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ESPN analyst Kiper weighs in on Carolina Panthers’ draft options

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman’s affinity for big guys has been well established.

Following the retirement of longtime left tackle Jordan Gross, the Panthers need a couple of big guys, specifically offensive tackles.

But they also need wide receivers, and that’s the direction ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. expects the Panthers to go when they pick 28th overall in next month’s draft.

Receiver and tackle happen to be two of the deepest and most talent-rich positions in the May 8-10 draft.

But the top tackles are expected to be gone by the time the Panthers pick, and Kiper isn’t crazy about the second-tier options – although he had the Panthers taking Virginia’s Morgan Moses in his mock draft last week.

But during a conference call Wednesday with reporters, Kiper said he believes the Panthers would be better served grabbing a receiver after the mass exodus at the position this offseason.

“I just don’t see a tackle I’m excited about,” Kiper said. “Morgan Moses from Virginia is a left tackle. I think he plays a little too high. He needs to bend better. He did get some improvement in that area late. I don’t see anybody at 28 from an offensive tackle standpoint that would excite me over a wide receiver. And they desperately need that.”

Gettleman has overhauled the receiving position, and he might not be finished.

The Panthers cut franchise receiving leader Steve Smith, and three other wideouts left in free agency – Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon.

Gettleman signed three complementary receivers in Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. Kiper thinks the Panthers need more.

“Carolina can’t get just one,” he said. “They probably have to get two receivers.”

“They haven’t had great wide receiver play, even with Steve Smith. Steve Smith was a heck of a player. Who was the other guy? Brandon LaFell dropped a lot of balls,” Kiper added. “So it’s not like this team had a great receiving corps, or a good receiving corps, anyway. Now they need multiple receivers.”

Kiper mentioned three wideouts he believes will be available when the Panthers pick – Indiana’s Cody Latimer, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Fresno State’s Davante Adams, who led all major-college receivers with 131 catches last season.

The Panthers reportedly worked out Adams for a second time Wednesday. They also have met with Latimer (6-2, 215 pounds) and Matthews (6-3, 212), both of whom are big receivers.

Matthews, a cousin of Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice, is the SEC’s all-time receiving leader.

The tackle class seems to be a little more top-heavy, according to draft experts. After the top four tackles – Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin – Kiper thinks the pickings are slim as far as potential first-rounders.

“I think when you look at Carolina right now, the receiver’s going to trump the offensive tackle, unless you’re shocked and a Zack Martin (drops),” Kiper said. “But that’s not going to happen. So I would say a wide receiver.”

Another possibility for the Panthers is a cornerback. Two of the team’s top three corners from last season – Captain Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence – are gone, and recently acquired Antoine Cason was a part-time player last season in Arizona.

Kiper pointed to three late-first-round cornerback options for Carolina – Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and TCU’s Jason Verrett.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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