Scott Fowler

The Carolina Panthers should address this position before any other spot in NFL draft

When an NFL team goes 1-7 over the final eight games of its most recent season, it needs a lot of things.

The NFL team in question is the Carolina Panthers, who are about to enter their 25th NFL draft. The Panthers crumbled so completely in 2018 that they could use some help at nearly every position.

But one need looms above all the others. It is where I hope the Panthers go with their No. 16 overall pick.

It is offensive tackle.

No spot means more to a team that is trying to nurse a veteran quarterback back to health and then keep him that way. The Panthers have to keep quarterback Cam Newton’s jersey cleaner in 2019.

So give the Panthers someone like Washington State’s Andre Dillard, Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, Florida’s Jawaan Taylor or Alabama’s Jonah Williams. I like all of them. At least one of them should be available at No. 16.

The Panthers certainly need pass-rushing help on the edge, too. They can use their second-round pick there, because this draft runs deeper on the defensive line. In fact the Panthers should actually draft two defensive linemen – an edge rusher and also a defensive tackle who might offer good push up the middle.

But before any of that happens, I’d take the offensive tackle.

If the Panthers started the season today, they would likely start Taylor Moton at left tackle and Daryl Williams at right tackle. That sounds OK in theory, but so did the Matt Kalil/Williams combo at tackle a year ago. Then Kalil played in zero games and Williams in just one game all season due to knee injuries. Together, the duo missed 31 out of a possible 32 starts.

Then Newton got pounded – this wasn’t just the fault of those tackles, but it sure didn’t help. At one point, Newton was still playing in games despite throwing the ball with the velocity of Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Mercifully – although too late in retrospect – the Panthers sat Newton down and subbed in their backup quarterbacks for the final two games. Those guys got pounded, too. Carolina finished 7-9.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera (left) and general manager Marty Hurney need help all over the roster, but they have five of the 2019 NFL draft’s first 115 picks to try and find it. David T. Foster III

The Panthers are at least trying to restructure on the fly as they attempt not to waste another of the precious years in which Newton and star linebacker Luke Kuechly remain on the same team. The Panthers released Matt Kalil in the offseason, cutting bait on a huge free-agent signing that never quite worked out.

If the Panthers draft a tackle now, at the least they will have some high-profile insurance right away for Moton and Williams. And if it turns out they get lucky and draft the next Jordan Gross, then they have a 10-year starter from Day One.

I certainly get the arguments for a safety or another offensive skill player, or even a quarterback (that will be a Day 3 pick for these Panthers, if at all).

After free agency stabilized some positions — the signing of center Matt Paradis to replace the retiring Ryan Kalil was particularly critical — the Panthers have two needs that are bigger than all the rest.

They need another offensive tackle, and they need another outside rusher.

I believe, though, that protection comes first. Before you start trying to ransack someone else’s castle, you better build yourself a really good moat.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”