Commentary

Panthers need playmakers, depth and leadership

Scouts Inc. puts the Panthers on the clock, breaking down their offseason moves and looking at what questions still need answers.

Originally Published: April 4, 2008
By Jeremy Green | Scouts Inc.

As the NFL draft approaches, "SportsCenter" is putting every NFL team with a first-round pick "On the Clock," and Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.

Free-Agent Tracker
Panthers
For a complete list of all of the Panthers' free agents and all their offseason signings, check out Scouts Inc.'s free-agent tracker.
Who they signed
Who they lost
Complete free-agent tracker
Head coach John Fox is squarely on the hot seat after missing the playoffs the past two seasons, but we think Fox is one of the better coaches in the NFL. The Panthers, 7-9 in '07, failed to live up to expectations last season because of an underachieving defense and a season-ending injury to QB Jake Delhomme. However, the Panthers are in a weak division, so a return to the top shouldn't be too difficult. A mediocre Tampa Bay team won the NFC South last season at just 9-7, so this division is up for grabs, and the Panthers have been quietly active this offseason and are in much better shape than they were at the end of the 2007 season.

Key Additions

The Panthers have been busy this offseason, but it appears they are getting more quantity than quality at this point. They kept the best part of their offensive line intact by re-signing OT Travelle Wharton and placing the franchise tag on OT Jordan Gross. They also re-signed G Evan Mathis and C Geoff Hangartner, who provide good depth along the interior. FB Brad Hoover, who provides leadership and versatility, was retained along with backup OLB Donte Curry, who is a solid special-teams player. DT Damione Lewis was re-signed for depth even though he has never reached his full potential as a player, and Lewis' inconsistent effort indicates some of the issues this team has on defense.

The Panthers got a steal in free agency with the signing of WR D.J. Hackett. When healthy, Hackett has all the makings of a solid No. 2 wide receiver; he can be a good complement to star receiver Steve Smith. Most importantly, Hackett should draw enough attention from opposing defenses to eliminate some of the double coverage on Smith. The other solid addition was OLB Landon Johnson, who is a very good athlete and was one of the few playmakers the Bengals had on defense last season. Johnson will bring even more athleticism to the Panthers' front seven. The team also added a player it knows when it signed WR Muhsin Muhammad, who played in Carolina from 1996-2004. Muhammad is nearing the end of his career but will be fine as a No. 3 wideout. DE Tyler Brayton gives the Panthers depth along the line, but we would like to see the team re-sign DE Mike Rucker to shore up the unit even more.

Mock Draft: Panthers
The Pick (No. 13 overall):
DE Derrick Harvey, Florida
Insider

Harvey
Todd McShay: Solidifying the offensive line with OT Chris Williams is a possibility. However, Harvey is flying up teams' draft boards following a superb on-campus workout, and the Panthers need a young insurance policy at the position. Carolina signed free agent Tyler Brayton, but Julius Peppers, who is entering the final year of his contract, is coming off his worst season as a pro, and aging veteran Mike Rucker is contemplating retirement.
Complete mock draft Insider
Vote: Team needs

Key Losses

The majority of the Panthers' losses were by choice: They released RB DeShaun Foster (49ers), C Justin Hartwig (Steelers), LB Dan Morgan (Saints), QB David Carr (Giants) and G Mike Wahle (Seahawks), opening salary-cap room. Morgan is a great leader and solid linebacker but couldn't be counted on to stay healthy. Carr's release was no surprise after his miserable play in relief of Delhomme, and the team wisely let receivers Drew Carter (Raiders) and Keary Colbert (Broncos) test the waters after neither developed into a solid No. 2 wideout. In fact, a healthy Hackett could produce more than Carter and Colbert combined. Carolina also traded DT Kris Jenkins to the Jets for third- and fifth-round picks. The Panthers lost some big names, but they were players who no longer produced.

Remaining Questions

The biggest question is, Who will be backup quarterback? Delhomme struggled in 2006 and missed the final 13 games of the 2007 season with an elbow injury, and as the Panthers found out last season, they will be in trouble without a backup who can get the job done. Matt Moore did some good things late in the season after injury and inconsistent play sent Carr to the bench, but Moore didn't show enough to make him the unchallenged No. 2. It also remains to be seen if RB DeAngelo Williams can carry the load now that Foster is in San Francisco. The team still needs to add a safety who can provide leadership, and the tight ends continue to be inconsistent, so adding depth there is a must. We like what the Panthers have done this offseason, and they don't have a ton of glaring holes, but the offense needs more playmakers. Look for them to try to add speed on that side of the ball as well as depth and leadership on defense.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.