenses.
As of right now, Christian McCaffrey is the top running back on the roster. McCaffrey is a versatile player who impressed as a receiver and underwhelmed as a runner in his rookie year (although he ended the year trending up as a runner). While I wouldn’t mind experimenting with McCaffrey as the full-time feature back and Cameron Artis-Payne as the backup, I have a feeling the Panthers will want to add at least one running back to pair with McCaffrey to create a versatile backfield duo.
Heading into the offseason, the Panthers desperately needed help at the wide receiver spot. Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd were their top three receivers, and all were coming off injuries. The position is a bit more stable now after the additions of Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright, but neither are long-term solutions.
Fortunately for the Panthers, this draft features a very deep and diverse group of wide receivers. Whether they want to add a potential true No. 1 receiver early, or a complementary speed or possession receiver later in the draft, there are several prospects who can help.
Ryan Kalil has stated this upcoming 2018-2019 season will be his last. Kalil is still a quality player when healthy, but he’s only played 15 games combined the past two years. Tyler Larsen filled in for Kalil last season, and while he was mostly serviceable, he struggled when isolated against interior defensive linemen. Larsen probably isn’t the long-term solution at the center spot, so the Panthers should look into adding one in this year’s draft.
It’s unclear what the Panthers will do at the backup quarterback position. Derek Anderson remains unsigned, and while they might bring him back as the veteran presence in the quarterback room, they really need to look at a long-term solution at the backup spot.
It’s highly unlikely that all the Panthers offensive needs mentioned above will be addressed in this year’s draft. While the Panthers don’t really have any glaring needs at any particular position, it will still be interesting to see what positions don’t end up getting addressed, and how everything will play out in training camp.