Carolina Panthers

Should the Panthers trade up in this year's draft?

Before I started my mock draft that ran in Sunday’s paper, I had no clue what player I would send to the Panthers. After completing the Saints pick at No. 27, I still didn’t know.

Kelvin Benjamin makes sense at 28, but the overwhelming thought I had as I went from the teens into the 20s and finally to 28 was, should the Panthers trade up?

Here’s the issue: The Panthers top two needs are offensive tackle and wide receiver. You can get talented guys at both positions in this draft because it’s deep, but can you get top-tier talent in the first round at either position?

That’s a worry for the Panthers. Tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are the top two tackles, and they’ll be gone by the seventh pick. But some mock drafts have Taylor Lewan falling (the Observer had him at 17 to the Ravens) and tackle Zack Martin should be gone by 20 (he’s at 19 to the Dolphins).

Then there are the wide receivers. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are in a class all their own and should be taken in the top 10. But Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks could be there in the late-teens to early-20s.

When it comes to first-round tackle, an NFL GM must ask himself if that player, who inevitably will start on the right side of the line, can at some point be a left tackle. It appears the Panthers are bearish on the remaining tackles at the end of the first round and may use a second- or third-round pick on that position.

While Benjamin could eventually be the player teams envision with his combination of size, strength and speed, he’s still raw with only two years of major college football experience. There’s no guarantee he’ll have an immediate impact like Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson, who had one year of major college football experience and was picked 29th in last year’s draft.

So what are the trade options for Carolina to ensure a top-tier player at one of the two positions? Going through the draft, the team that stood out the most to me was Pittsburgh at No. 15. The Steelers need a cornerback, receiver and tackle, but if corner is their top need, they can go down to the late-20s and pick up a guy like TCU’s Jason Verrett or Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller.

A trade from 28 to 15 would require the Panthers giving up something obviously. A look at recent history shows the Panthers would probably have to give up a third-round pick (and maybe a later round since Carolina picks since it would be a late third-rounder) in order to move up 13 spots.

Last year the 49ers traded their 31st overall pick and the third-round pick (74th overall, and actually the Panthers’ pick before trading it away) to the Cowboys for Dallas’ 18th overall selection. San Francisco selected safety Eric Reed.

In 2012 the Patriots traded their 27th overall pick and the third-round selection (93rd overall) to the Bengals for Cincinnati’s 21st overall selection. New England turned that pick into defensive end Chandler Jones.

It should be noted it's not easy to give up draft picks. If your team's goal is the have a strong foundation with its key parts and build around that foundation through the draft--which has been the Panthers' plan--then giving up draft picks doesn't exactly jive with that.

There's no indication yet the Panthers are willing to trade up, according to a source, and this weekend it was re-emphasized the team will take the best player available. But that player could be a lot better if the Panthers can execute a trade.

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