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  • The biggest need, the hidden need and what else the Panthers should be looking for in the 2019 draft.
By Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling
April 11, 2019

Two weeks ahead of the NFL draft, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling are breaking down draft needs for all 32 teams. You can also see every team in a single post here.

Biggest Need: Defensive Line
Carolina’s zone-based 4-3 defense is predicated on having a dominant four-man rush. Inside, the personnel is decent: Kawann Short remains elite and Dontari Poe still moves well for a 345-pounder. However, Poe can be cut for a $10 million in cap savings next year, which might prove tempting. And his backup, 2016 first-rounder Vernon Butler, though worth examining one more year, has teased but not come close to fully delivering on his draft status. Outside, there are more questions, both short-and long-term. Mario Addison is in a contract year and will cost a lot to retain. Expect GM Marty Hurney to pony up. But opposite Addison, Bruce Irvin is playing on a one-year deal and would probably be best served in a rotational role.

Hidden Need: Defensive Back
Re-signing Eric Reid for $22M over three years back in February was smart, as this year safeties wound up costing gobs on the open market. But who will play alongside Reid? Concussions kept Da’Norris Searcy out of all but two games last season, and before that he was merely somewhere between a high-level backup and low-level starter in Tennessee. 2018 third-round pick Rashaan Gaulden, who is more athletic than veteran backup Colin Jones, was the No. 3 safety last year and could get a look as a starter. That, however, would leave a void in the slot, where Gaulden, an inside corner in college, has been floated as a possible replacement for released veteran Captain Munnerlyn. With the strong safety and slot corner having somewhat similar responsibilities in Carolina’s first and second down zone coverages, and with Reid capable of aligning anywhere, deciding which secondary position to fill could come down to simply choosing the best player from a pool of free safeties, strong safeties and slot corners.

Also Looking For: Wide Receiver
Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess did not work out, but the logic behind selecting them early in the 2014 and 2015 drafts made sense: they were big-bodied targets for Cam Newton, a hot-and-cold fastball thrower who tends to miss high and wide. The Panthers are not particularly deep at receiver and need another perimeter target with a large catch-radius.

Who They Can Get
The can certainly fortify the front four. Clemson DT Christian Wilkins is an option, though would he be redundant with Short? Clemson teammate Dexter Lawrence would give them a Poe replacement. The immediate value is on the edge, where they might be choosing between an edge burner in Florida State’s Brian Burns, an edge-setting complementary pass-rusher in Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell or perhaps undersized, high-motor sack artist Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech. They might have to make a move from the middle of the second round to get one of the top centerfield prospects—Delaware’s Nasir Adderley, Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Alabama’s Deionte Thompson, all fringe first-rounders, are probably the best fits.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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