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Monday, April 15, 2013
Carolina Panthers: Mock draft prep

By Pat Yasinskas

As I prepare to make the ESPN Blog Network mock draft pick for the Carolina Panthers at No. 14 next week, I’m trying hard to think beyond Sheldon Richardson.

It seems just about every mock draft I’ve seen has the Panthers taking Richardson. It makes plenty of sense because the Panthers need a quality defensive tackle to put next to Dwan Edwards to firm up their run defense.

I have no problem taking Richardson and probably will if he’s on the board. But I want to be prepared for a scenario where someone ahead of the Panthers grabs Richardson. If that’s the case, I think part of the equation might be that Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is falling. If he’s available, I’d gladly take Lotulelei because I think the Panthers would do the same thing.

But I also want some scenarios beyond defensive tackles because I’m not so sure the Panthers are as locked in on that position as everyone thinks.

The needs could be even greater in the secondary. One scenario that has been growing on me in recent weeks would be to take Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. The Panthers really don’t have much at safety and Vaccaro would be an instant starter.

Then, there’s the cornerback situation, which is just as thin as the safety situation. Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Washington’s Desmond Trufant are the two corners who could be available at No. 14. A lot of people have Rhodes and Trufant pegged to go later in the first round. But the law of supply and demand could kick in and it’s possible the Panthers could take one of them at No. 14.

There also has been a little buzz about West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin and the Panthers. I don’t know that there will ever be another Steve Smith. But Austin looks the part and the Panthers do need an eventual successor for Smith.

Finally, this may be a long shot, but I don’t know the Panthers are truly sold on right tackle Byron Bell at right tackle. Alabama’s D.J. Fluker should be available at No. 14. With the Panthers saying they want to get back to the power running game, I think Fluker’s a guy they at least could consider.

What I do with the Panthers’ pick will depend largely on what happens with the 13 picks in front of them. These are the scenarios I’m at least pondering. Feel free to share your thoughts on my scenarios or any alternatives in the comments section below.