Saturday, February 16, 2008

Team Needs: Carolina Panthers

1. Left Tackle
The Panthers have to help Jake Delhomme stay healthy and keep Matt Moore on the sidelines for another season or two, where he can be brought along the way Tony Romo was in Dallas. Last year's starting left tackle Travelle Wharton was re-signed, but the smart money is on him being moved inside to left guard. Right tackle Jordan Gross, who formerly started on the left, is a free agent and is expected to be re-signed or franchise-tagged, but his better position is on the right.

2. Free Safety
Deke Cooper was brought in last year to be a one-year stop-gap at the position. Even if the Panthers re-sign him it would be for depth purposes only. Undrafted free agent Quinton Teal played well enough that he should be back in a reserve role.

3. Wide Receiver
Steve Smith's numbers suffered from inconsistent quarterback play and little help from the team's other receivers, but he's still one of the best in the game. Neither Drew Carter nor Keary Colbert ever reached the potential people saw in them and will likely leave via free agency. 2007 first-rounder Dwayne Jarret needs to take his job more seriously if he's to have a better career than fellow USC underachiever Mike Williams. Fourth-rounder Ryne Robinson was ineffective as a punt returner, but might get a shot to contribute as a slot receiver.

4. Defensive End
The Panthers mounted one of the worst pass rushes in the league last year, with Julius Peppers struggling even worse than he did during the second half of 2006. The Panthers have to find a way to rework his contract, which will count $14 million against the cap, and give him a chance to get back to his old self. Free agent Mike Rucker is hoping to return to the team and is willing to accept a diminished role. Backups Stanley McClover or Charles Johnson looked like backups, but both are young and still have some upside.

5. Defensive Tackle
Former All-Pro Kris Jenkins appears to be on the trading block for the second off-season in a row. 2006 free-agent signing Maake Kemoeatu hasn't made the impact many in Carolina had hoped for, but he did help the Panthers finish a respectable 10th in adjusted line yards. The recently re-signed Damione Lewis plays mostly in passing situations and provides valuable depth.

6. Running Back
DeShaun Foster was 55th in DPAR (-6.8) and DVOA (-21.4%) out of 56 RBs with at least 75 rushes. He never was that much better in previous seasons, always ranking in the bottom half of the league in those metrics. DeAngelo Williams, running behind the same line, ranked 16th in DPAR (18.9) and 6th in DVOA (21.7%). It was one of the quiet mysteries of the season why Williams toted the rock a hundred fewer times than Foster. Foster should be let go and someone else brought in to share carries with Williams.

7. Weakside Linebacker
Na'il Diggs was given a three-year contract extension in late December, keeping him from free agency, but Carolina should still be on the lookout for an upgrade which would allow Diggs to contribute in sub packages and on special teams.

8. Cornerback
Richard Marshall might have surpassed starters Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble in terms of effectiveness. If Lucas is a cap casualty, Marshall is ready to step in, but the problem then is who steps up to be the nickel back, as there's no depth beyond the top three.

9. Tight End
Taken in the fifth round in consecutive drafts, Jeff King and Dante Rosario have both shown themselves to be adequate pro tight ends, but neither of them is the kind of explosive player that characterizes the top performers at that position in today's game.

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