Panthers could be out of Luck in draft

Thanks to their own losing ways and a few other teams getting wins Sunday, the Carolina Panthers firmly locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.

But the bad news is they might not be able to get the best player in the country. There have been rumblings around the league for the last few months that quarterback Andrew Luck might stay at Stanford for his final season. Now, those rumblings are turning into pretty solid reports.

Luck’s made no official announcement yet, but the Panthers have been well aware that there was a good chance he would stay in college. Still, if Luck is officially out of the draft pool, it changes things at the top dramatically.

Even if the Panthers didn’t want to draft Luck, they could have traded down with a team that wanted him and picked up extra picks. Now, there might not be a clear-cut No. 1 pick. There also has been some speculation that Auburn’s Cam Newton could decide to try to enter the draft early, but nothing’s definite.

If Luck and Newton aren’t in the draft, there might not be a quarterback worth taking with the No. 1 overall pick. The Panthers might have to turn in another direction and that’s where things could get complicated.

Defensive line help is one area of obvious need. But much will depend on who the new coach is and what happens with some veteran players on the roster. If Steve Smith and Chris Gamble aren’t around, wide receiver and cornerback could jump to the top of the wish list.