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Carolina Panthers post-free agency roster analysis: Biggest remaining needs on defense

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With free agency mostly over, here are the Panthers biggest remaining needs on defense as they head into the draft. 

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I took a quick look at the Panthers biggest needs on offense as they head into the 2018 NFL Draft. Now let’s take a look at the defensive side of the ball to see which positions still need help.

Safety

The Panthers cut free safety Kurt Coleman this offseason due to performance and salary cap reasons. Coleman was a productive safety for three years in Carolina, but he struggled last season after returning from an MCL sprain. The Panthers added Da’Norris Searcy in free agency, but he’s probably not a Coleman replacement, as his best role might be closer to the line of scrimmage as a strong safety.

Mike Adams played well at strong safety for the Panthers last season, but he’s also 37 years old. Playing Adams and Searcy on the field together in Cover 3 could be disastrous, as neither have the range to help cornerbacks deep. One possible solution might be to move away from Cover 3 as their base coverage and play more Cover 4, but that means having either or both safeties potentially isolated against slot receivers deep downfield. The Panthers need long-term solutions at both safety spots; fortunately for Carolina, this draft features a lot of intriguing safety talent in the early and mid-rounds.

Defensive end

The Panthers need to add youth at defensive end. Mario Addison and Julius Peppers will be the top two defensive ends again this year, but Addison turns 31, while Peppers is 38 and will likely retire after this season. Wes Horton has quietly improved every year he’s been in the league, but he’s likely near his ceiling as a pass rusher, as he’s 28 years old. Daeshon Hall is an intriguing prospect who missed his entire rookie year due to injury, but he has the length and athleticism to be a productive rotational 4-3 defensive end.

The Panthers should look into adding a defensive end early in the draft to compete with Horton and Hall for the No. 3 defensive end spot this season, and then potentially take over as a starter in 2019 or 2020.

Cornerback

The Panthers have had an interesting offseason at the cornerback spot. First, Daryl Worley was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Panthers replaced Worley in free agency with the signing of Bashaud Breeland, but then Breeland failed his physical due to a mysterious foot infection. The Panthers ended up signing Ross Cockrell, who should be a productive No. 2 cornerback for the Panthers opposite James Bradberry.

The Panthers could use some depth at the outside cornerback position, as both Captain Munnerlyn and Corn Elder are slot cornerbacks who are undersized on the outside. I don’t think the Panthers need to invest a high draft pick here, as there should be plenty of mid and even late round prospects who could sit and develop for a year or two behind Bradberry and Cockrell.

Linebacker

The Panthers still have the strongest 4-3 linebacker corps in the NFL with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson as the starting linebackers. They also have a solid fourth linebacker in David Mayo. However, Davis is set to retire after the 2018 season, and Mayo will be a free agent.

It’s not an immediate need, but the Panthers might want to look into adding a future depth linebacker in the mid or late rounds of this year’s draft to keep their strongest position on the roster well-stocked for the future.

While there are a few glaring needs on defense at the safety and defensive end spots, the offensive side of the ball probably needs more help overall. I wonder what Marty Hurney’s approach will be in this year’s draft; with limited resources and several positions of need, he’ll need to hit on multiple draft picks if the Panthers want to be successful in 2018.