The hottest topic among sports fans in the Carolinas this winter will be how the Panthers should handle the quarterback situation. Will they bring in a veteran quarterback to start and mentor the younger players on the roster? Will they stick with Jimmy Clausen as the starter and try again to build a team around him?
These questions prove one thing: the Panthers need help at this position. With the presumed No. 1 pick in the draft, Carolina must look at drafting a franchise quarterback. Rarely in the NFL does a team become consistently successful without a great quarterback.
Clausen showed flashes of greatness, but those flashes were brief and short-lived. He may have been the product of a lameduck coach, an underachieving offensive line, a clueless offensive coordinator and an inexperienced receiving corps, but it's not enough to convince a coaching staff or the fans that Clausen is the unquestioned quarterback of the future in Charlotte.
If the Panthers have a chance to take a franchise quarterback like Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick, it's a tough opportunity to turn down, because it becomes a regrettable move if Clausen puts up similar numbers to start the 2011 season.
Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton
Also, with Duke Robinson not performing to his potential and Travelle Wharton being placed on IR, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the entire unit. There's not a surefire dominant offensive lineman coming out in the draft yet this year, so look for the Panthers to address this position in free agency.
Charles Johnson has been a pleasant surprise, as he has almost single-handedly replaced the production of the departed Julius Peppers. Johnson's 9.5 sacks have nearly eclipsed Peppers' numbers (10.5) from 2009.
Outside of Johnson, though, the defensive linemen have underperformed. Everette Brown and Greg Hardy have churned out three sacks apiece, but the Panthers need help on the interior.
Derek Landri and Ed Johnson have spent most of the season as starters, but some depth at the position is much needed, along with more production. The Panthers are giving up 126.2 rush yards per game, which ranks 23rd.
This draft boasts two stellar defensive linemen: Nick Fairley (Auburn) and DaQuan Bowers (Clemson). Fairley is a potential game-changer. A Panthers defense that ranks 12th in the league in total yards allowed could become elite with more impact at defensive tackle.
Similar to the quarterback situation, the Carolina receivers were asked to do a lot amidst a spiraling season. David Gettis and Brandon LaFell performed well, with both having breakout moments and games, but it seemed neither could put up the solid numbers consistently.
Despite the inconsistency, it's no secret both these receivers leave fans optimistic about what the future holds, but still there is the chance one or both of these prospects might not pan out.
In comes A.J. Green, a receiver out of Georgia who has spent plenty of time on the highlight reel. Green is a crisp route runner. He's big, physical and makes circus catches on a regular basis.
In addition, the Panthers may very well let go of Steve Smith in the offseason, which would leave much to be desired for depth at this position. Even with Smith on the roster, he needs another go-to receiver to take off some of the pressure. While Gettis and LaFell filled that role to varying degrees this season, the Panthers could be tempted by a talent like Green.
Special Teams/Defensive Backs
One of the highlights of the season is Carolina's top-10 passing defense. As a whole, the secondary for the Panthers has been reliable and has bailed out the offensive numerous times (although the favor was rarely returned).
However, this draft is rich with DB talent, specifically Prince Amukamara and Patrick Peterson. With a high draft pick, the Panthers would have to consider one of these prospects, as both are shutdown corners and could also contribute on special teams.
As bad as the Panthers have been, they have not given up a punt or kick return for a touchdown. However, they haven't scored on one either. A disastrous start to the kick return position was revived by Captain Munnerlyn, but the Panthers could still use a more dangerous return man. The depth for punt and kick returns is not spectacular, especially with the increased use of Mike Goodson at running back.
Alex Montgomery is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in Professional Writing. He has worked for the Western Carolinian and his hometown newspaper, the Kernersville News. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.