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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Draft needs: Carolina Panthers

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

We continue our series of NFC South team-by-team draft needs with the Carolina Panthers.
  1. Quarterback. There is not a bigger need on this team than at the game’s most important position. It’s been a huge problem spot the last two seasons and new coach Ron Rivera knows he has to find a quarterback in order to have any chance at success. Could the Panthers take Auburn’s Cam Newton or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert with the first overall pick? It’s possible and either of those prospects could help their chances with a big combine. But the Panthers are a conservative franchise and Newton and Gabbert each have upside and downside. The Panthers may look to free agency or a trade to find their quarterback.
  2. Defensive tackle. This also has been a problem spot the last couple of seasons. There generally is a much lower bust factor for a defensive tackle than a quarterback and that’s why I’m thinking Auburn’s Nick Fairley might be the guy Carolina goes with as the No. 1 pick.
  3. Cornerback. This remains up in the air because we don’t know what will happen with Richard Marshall in free agency or if Chris Gamble can get back into good graces with Rivera after falling out of favor with John Fox last year. But it’s likely at least one of them will be gone.
  4. Tight end. Rivera has made it clear he wants the tight end more involved in the passing game. I’m not sure any of Carolina’s current tight ends really fit the profile. It might be time for Carolina to go out and get the first true pass-catching tight end the franchise has had since Wesley Walls.
  5. Defensive end. On the surface, it’s not that huge a need if the Panthers can re-sign Charles Johnson. But a lot of people think Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers is the best player in the draft. If the Panthers agree, they have to at least consider taking him even if Johnson is back.