Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee

Let's say Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is right and there are only a combined nine or 10 offensive tackles and wide receivers worthy of going in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft.

Now let's say there are about 12 (at least by my count) teams interested in drafting a player at one of those positions ahead of Carolina at No. 28. And one or two teams without a primary need at those spots might go there because the player is too good to pass up among the top five.

Do the math.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIDon't be surprised if the Panthers draft a defender like Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller rather than reach to fill a need on offense.
There is a very good chance a first-round worthy wide receiver or tackle -- both great needs for the reigning NFC South champion -- won't be around when Carolina picks.

This is why Gettleman isn't married to a position with his first pick. This is why the man who introduced us to "hog mollies" a year ago when he drafted defensive tackles in the first two rounds, introduced us on Tuesday to the term "blue goose" when referring to pass-rushers and defensive tackles with a talent as rare as the bird.

Gettleman didn't spend the past few months sending his scouts all over the country looking at players and racking up frequent flier points just so he could select in the first round a player the staff rated as a second- or third-rounder.

So when he says he'll take the best player available, bank on it.

To reach for a player at a position just because you have a need to fill, Gettleman reminded over and over, "more often than not you're going to make a mistake." General managers that make mistakes, particularly with first-round picks, often lose their jobs.

What we don't know is how many of those nine to 10 players Gettleman has at tackle or wide receiver. Does he have six wide receivers and four tackles, or five of each?

What if it's really a combined nine and not 10?

For the sake of argument, let's go on the conservative side and say five wide receivers and four tackles. Based on what most of the so-called draft experts project, the surefire first-rounders at wide receiver would be: Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Odell Beckham Jr., LSU; Marqise Lee, Southern Cal; and Brandin Cooks, Oregon State.

The surefire offensive tackles would be: Greg Robinson, Auburn; Jake Matthews, Texas A&M; Taylor Lewan, Michigan; and Zack Martin, Notre Dame.

And many project Martin as a guard.

If you want to stretch it to five each, add Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, whose stock has been downgraded by many because of medical reports on his knees.

Now let's look at the competition. Among the teams that appear to be looking at wide receiver: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New York Jets, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Philadelphia. Those interested in tackle help: Baltimore, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati.

There is overlap here as you can see.

But if each of those teams goes for a tackle or receiver, where do the Panthers turn? They could get a top cornerback. Gettleman said he wouldn't be "sad" to see one of those fall to him.

Among the possibilities could be Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech or Jason Verrett of Texas Christian.

Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy could be there if Carolina decides to go with a "blue goose" defensive end. There is no guarantee the Panthers sign Greg Hardy to a long-term deal, and Charles Johnson is going into his eighth season. Johnson also had knee issues last season.

You never can have too many great pass-rushers.

Or what if there is a top defensive tackle on the board such as Notre Dame's Louis Nix III? Or Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman? Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole both are getting up there in age and have deals that expire after this season.

"If there's a great player there [defensive tackle] were going to take him," Gettleman said. "Everybody's got a philosophy of how they're going to construct their team, and you guys have figured out that we believe in defense."

They also believe in taking the best player available in the draft, and this one will be no different, no matter how great the needs are at tackle and wide receiver.

Bank on it.
The NFL draft is just under a month away and representatives from the Carolina Panthers are all over the country checking out prospects.

Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl alone has tweeted pictures of stadiums at Indiana, Vanderbilt, Ball State, Wyoming, Fresno State, Southern Cal and Oregon State since March 31.

The Panthers had representatives at LSU's pro day on Wednesday to evaluate wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., among others.

I can't tell you everywhere the Panthers have been, but I compiled a list of players reportedly brought to Charlotte, N.C., for a visit, scheduled for a visit or scheduled for a private workout.

Beckham
You don't see Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Tennessee tackle Ja'Wuan James or Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on the list, but that doesn't mean Carolina isn't interested and hasn't set up something.

It's no surprise there are a lot of wide receivers and offensive tackles on this list. Both are need positions. There also are a couple of athletic quarterbacks here, which is interesting with Cam Newton coming off ankle surgery and three other quarterbacks on the roster.

Most of the draft analysts predict Carolina will take an offensive tackle or wide receiver with the 28th overall pick. General manager Dave Gettleman insists they'll take the best player available.

