Tom Sorensen

In this draft, the Carolina Panthers’ best bet for a first-round bull’s-eye is …

If I’m the Carolina Panthers, I use my second-round pick on running back Nick Chubb of Georgia or Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, assuming one of them still is available.
If I’m the Carolina Panthers, I use my second-round pick on running back Nick Chubb of Georgia or Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, assuming one of them still is available. AP

As is their custom, the Carolina Panthers have declined to sign free agent stars this offseason. But they’ve added several players that are pretty good to good.

One is Dontari Poe, the defensive tackle. One is Ross Cockrell, the cornerback. Another is wide receiver Torrey Smith, whom the Panthers acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. They also signed safety Da’Norris Searcy. Call him insurance. Importantly, they convinced defensive end Julius Peppers to return for one more season.

General manager Marty Hurney believes the offseason additions will enable the Panthers to avoid drafting for need, at least in the first round.

The Panthers do, however, have needs. They need a defensive back, almost certainly a safety, and they need a running back.

If I’m the Panthers, I use the first-round pick, 24th overall, on one of two players.

The first is Justin Reid, a Stanford safety that ran a 4.40 40 at the combine. Stanford occasionally used Reid at cornerback. He is an immediate starter and a potential star. He is not without fault. He can play anxious. But he is smart and confident, and he has range.

Some of you believe the first round is too early to draft a safety. Envision Reid as a centerfielder working with, and learning from, safety Mike Adams. Adams is a two-time all-Pro who, at 37, is only 14 months younger than Peppers. If you’re 37 and still playing meaningful football, you know things.

Another player who would provide value at 24 is (if he’s still around) cornerback Jaire Alexander, of Louisville and Rocky River High. At the combine he ran a 4.38 40. Alexander is a testament to quick-twitch reactions and speed.

I love his game. But I hope the Panthers don’t pass on Reid. If they pass on Reid and Alexander, the NFC South’s array of quarterbacks will successfully pass against the Panthers.

If I’m Carolina, I use my second-round pick on running back Nick Chubb of Georgia or Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, assuming one of them still is available.

If the Panthers decline my free and unsolicited advice, the 24th pick offers possibilities. Wide receiver is tempting, and a potential No. 1 receiver will be available. Candidates that might fall to 24 include: D.J. Moore, Maryland; Calvin Ridley, Alabama; Courtland Sutton, SMU; and James Washington, Oklahoma State.

Carolina could take a tight end such as Hayden Hurst of South Carolina. But the Panthers have an exceptional tight end. Greg Olsen, 33, still has great hands and still runs tight routes.

Also, Olsen is smart and funny and knows the game. He will become a television star, perhaps with Monday Night Football. You might have heard. But it’s not as if Olsen will break the huddle next season wearing headphones and a blazer.

If the Panthers want to load up in the backfield, they might have a shot with their first-round pick at running back Derrius Guice of LSU. But the draft is full of good running backs, many of which will be available when Carolina drafts in the second round.

If the Panthers believe they need a replacement for guard Andrew Norwell, they might have a shot on Thursday night at a guard such as Isaiah Wynn of Georgia or Will Hernandez of Texas - El Paso. Hernandez is likely to linger longer.

Norwell, who played at Ohio State, was ignored in the 2014 draft. The Panthers discovered him, and Norwell became one of the NFL’s best guards. Last month the Jacksonville Jaguars proved it by signing Norwell to a five-year, $66.5 million contract.

Carolina might have on the roster a big man that can suffice as a starting guard. They don’t have a safety such as Reid.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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