Panthers make moves to improve running game

Perhaps it was foreshadowing when I made Jonathan Stewart's photo the photo for the draft article this morning. I had a feeling that is the direction they'd go -- after all, I'd been touting drafting a running back in the first for months now.

What I didn't expect was for the Panthers to send their 2nd and 4th round picks this year and their first round pick next year to Philly for Jeff Otah. That one caught me by surprise and I'm still trying to digest it.

Otah was highly rated by the Panthers coming into the draft, but clearly Stewart was rated even higher. The message they sent out today was "We're going to smash it down your throat."

The Panthers will more than likely sport a starting offensive line where 4 of the 5 starters are first day picks of the Panthers, and if you figure Fonoti gets the nod at one of the guard spots, that would equate to 2 first rounders (Otah and Gross), 2 second rounders (Kalil and Fonoti) and a third rounder (Wharton) making up your line.

I really like the Stewart pick, though. I knew the Panthers wanted to get a tough, big, bruising back to be the Panthers' bell cow and team with DeAngelo Williams. Was drafting Williams a mistake? I don't think so, but he's clearly not the blocker or inside runner they covet for this offense. Of course, they thought they had that player in Eric Shelton, but he proved to be a bust.

Some folks think what the Panthers gave up to get Otah was too much. I think if you expect to jump back into the first round, you are going to have to give up a lot to do it. But if you think about it, the Panthers really only gave up a 2nd and a 4th to move up in the first round, just a year early.

Figure that the Panthers should make the playoffs this year, and let's say they pick at 25 or so. They essentially paid the 25th, 43rd and 109th overall to move up to 19. Sure, it's a gamble, but the Panthers felt so strongly that Otah was the player they wanted, they essentially made their 2009 first round pick this year. I think people would have been more at ease with it had it been one of their 3rd rounders instead of the second, however.

Speaking of the third rounders, the Panthers currently hold thev 67th and 74th picks, which are the 4th and 11th picks in the third round. The Panthers need defensive tackle depth, and players such as Marcus Harrison from Arkansas, Pat Sims from Auburn, Dre Moore from Maryland (and Independence High School) and Red Bryant are available. Safety is also an area of need, and a guy such as DaJaun Morgan of NC State, Tom Zbikowski from Notre Dame, Joshua Barrett from Arizona State or Quintin Demps from UTEP could fit the bill.

The Panthers could round out the day by taking a Quarterback to compete with Brett Basanez for the third QB position behind Jake Delhomme and Matt Moore, even more offensive line depth or a Fullback to groom behind the aging Brad Hoover.

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