The Panthers have enjoyed a terrific start to free agency, but Ron Rivera needs his front office to nail the draft to help him get back to the playoffs.
The status of Cam Newton’s recovery is justifiably dominating the headlines about the Panthers offseason, but GM Marty Hurney has quietly got Carolina off to a really nice start. His quality shopping on the free agency market will allow the Panthers to head into the draft with a minimal amount of glaring needs.
Signing Matt Paradis to a very reasonable contract gives the team a starting center they can count on. Bringing back Daryl Williams was a surprise, but it gives the Panthers two potential starters at offensive tackle. Securing the services of Bruce Irvin helps replace Julius Peppers and give Carolina’s defense a lot more tactical flexibility.
None of those signings mean the Panthers are headed for Super Bowl glory, but they do allow Hurney to approach the draft with the mission of selecting the best player available in each round. Need will factor in to Carolina’s plans at some point, but most of the Panthers draft will center around trying to improve the roster rather than plugging a hole.
Round 1: Brian Burns
The aforementioned move to bring in Irvin means the Panthers don’t have to draft an edge rusher in the first round, but there’s still a very good chance they will. It’s a deep position in the draft and Carolina should be able to get really good value with the No. 16 pick.
Burns is a classic example of a guy who can play defensive end and outside linebacker. His 249 pound frame is a little light to hold up against the run as a 4-3 end, but he makes up for his lack of size with exceptional speed. Running a 4.53 40 yard dash at the Combine solidified his status in Round 1.
The plan here will be to let Burns learn under Irvin for a season before really unleashing him in year two. The Panthers could also go for an offensive tackle at this spot, but the talent at edge rusher is just better on Day One.