Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.The Carolina Panthers have a surprising number of holes for a team coming off a 12-4 season and a first-round bye in the playoffs. They parted ways with their top four wide receivers, moves that could cause major issues for a unit that already had problems (the Panthers finished 26th in yards per game last season).
With Cam Newton undergoing minor ankle surgery in March, and a dearth of playmakers on the perimeter, general manager Dave Gettleman needs to come up big in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Panthers are more than one player away from closing the gap on the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, and they certainly can find some of this talent in May.
Here are four positions of need for Carolina -- and four prospects who could fill them.
1) Offensive tackle
The Panthers suffered a big blow this offseason when left tackle Jordan Gross -- who started at least 15 games in all but one of his 11 seasons in Carolina -- announced his retirement. There's been talk about right tackle Byron Bell moving to the left side, but I don't think that's a long-term solution. I could make a strong case that they could upgrade over Bell, even if he were to stay at right tackle.
Carolina will likely miss out on the top four tackles -- Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame's Zack Martin -- in May, which means they might set their sights on Virginia's Morgan Moses and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio.
Moses has outstanding size (6-foot-6, 314 pounds) and length, and has played on both ends of the line; though, he's probably better suited to play right tackle. Kouandjio entered the 2013 season as one of the top tackle prospects in the country. But after an up-and-down campaign, lingering injury concerns and a poor showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, his stock has fallen. If he reverts back to his 2012 form, the Panthers could get a great value pick with the 322-pounder.
2) Wide receiver
Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn accounted for roughly 51 percent of the Panthers' receptions last year; all three are now on new teams. General manager Dave Gettleman brought in serviceable veterans Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery this offseason, but neither is a No. 1 wide receiver. Factoring in the rest of the players on the depth chart, and I think you can make a strong case that there's not even a good No. 2 option at this point.
The good news for Carolina: The 2014 draft class is loaded at receiver. If the Panthers decide to address this need in Round 1, they might go after Marqise Lee. The star pass-catcher might've been a top-10 pick in last year's draft. But because of the depth in this year's group, and after a somewhat disappointing 2013 season at USC, he might still be on the board at No. 28 overall.
A wideout I like in the fifth or sixth round is San Jose State's Chandler Jones. He's a bit undersized (5-foot-9), but the receiver has outstanding hands, runs clean routes and produced a surprisingly fast 40-yard dash time (unofficial 4.33 seconds) at his pro day.
You can never have too many corners when you're in the same division as quarterbacks Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Still, I think the abundance of quality players in this year's group allows the Panthers to wait until the second or third round to address the position.
Two players I like who could be available in Round 2 are Phillip Gaines from Rice and Bashaud Breeland from Clemson. Both defenders have excellent size and instincts; though, I think Breeland is a more polished player, while Gaines has more physical tools.
4) Offensive guard
I think Carolina will wait until the middle rounds to address the position, and a guy like Jack Mewhort could fit well. The former Buckeye played tackle at Ohio State, but I think he might be better suited to slide inside at the pro level. His versatility, plus his size (6-foot-6, 309 pounds), strength (28 reps on the bench press) and awareness help to quiet concerns about his average overall athleticism. There's a good chance the Panthers could take him with their third-round pick (No. 92 overall).
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.