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NFL Draft 2017 preview: Carolina Panthers' top needs, pick predictions

By
Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera stares at an official as his team plays the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 3, 2016. File photo by Nell Redmond/UPI
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera stares at an official as his team plays the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 3, 2016. File photo by Nell Redmond/UPI | License Photo

This is one in a series that covers each team, offering viewers information for homework, suggestions and then the opportunity to make a draft pick.

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When the NFL Draft begins selections in Philadelphia April 27, the Carolina Panthers have the No. 8 pick in the first round.

Here is an in-depth look at the team's needs, offseason changes, potential best fit and the selections by NFLDraftScout.com's experts.

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Who would you pick and why?

Top five needs

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1. Running back: With the Panthers planning to wean quarterback Cam Newton out of the run game, they need more than just the 30-year-old Jonathan Stewart in their backfield.

2. Tackle: Even after giving left tackle Matt Kalil big money, the Panthers' tackle situation isn't ideal. Michael Oher will slide to the right side, as long as he's cleared from a concussion that cost him 13 games in 2016.

3. Defensive end: If this were 2012, pairing Julius Peppers with Charles Johnson would be a great start. But it's 2017, and the Panthers need to plan for their future pass rush.

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4. Safety: The Panthers are so frustrated with 2015 fourth-round pick Tre Boston, they added 14-year veteran Mike Adams in a move that will likely squeeze Boston out of a starting spot.

5. Quarterback: The last quarterback the Panthers drafted was Cam Newton in 2011. He's obviously their present and future, but Carolina should start planning for better backup options than Derek Anderson and Joe Webb.

BEST FIT

RB Leonard Fournette, Louisiana State: The Panthers, who head into the draft with eight choices, have made it no secret they'll be coming out of the weekend with a running back or two. They've been in love with Fournette's power and potential the entire pre-draft process and the big back is their ideal choice at No. 8. The thought of Fournette in the same backfield as quarterback Cam Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart makes Carolina coaches salivate and would make opposing coaches very nervous.

PREDICTION

Rob Rang: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. Though he is far from the only one to blame for Carolina's woes on offense, the Panthers' slip last season in running the ball puts the spotlight once again on Jonathan Stewart's struggles with durability. The 13th overall pick of the 2008 draft has only played in 16 regular-season games three times over his nine-year career and not since 2011. Pairing him with a dynamic runner, receiver and returner like McCaffrey could be the perfect fit - and one made easier with Carolina hiring assistant coach Lance Murphy, who spent the past three coaching McCaffrey at Stanford.

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Dane Brugler: Leonard Fournette, RB, Louisiana State. Veteran Jonathan Stewart averaged only 3.8 yards per rush and reached the 100-yard mark in only one game last season, his ninth in the NFL. Fournette is a freak talent who would instantly add juice to the Panthers' offense.

Pat Kirwan: Carolina trades this pick to Buffalo, which takes Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

Frank Cooney, IMO: Whether Cam Newton is being shafted by officials that won't call penalties when he is unnecessarily pounded is semantics. He is being blasted too much as a quarterback and as a runner. So let's get a young running back to carry the rock. There are some good ones worthy of a top-10 pick in this draft, so take the BRA (Best Runner available). Louisiana State's Leonard Fournette will demand seven in the box on defense and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey brings a lot of versatility as a runner, receiver and returner.

Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 25th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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