Before the Carolina Panthers surprisingly rescinded Josh Norman’s franchise tag on Wednesday, the team was looking at offensive line, defensive line and defensive back as its top three needs in next week’s NFL draft.
That remains true after the Panthers’ bombshell, and Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman did little to hide it.
Gettleman, leading his fourth draft with Carolina, praised the offensive and defensive line groups in this year’s draft. And it’s conceivable the Panthers target a player in one of those groups in next week’s first round.
“(Former Giants coach) Tom Coughlin said big men allow you to compete,” Gettleman said, speaking specifically about defensive linemen. “And I’m a firm believer in it. In my first year here with that front, (we had) 60 sacks. Last year we had 44. It makes people in the back end better. Trust me, it does.
“I’ve been blessed. I’ve been with teams that have had big-time fronts and I’ve seen the value of that.”
Positions the Panthers likely won’t go for in the first round include quarterback, linebacker and specialists. Multiple team sources have indicated the Panthers would like to get a tight end in the first three rounds of the draft but that it’s unlikely they’ll go for one in the first round.
Carolina also views three returning receivers as pseudo draft picks. Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill are returning from ACL tears, and the Panthers are still interested in seeing what Kevin Norwood can do after trading for him last season.
After 12 days of talks with the scouting staff and with all 30 in-house visits exhausted, the Panthers have their draft board set. Carolina, sitting at No. 30 in Thursday night’s first round, is hoping for some help to get the quality, impact player it wants.
“Teams that are in my situation that are at the bottom of the draft (are saying), ‘Go quarterbacks go!’” Gettleman said. “You want them to push down (the rest of the draft.) We’re also a 4-3 defense and there are some good 3-4 guys and man take those guys in front of us please. You do get into that mentality.”
The Panthers could target defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd or defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Jarran Reed.
Carolina could also go offensive line. If the Panthers can find a left tackle, Michael Oher could move back to his more natural right tackle spot. Center Ryan Kalil is 31 years old, and Carolina could also look for a left guard more athletic than Andrew Norwell.
Gettleman bragged on the offensive line group in the draft. He said the team has first-round grades on four offensive tackles, and a source indicated those players are likely Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley, Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker. Gettleman also gushed about other linemen by name.
“The Alabama kid is a heckuva center. Ryan Kelly. Geez,” Gettleman said. “That guard from Stanford, big hog molly, Joshua Garnett, he’s a big, powerful man. And defensively it’s a really nice group.
“If you need hog molly help, you’re not mad about this draft.”
Running backs also exciting
But what if Carolina’s top offensive and defensive linemen are gone and the Panthers don’t like the remaining defensive backs in the first round? What if, as one team source asked, one of the “prime running backs is looking at you?”
Alabama’s Derrick Henry could still be there at No. 30. Even if he’s not, Carolina is also interested in Utah running back Devontae Booker, who’s considered by some to be the third-best back in the draft behind Ezekiel Elliott and Henry.
“I don’t subscribe to the theory that going into the draft I’ve got to get one of these, one of these, two of these, one of these, three of these,” Gettleman said. “We’re not shopping in the supermarket.”
He’s stuck with the best player available motto for years. But even Gettleman admitted that, when it comes to hog mollies, sometimes he can’t help himself.