Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 4/24/13
CHARLOTTE, N.C. New Panthers general manager David Gettleman waited and waited for his chance to lead a personnel department after working 26 years in the NFL. It's an opportunity he thought would never come, so it's only fitting that his first draft class aligns with Carolina's three biggest areas of need: offensive line, defensive tackle and secondary. "Let's just say I'm not angry," Gettleman joked a week ago about seeing a draft class strong at the three spots. The various mock drafts might list different options for the Panthers, by specific player, but each one essentially focuses on the trenches and secondary. Gettleman, a proponent of drafting the best player available over fit, doesn't "see many major holes" in Charlotte, but no one in player personnel likes to reveal the direction they're leaning before the draft. Ideally, the clubs ahead of the Panthers will end up reaching for a quarterback, allowing Carolina to fill other needs by landing a top-10 talent with the 14th overall pick. Offensive Line The three top tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson are widely projected to come off the board before the Panthers select; but if available, either one might force the Panthers' hand into addressing their need at right tackle. All three also offer the flexibility to flip to left tackle after next season, as Jordan Gross might explore free agency after the 2014 seasons. Aside from the big three, Carolina could still address offensive tackle with mauling run-blocker D.J. Fluker of Alabama. The prevailing question: How bad does Gettleman want to bolster offensive guard? Drafting a guard in the first round, especially early on, is seldom a sexy pick, but Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina) and Chance Warmack (Alabama) are both seen as long-term fixtures in the NFL. Either one would fit nicely alongside Amini Silatolu, who started 15 games as a rookie. Given their great upside, Cooper and Warmack might be off the board before the 14th pick, as well. With quarterback Cam Newton as the franchise cornerstone and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart locked into long-term contracts at running back, settling the offensive line for the foreseeable future makes sense if the right pick is available. Defensive Line Going offensive line makes even more sense, considering the depth of this defensive line class. The draft, as a whole, is deeper than ever because of the plethora of early entries 77 last year and a starting caliber interior lineman is attainable in Round 2. "The defensive tackle group is deep. It's really deep," Gettleman said. "Theres some really talented kid outs there." It's a group so deep the Panthers could draft one of five different players Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd, Sylvester Williams, Shelden Richardson or Jesse Williams if they decide to go that direction in Round 1. Lotulelei and Floyd likely won't fall that far, but the latter three should be available when Gettleman makes his first pick in history. Williams would provide the hometown boy after playing at Carolina and scouts have praised his explosiveness, but Richardson and Williams both performed at the highest level in the SEC and might adjust quicker. With the little movement in free agency, too, it's hard to tell whether Gettleman's chasing more of a run-stuffing type at defensive tackle or an explosive gap-shooter that can disrupt the middle. Cornerback The Panthers defense led by Luke Kuechly, the NFL's leading tackler last season gets a bad rap, despite finishing 10th in fewest yards allowed per game. On the other hand, does Gettleman see the holes on a unit that struggled early in the year before rebounding in the latter half? Gettleman thinks offseason pickup Drayton Florence will likely start at corner alongside Captain Munnerlyn, and the Panthers only signed career backup Mike Mitchell to challenge Haruki Nakamura at safety. If they go corner, does Alabama's Dee Milliner fall to the Panthers at 14? If not, do they jump on Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Houston's D.J. Hayden or Washington's Marcus Trufant projected as mid-to-late first-rounders. The signings of Florence and D.J. Moore in the offseason provides depth at safety, and Kenny Vaccaro or Eric Reid would likely immediately start alongside Charles Godfrey. Wild Card There's always a windfall selection, like Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee) or Tavon Austin (West Virginia), to pair with Steve Smith at receiver. The Panthers could even elect to provide Hardy and Johnson with depth by drafting Bjoern Werner, as FoxSports.com draft expert Peter Schrager has projected. That aside, it's hard to see the first two picks not coming from along the lines or defensive backfield. Regardless of where the Panthers ultimately draft, Gettleman believes the answer to any roster hole isn't the draft or free agency but where the fans aren't looking. "Often times, the answer is on your roster," Gettleman said. "Whether you're looking to fill a coach's spot, a director's spot or on the field, or a player, often times the answer is on your roster. You have to consider it. Unfortunately, you get bogged down on things. There's some young kids on this team that haven't played that I can't wait to get to camp."
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