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NFC South Draft Needs: Panthers

OVERVIEW

The Carolina Panthers fell to 8-8 in 2009 largely due to an inadequate passing attack that ranked as the league's sixth-worst unit. The team cut ties with longtime quarterback Jake Delhomme and will hand the reins to Matt Moore in 2010. Moore led the team to a 4-1 record at the end of the season while throwing eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. With a young quarterback under center, the Panthers are looking to get back into the playoff hunt.

The offseason thus far has been tarnished by the loss of Julius Peppers, one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. Carolina planned for Peppers' departure last April when they traded their 2010 first-round pick for San Francisco's second-round pick. The Panthers then used the 49ers' pick to select Everette Brown, essentially investing a first-rounder in the Florida State defensive end. The trade left Carolina without a first-round selection in this year's draft and they won't pick until 48. They currently hold picks No. 48, 78, 112, 175, 202, 204, 223 and 249.

If Matt Moore is going to have success, he needs a better core of wide receivers. Defenses constantly focus attention on Steve Smith because there is no one else at the position they need to game plan for. Muhsin Muhammed is gone and Dwanye Jarrett has been a huge disappointment. There is little on the roster behind Smith and the team has to get him some help. Carolina could very well target a wide receiver with their first selection in the draft.

The Panthers could also opt to add another quarterback at some point in the draft. Moore will get every chance in the world to be the starter, but if he's not the answer it would be smart to invest in another young passer that could compete for the job. Josh McCown and A.J. Feeley were let go in free agency, leaving Hunter Cantwell as the only other quarterback on the roster. Cantwell isn't likely to challenge Moore for the top spot.

Shifting to defense, Carolina needs a lot of help up front, where injuries left the team very thin at defensive tackle. Maake Kemoeatu was slated to start but was put on injured reserve before the start of the regular season, as was rookie Corey Irvin. The Panthers were forced to trade for Louis Leonard and Tank Tyler, but even those two wound up getting hurt as well. Their two starters, Damione Lewis and Hollis Thomas, both left in free agency. The team is desperate for one, maybe two bodies along the interior. On the edges, Tyler Brayton was re-signed and Everette Brown is the favorite to fill the large shoes of Peppers. Brown showed some potential as a pass rusher last season and the team has invested a lot in him. Charles Johnson could also see an expanded role, but Carolina should still look to add some depth at defensive end.

The Panthers should also be aiming to increase the effectiveness of their return game. The team ranked second-to-last with an average of just 19.9 yards per kickoff return last season. They fared better on punt returns as their 8.3 yards per return average fell in the middle of the pack at 16. The Panthers could grab a return specialist with one of their later round picks.

OFFSEASON REPORT

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Julius Peppers (signed with Chicago), QB Josh McCown, QB A.J. Feeley (signed with St. Louis), DT Hollis Thomas, CB Dante Wesley (signed with Detroit), DE Tyler Brayton (resigned for three-years), WR Muhsin Muhammed, G Keydrick Vincent

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Thomas Davis (received first- and third-round tender at $3.268 million), QB Matt Moore (received first- and third-round tender at $3.043 million and signed), TE Jeff King (received second-round tender at $1.759 million and signed), Louis Leonard (received second-round tender at $1.759 million), CB Richard Marshall (received second-round tender at $1.759 million), LB James Anderson (received original-round tender at $1.176 million), DT Tank Tyler (received original-round tender at $1.101 million and signed), CB C.J. Wilson (received original-round tender at $1.101 million), K Rhys Lloyd (was not tendered, signed with Minnesota), T Rob Petitti (was not tendered but re-signed), S Quinton Teal (was not tendered)

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: DT Nick Hayden (tendered and signed), WR Charly Martin (tendered and signed), WR Kenneth Moore (tendered and signed), LB Jordan Senn (tendered and signed)

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DE Tyler Brayton, QB Matt Moore, TE Jeff King, DT Tank Tyler, DT nick Hayden, WR Charly Martin, WR Kenneth Moore, LB Jordan Senn

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DT Ed Johnson, WR Wallace Wright, CB Marcus Hudson (signed for one-year), K Todd Carter, S Aaron Francisco, CB Brian Witherspoon

PLAYERS LOST: DT Damione Lewis, LB Na'il Diggs, DT Maake Kemoeatu, QB Jake Delhomme, LB Landon Johnson, RB Brad Hoover, DE Julius Peppers, QB Josh McCown, QB A.J. Feeley, DT Hollis Thomas, CB Dante Wesley, WR Muhsin Muhammed, G Keydrick Vincent, K Rhys Lloyd, T Rob Petitti, S Quinton Teal

DRAFT NEEDS

WIDE RECEIVER -- The Panthers have to invest in a quality wide receiver to take pressure off Steve Smith. Even Smith agrees the team needs another receiver. "I would like a younger guy to come in and eventually take my spot. I don't want to be a number one anymore," Smith told a local radio station. The team is also going to have to add more weapons to Matt Moore arsenal to ensure his success.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE -- The interior of the Panthers' defensive line was obliterated by injuries and the run defense suffered. The unit ranked 22nd as they allowed 124.8 yards per game on the ground. Damione Lewis, Maake Kemoeatu and Hollis Thomas all left in free agency. Ed Johnson was signed in the offseason, but Multiple bodies are still needed to fill this hole.

QUARTERBACK -- Matt Moore will take over under center next season but is far from a proven player. The team needs another young passer to develop in case Moore isn't the answer. Josh McCown and A.J. Feeley are gone, leaving Hunter Cantwell as the only other quarterback on the roster. At the very least, grabbing some depth would be nice.

DEFENSIVE END -- Peppers is gone and Tyler Brayton has never been a big pass-rusher. Everette Brown will likely take over for Peppers. Charles Johnson provides the depth. An edge rusher that can supplant Brayton on third-downs would be a nice addition. Johnson may be that player anyways, so Carolina doesn't have to address this area early.

RETURN SPECIALIST -- Panthers' kickoff specialists averaged less than 20 yards per return in 2009. They ranked second-to-last as their ineffectiveness was surpassed only by the Oakland Raiders. Those numbers speak for themselves.