Here's a preview of some the Panthers are looking at for the May 8-10 draft:

Wide Receivers

Cooks
Brandin Cooks (5-foot-9, 189) Oregon State: This was the early popular pick by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. to wind up in Carolina. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver this past season. He set single-season Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards. He is nicknamed "Sonic Boom" and reminds many of Steve Smith, Carolina's all-time leading receiver who recently was released.

Projected round: 1

Robert Herron (5-9, 193) Wyoming: Had a team-best nine touchdown catches this past season. Had 72 catches for 937 yards. A good athlete who can stretch the field. The Panthers need somebody to stretch the field with Ted Ginn Jr. gone.

Projected round: 3

Cody Latimer (6-2, 215) Indiana: Caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Rising fast on a lot of draft boards. Had foot surgery in January and was unable to work out at the NFL combine in February, but ran a 4.44 40 in late March at Indiana's pro day. Excellent blocker, which Carolina likes at the position.

Projected round: 4-5

Jarvis Landry (5-11, 205) LSU: Had five 100-yard receiving games in 2013. Makes the tough catches and is a solid blocker. A team captain, so good leadership skills.

Projected round: 2-3

Marqise Lee (5-11, 192) Southern Cal: Missed three games last season with a knee injury, but is good to go. Won the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation's top receiver in 2012. Had 118 catches. Can be dynamic after the catch, and the Panthers are looking for a dynamic receiver.

Projected round: 1-2

Kevin Norwood (6-2, 198) Alabama: Had seven touchdown catches in 2013. A solid route-runner with good hands. I had a prospect from another SEC team tell me Norwood will surprise and have a major impact once he gets into the NFL.

Projected round: 4-5

Offensive line

Dakota Dozier (6-3, 313) Furman: He didn't come from one of the big-time programs, but against big-time programs Florida State and Clemson this 6-4, 315-pound prospect more than held his own. A solid run-blocker, and the Panthers like to run. Had a good showing at the Shrine Bowl. Played guard, but could be a nice fit at tackle on the right side.

Projected round: 2-3

Cameron Fleming (6-4, 323) Stanford: Played on the right side for Stanford and helped the team rush for a school-record 2,904 yards in 2013. In 2011 helped protect Andrew Luck, who threw for a school-record 37 touchdowns.

Projected round: 4-5

Morgan Moses (6-6, 313) Virginia: Moved from right to left tackle for his senior season. Solid run-blocker with good first step, but has been questioned for his ability to redirect in a short area. Could sneak into the late first round.

Projected round: 2-3

Billy Turner (6-4, 315) North Dakota State: Good build but needs to carry more weight. Aggressive as a run-blocker, but inconsistent in leverage as a pass-protector. Would be a good fit for a power offense like Carolina.

Projected round: 2-3

Defensive line

Kony Ealy (6-4, 273) Missouri: First-team All-SEC selection who is big and quick off the snap, which makes him an effective pass-rusher off the edge. Still needs work as a run-stopper. There are no guarantees the Panthers sign Greg Hardy to a long-term deal, so Ealy could be insurance.

Projected round: 1-2

Cornerback

Kyle Fuller (5-11, 190) Virginia Tech: He missed six games last season with a sports hernia, but at 6-0 and 190 pounds he can play any kind of coverage.

Projected round: 3

Verrett
Jason Verrett (5-9, 189) TCU: Slightly undersized at 5-9, but ran a 4.38 40 at the combine and is polished product. Could be a nice fit in the slot, where the Panthers are looking for an option.

Projected round: 1-2

Quarterback

Garrett Gilbert (6-4, 220) SMU: Had a strong pro day, completing 87 of 88 pass attempts to see his stock rise. The son of former NFL quarterback Gale Gilbert. An athletic quarterback with Cam Newton-like size who could turn into a nice protégé for Newton.

Projected round: 7-FA

Brett Smith (6-3, 206) Wyoming: One of the more athletic quarterbacks in the draft, running the 40 in 4.51 seconds at his pro day. Had 76 career touchdown passes and 97 touchdowns overall during his college career.

Projected round: 6-7

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider