GM: LT, WR top Panthers' priorities in upcoming NFL Draft
General manager Dave Gettleman said the Panthers want a left tackle to protect Cam Newton’s blindside and a young wide receiver for the Pro Bowl quarterback to throw to this season.
Gettleman also pointed to cornerback as an area of need as Carolina prepares for the May 8-10 NFL draft.
But the second-year GM insisted Tuesday in a pre-draft press conference the Panthers won’t stretch to fill any of those needs if the right player isn’t available.
“When you make up your mind to take a position because of need, more often than not you’re going to make a mistake,” Gettleman said.
The Panthers have the 28th pick in this year’s draft.
Gettleman subscribes to the age-old theory of drafting the best player available on the draft board. That blueprint worked last year when the Panthers selected defensive tackle Kawaan Short from Purdue in the second round even after taking another defensive tackle, Utah’s Star Lotulelei, in the first.
Both turned out to be solid contributors for the league’s second-ranked defense last season, helping the Panthers go 12-4 and win the NFC South.
“You can look at me like I’m nuts, but if there is a blue goose pass rusher there or a blue goose defensive tackle sitting there I’m not going to be afraid” to draft him, Gettleman said.
But Carolina’s biggest needs are at offensive tackle and wide receiver, where they need to replace wide receiver Steve Smith and offensive tackle Jordan Gross, a pair of co-captains considered to be two of the franchise’s best players over the last decade.
Smith was released in a salary cap move, while Gross retired. Considered iconic figures in the Carolinas, Smith was with the Panthers for 13 seasons and Gross 11.
Gettleman said combined there are about 10 offensive tackles and wide receivers who deserve to be drafted in the first round.
It appears the Panthers value an offensive tackle more than a receiver.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said protecting Newton and giving him weapons are both important, but said if he had to choose one he’d lean toward finding him a blocker.
“I think protecting him,” is more important, Rivera said. “You have so many opportunities to get playmakers on the field. Other than the quarterback there are five other guys who can make plays for you. I think right now what we’ve done is bring in guys who have the ability to make plays for us. I feel very comfortable with that.”
The Panthers transitioned into more of a running team last season, rushing for at least 100 yards in 15 of the team’s 16 regular season games while placing less emphasis on their wide receivers.
As a group Carolina’s wide receivers averaged less than 10 receptions per game in 2013.
That may be one of the reasons that along with releasing Smith, the Panthers let free agent wide receivers Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon sign with other teams — a decision that left fans complaining about the direction of the offense.
Carolina replaced that group with free agent wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery from Pittsburgh, Tiquan Underwood from Tampa Bay and Jason Avant from Philadelphia. Gettleman and Rivera also remain high on two Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King, a pair of young wide receivers that were on last year’s roster but mostly inactive on game day.
Cornerback has been another area of need for years.
This past offseason the Panthers allowed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, a five-year starter, to walk in free agency. They replaced him with free agent Antione Cason, but it’s still expected to be another position they’ll address in the draft.