Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Thursday, April 3, 2014
Analyzing Kiper Grade A draft: Panthers

By David Newton

The Carolina Panthers have the 28th pick in the 2014 NFL draft after finishing last season with a 12-4 record. Their primary needs easily are wide receiver and offensive tackle, although a top cornerback might be tempting if one fell that far.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draftInsider is out on ESPN Insider today. He picks the top three rounds for each team, and I have to admit I like what he's done with Carolina.

Kiper picked Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. He recently called Kouandjio the riskiest pick in the draft because of red flags over his knees and his inability to "take a step forward'' this past season.

This reminds me of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei a year ago. Teams were scared off by medical issues surrounding his heart at the NFL combine. A player some had rated at the top of the draft board fell to Carolina at No. 14.

It was a steal as Lotulelei anchored the middle of the league's No. 2 defense.

Kouandjio could have similar risk-reward value. That he is a powerful run-blocker and the Panthers need to replace left tackle Jordan Gross -- or right tackle Byron Bell if he becomes the starter on the left side -- almost makes him a must-take player if there.

Kiper has the Panthers going with LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry in the second round and South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington in the third.

I like them both. Landry didn't have the greatest combine, but his 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns this past season shows he's a big-time player in a big-time league. More importantly, he's a clutch player, leading the SEC in receptions, yards and touchdowns on third down.

The Panthers need a clutch receiver after releasing Steve Smith, their all-time clutch player.

Ellington is a speedster who can stretch the field, running the 40 in 4.45 seconds at the combine. He's a lot like Smith at 5-foot-9 and 197 pounds in that he has great body control and leaping ability.

Although Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman remains adamant that he will select the best player available -- period -- he has the comfort of knowing the draft is deep at his two biggest needs.

Adding these three might make some forget the losses of Smith and Gross.