It's early to focus on 2014, I know. But, one part of scouting starts
now - the next guys. Right now, scouts are ID'ing the guys moving
around, the guys who showed some promise next year, and looking hard at
building new files, especially on rising juniors and seniors.
And, sometimes this stuff pays off a year ahead. Some forgotten guys
who stayed in can come back and be interesting again. 2012 saw Star
Lotuleilei stay, to my disappointment. Now, a year later, he's a
keystone piece to what should be a strong Panthers defense.
It's obviously going to be tough to completely project what will happen
from here - whether Ron Rivera is the coach, whether Dave Gettleman is
cleaned out in the process, what the team will look like if there's
regime change and what schemes if so). There aren't a lot of FAs, but
my self-referenced 2014 guide to cuttable players might give an idea for
what might be gone.
Clearly, '14 is the Jadaveon Clowney sweepstakes at this point. Yes,
he's done plenty outside of the often Youtube/gif'd tackle for loss
against Michigan. For Carolina, it might be more contingency on the
Greg Hardy contract issue. Clowney is a leaner RDE, and an upgrade,
whereas there will not be many players in the draft that are better.
Even without Hardy, this is a lesser need compared to others, but gets
mention because he's legitimately a fantastic player. It would take
absolute failure for this to happen (Rivera could go .500 and be fired,
possibly) and the team would stay a 4-3 team (they have a LOT of
flexibility to go 3-4 with their newfound strength and versatility
If they went 3-4, just to continue the thought, Anthony Barr from UCLA
appears to be the top rush OLB. Carolina doesn't have anyone that fits
the profile, and the 235 lb Barr may be a little light, but has been
nearly dominant recently. That said, there are also a ton of DEs
currently rated high for '14 that are in the 250-260 range. Even
without Hardy (if that did happen), Carolina could easily fill inside in
a 3-4 without a lot of adjustment - merely new depth. They would
definitely need a good rush OLB, and the potential cuts at LB would make
a 3-4 easier.
Currently, the biggest worry for now and '14 for me is OL. By '14,
Byron Bell is in year 3. Some say that Jordan Gross' contract voids FOR
'14, but I read it as it voids in '14 but he still has a contract for
that year. The team has some young guards that hopefully work out, but
the best case scenario is that the two starting tackles are on one year
deals. And, it's not an exceptionally strong group right now.
That's where Taylor Lewan comes in. The 6'8, 300 lb Michigan product
has to go through the prodding of next offseason, where he'll have to
show he has strength and can fill into that tall frame. But he'll be a
four year starter by then, and the top prospect on the OL. It's not as
deep a draft as '13 for OL - that will be rare for a long time - but
Jake Matthews of Tx A&M is right up there with Lewan. You could also
argue that Cyrus Kouandijo of Alabama could be the best of the three,
but will only have 2 years at LT. Matthews will be moving to LT to
replace Luke Joeckel as well. So there's a lot of room for growth for
both players, and I'm subjectively putting Lewan as a higher prospect
only because of the stability.
Plenty of people put worry into WR, and it's hard not to see an
opening. With 4 vets on staff for '13, the team will keep - at most - 2
young guys out of the 4 other draftees. With that one or two young guys
having shown little and being the 5th best/possibly inactive 6th guy,
that leaves no future. Brandon Lafell, Domenik Hixon, and Ted Ginn will
all be free agents.
So if it's Steve Smith and nothing, you never know. A WR pick might
make sense, if other needs are covered (seeing Dave Gettleman cover all
the bases at WR this year on the cheap makes me think that may happen
again next year, and could be effective). Or they could break the bank
on Hakeem Nicks, you never know. If not, Marquis Lee (USC) or Sammy
Watkins (Clemson) are intriguing. Both are juniors, though.
Corner follows like WR in its absolute finality. A bigger weakness
than WR, it also boasts no one under contract after this year past Josh
Norman, who might not start in all this competition. To make matters
worse in the secondary, only Charles Godfrey is under wraps for '14 at
safety and he's cuttable. Safeties tend more toward roleplayers in my
opinion under the current leadership, but corners can be expensive.
Junior Bradley Roby (OSU) seems like a consensus top choice, but it's
pretty muddy behind it. There are a lot of juniors, and not a lot of
size - Ron Rivera likes taller, lankier corners and so far, nothing.
Deion Blue is the most recent Alabama prospect, but doesn't have the
size of the last few #1 picks.