The 2016 NFL Draft starts tonight (Thursday) and continues into the weekend. The Carolina Panthers have one of the more complete teams in the NFL, however there are still some needs on the roster. Here are the needs I see heading into the draft.
I still think this team needs another wide receiver. Quarterback Cam Newton made some of the receivers better last season which helped mask the need for talent at this position. There are plenty of question marks surrounding the position heading into the 2016 season. The team has two wide receivers coming off season-ending injuries with Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill both suffering a torn ACL during training camp last year. Their return will help offset the loss of Jerricho Cotchery who was waived after the Super Bowl. Cotchery finished third in receptions last season.
Even with all these question marks, this position isn’t a pressing need. The Panthers finished the season with the highest scoring offense in the NFL without Benjamin and Hill. The hope is that Devin Funchess will be able to build off a strong finish to his rookie season. While another pass catcher would be good for Newton and if one falls to the Panthers, I could see Carolina looking for more talent at this position.
I believe the Panthers do need to improve at runningback. Jonathan Stewart was the featured running back in this offense, with close 50 percent of the team’s total carries. However, he is another year older and is still injury-prone. When Stewart was out of the lineup, this offense was not as efficient and Newton was the player who tried to replace the production lost.
The Panthers do have some options at running back though with Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whittaker and undrafted free agent Brandon Wegher. While all three are good complimentary players, none have shown that they can be a featured running back. This is why I feel the franchise will draft another back.
Defensively, I think Carolina will look in the early rounds to add to its defensive secondary. I see them taking a safety early. The Panthers only have one of their starting safeties returning this season after the team released Roman Harper earlier this offseason.
They could have the answer already on the roster in the form of Tre Boston to pair with Kurt Coleman. Even if the team is comfortable with Boston and Coleman as their starting safeties, they would still be in the market for a safety because they lack depth behind them.
Panthers’ Dave Gettleman
The biggest need for the defense has to be a cornerback. The team rescinded the franchise tag on Josh Norman last week and he is one of the top corners in the game. Norman signed long term with the Washington Redskins after Panthers officials shared that they did not feel they could match Norman’s contract demands. Now there is a glaring need.
After Norman is Bene Benwikere, who was the team’s primary nickelback but had his 2015 season cut short due to a fractured leg. The team is expected to move him to the outside but there is concern with any player coming back from injury even though the reports have been positive about his rehab. To replace Benwikere on the inside, the Panthers did sign Brandon Boykin, who is one of the top nickelbacks in the league. However, with offenses playing more spread offenses, it is important to have three solid cornerbacks. The Panthers do still have Robert McClain under contract, who started for the team during the playoffs last year.
You would think the Panthers would address this need early. But general manager Dave Gettleman has often maintained that a strong defensive line will make the secondary better so this is a position the team may address in the later rounds.
Hornets Back In It
The Charlotte Hornets returned home over the weekend and got themselves back in their playoff series against the Miami Heat. After a pair of home victories the series is tied at 2-2 heading into last night’s game five in Miami.
One had to think that the hot shooting that powered the Miami to consecutive double-digit victories over the Charlotte Hornets in games one and two was not going to last forever. After all, the Hornets are one of the better defensive teams in the league. They did not look too good defensively in Miami as the Heat opened the playoffs by scoring at least 115 points in back-to-back games for the first time all season.
It all changed in Game 3 and Game 4. The Hornets cruised to a 96-80 Game 3 victory, a postseason first for the modern incarnation of the Charlotte franchise. The Hornets played like their backs were against the wall, especially on defense.
Game 4 was similar in nature and the Hornets are officially awake and engaged in this series. But they’re also undermanned as Nicolas Batum, their most versatile player, will likely miss yet another game due to injury. If he returns, Charlotte could pull off the minor upset. Either way, the Hornets are guaranteed a game six in Charlotte where it rarely loses these days.
The Hornets are slowly becoming respectable. Another step in the process is winning a playoff series. It will take two more solid defensive efforts to move on.