By TPR Staff

As we continue the Team Needs series for the 2013 NFL Draft, we proceed to the team with the fourteenth overall pick; the Carolina Panthers. It was a season of spinning the wheels in North Carolina in 2012, after an impressive rookie season from Cam Newton was unable to be built upon. Newton took a step back and the Panthers offense struggled mightily because of it.

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This had some wondering if Ron Rivera would be a casualty on Black Monday, but it appears that he’ll be given the routine three years to turn a team around. There was plenty to be excited about, but still a ways to go to catch up with the NFC South. Here are some things that Rivera will look to add or upgrade on his roster come the draft.

Cornerback

The biggest problem for the Panthers last season wasn’t as much as their frustrations on offense as it was their inability to stop anyone elses. They gave up the tenth most yards in 2012 and plenty of that was in the air as Chris Gamble couldn’t cover both sides of the field alone. With Captain Munnerlyn hitting free agency, Carolina could just take the best corner available at fourteen if a player like Jonathan Banks is still on the board.

Draft Possibilities: Jonathan Banks, Desmond Trufant

Defensive Tackle

Something that would help the Carolina secondary play better in 2013 would be the ability for anyone outside of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy to get to the quarterback. With Dwan Edwards hitting free agency, Carolina might have next to nothing at the tackle position, Sheldon Richardson could be a welcome addition in the first round.

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Draft Possibilities: Sheldon Richardson, Jonathan Hankins

Offensive Line

The right side of the Panthers offensive line played pretty poorly in 2012 and upgrades are likely coming. Byron Bell was terrible in replacing the injured Jeff Otah and Geoff Hangartner is a great depth guy, but not an ideal NFL starter. Jordan Gross is still a solid starter, but he is beginning to get up there in age and finding his eventual replacement could be on the draft board. A tackle like D.J. Fluker or a guard such as Larry Warford would be a smart pick up in the second round.

Draft Possibilities: D.J. Fluker, Larry Warford

Safety

It wasn’t just the corner play that was bad in 2012, as Haruki Nakamura might have had troubles stopping me from catching a pass and/or breaking a tackle. A serious upgrade is needed and it needs to come before the third round because free safety isn’t that deep of a position in this draft. A tackling machine like Tony Jefferson in the third might be a day one starter.

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Draft Possibilities: Tony Jefferson, Phillip Thomas

Wide Receiver

For the past few years, the Panthers have tried to find a compliment for Steve Smith. Now it is time to start thinking about finding Smith’s eventual successor to the number one spot. Brandon LaFell is never going to fit either of those needs and he will likely be upgraded in the draft. If Rivera decides to focus on mostly offense in the early rounds, a pickup like DeAndre Hopkins could have Cam Newton doing cartwheels.

Draft Possibilities: DeAndre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson

I’ve wrote in the past, and gotten lambasted heavily by the Panthers faithful, that I thought the team was on the wrong path and a change in offensive direction needed to happen. If you have two stud running backs as well as a quarterback that can take off at any moment, you need to become a running football team. That means getting another receiving threat, yes, but first upgrading that offensive line.

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Running the football can take some pressure off of the mediocre defense and also prevent Cam Newton from making the bonehead decisions he routinely had last year from trying to do too much and dropping back 45 times per game. In year three, Rivera has to make something happen this year. Another sub .500 finish and he might be headed back to the coordinator ranks.

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