Outside of the defensive backfield, the Carolina Panthers biggest area of need comes at defensive line. They racked up 44 sacks on the year, good for sixth in the NFL, but still seemed like an underachieving bunch, sometimes completely disappearing from games. And with Jared Allen retired and the uncertainty surrounding Charles Johnson’s status with the team, Carolina may need to keep an eye on Sunday’s combine participants.
Of course the Panthers do already have a solid group of young stars on the defensive line like Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Kony Ealy, but will likely be on the lookout for another young star to add to the mix to provide depth and potentially make this defense even fiercer than it already is.
Early Round Star:
Kevin Dodd – Clemson
If the Panthers choose to go with a defensive end in the first round, they should look no further than Carolina-native Kevin Dodd out of Clemson. Dodd saw a tremendous 2015 season boost his draft stock tremendously and because of the wealth of talented players at the position, could very easily be around for the Panthers at pick 30.
The Clemson product always plays at 100% flying around the field to make plays. He’s an instinctive pass-rusher who can free himself from blocks and also snuff out screen plays and runs to his side. Dodd finished 2015 with 46 quarterback pressures and 12 sacks and has an incredible mix of power and athleticism. His only real knock is the lack of consistent production but the intelligence and talent with which he plays the position should make him an easy first round pick.
Mid Round Gem:
Joel Heath – Michigan St.
All eyes will be on the defensive ends in this draft that could land with the Panthers but defensive tackle depth is still a top priority as well with a versatile player like Joel Heath fitting that bill.
The Michigan State player moved from defensive end to tackle and enjoyed success there starting the last two seasons. Heath plays with a high motor and won’t give up on a run play easily as he’ll fight down the line to get to the ball carrier. He’s also huge for a defense tackle (6’6”) which helps with his versatility along the line. With only two seasons as an end he still needs time to adjust to the positons and gain strength and power to be an effective contributor but could certainly work his way into a productive role with the way Carolina rotates their defensive line.
Late Round Sleeper:
Branden Jackson – Texas Tech
Not only will the Panthers be looking for a potential starter at defensive end but also with depth which could mean adding a raw, athletic player to develop and hope for the best. And Branden Jackson out of Texas Tech is a perfect example of this kind of prospect.
Jackson has the build and athletic potential to play the position and being a former linebacker, he’s shown he can add weight and still perform, which he’ll likely need to do to become a contributor in the NFL. He has shown flashes of brilliance in terms of power and penetration as a pass rusher but needs to make those flashes more of a consistent occurrence. Jackson will need quite a bit of work and development but could wind up being a solid add in the later rounds of this draft.