Carolina had just three wide receivers catch more than seven passes last season -- and all three are gone (Steve Smith to Baltimore, Brandon LaFell to New England and Ted Ginn Jr. to Arizona). The Panthers do return their top pass catcher, tight end Greg Olsen, and they signed Jerrico Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood in free agency, but to say wide receiver is a position of need for Carolina is a big understatement.
Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, now an analyst for Fox Sports, told ESPNCharlotte that the Panthers have "got to give (Newton) him some help. The quarterback is only as good as the people around him. If you don't ever want him to throw to a player that can create big plays out of the passing game, it's not going to go well."
Carolina has one pick in each round of the draft and it's the 28th pick in each round except the seventh, when it's the 10th pick.
Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans are the top two available wide receivers, and the only way the Panthers have a shot at grabbing either is to trade up. The next three receivers off the board, in some order, should be LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and USC's Marqise Lee. Assuming there isn't a run on receivers in the first round, one of those players could be available at No. 28 for Carolina. All three are elusive, have good-enough speed and the potential to be a legit No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Also available could be Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, whose size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) makes him stand out in this receiving class. But Benjamin lacks consistency and some polish, and it could take him a while to become a true No. 1 receiver, if he ever does.
Carolina also could use a corner, a safety and an offensive tackle, and the Panthers likely will be able to grab a solid starter-caliber player at one of those positions at No. 28. In that scenario, the Panthers could load up at receiver in later rounds (frankly, it makes sense to load up at receiver regardless). Potential second- and third-round targets include LSU's Jarvis Landry, Mississippi's Donte Moncrief, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Penn State's Allen Robinson. Landry is seen as at least a half-step slow by most analysts, though he was productive at LSU. Richardson is a burner but lacks bulk. Moncrief has good size and speed, but is a bit raw and will need time to develop. Robinson is one of the most productive receivers in Big Ten history, but there are questions about his top-end speed.
Possible third-day picks include Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, Wake Forest's Michael Campanaro, Saginaw Valley's Jeff Janis and Indiana's Cody Latimer. Picking a later-round receiver, though, lessens the odds that one develops into a true No. 1 receiver -- though that's what happened with Smith, who was Carolina's third-round pick in 2001.