As he has the past couple of years, Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Panthers should take a defensive tackle in the first round.
But ESPN’s longtime draft analyst said the Panthers could wait until the second round and still get a good one. That could be an enticing option for a team with multiple needs, including the secondary.
In Kiper’s most recent mock draft, he predicted the Panthers would select Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson 14th overall. But at a position Kiper called the deepest in the draft, he said quality defensive tackles can be found in the second round, third and lower.
“If you wait until the second round, you will find some players,” Kiper said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “They’re not all going to go in the first.”
Utah’s Star Lotulelei is considered the top defensive tackle in the draft. In fact, some analysts believe he’s the top prospect regardless of position.
Todd McShay, Kiper’s ESPN colleague, has the 325-pound Lotuleilei going to Kansas City with the No. 1 pick in his most recent mock.
Richardson, 6-4 and 295 pounds, led all SEC defensive linemen with 75 tackles last season and added four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
Sharrif Floyd, who left Florida after his junior season, Georgia’s Jonathan Jenkins and Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins round out the top five in Kiper’s defensive tackle rankings. Kiper said Jenkins and Hankins could drop to the second round.
“Ultimately, somebody does slide just a bit further down than you would expect,” Kiper said. “Bennie Logan out of LSU could be one of those guys in that second- or third-round discussion. (Kwame) Geathers from Georgia, the other (Bulldogs’) defensive tackle, who surprisingly came out early, would be a guy to keep an eye out on.”
Kiper mentioned Purdue’s Kawann Short and Alabama’s Jesse Williams as two other “borderline first-rounders” among the defensive tackles.
The Panthers have not had a consistent play-maker at defensive tackle since Kris Jenkins, who played in three Pro Bowls while with Carolina from 2001-2007. The Panthers drafted a pair of defensive tackles in the third round in 2011: Terrell McClain, who was cut last summer, and Sione Fua, whose impact has been minimal.
Of the Panthers’ two starters at defensive tackle last season, the aging Ron Edwards is a potential salary cap casualty and Dwan Edwards is an unrestricted free agent.
Kiper said defensive tackle Brandon Williams, a Division II All-American from Missouri Southern, could be a “nice pick” for the Panthers in the second round. The Panthers drafted a Division II player in the second round last year – former Midwestern State guard Amini Silatolu, who started every game until injuring his wrist in Week 16 against Oakland.
Dave Gettleman, who succeeded Marty Hurney as the Panthers’ general manager in January, has not outlined his draft philosophy publicly. Gettleman ran the Giants’ pro personnel division for 13 years, and Kiper said Gettleman’s ties to former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi should not be overlooked.
Accorsi consulted on the Panthers’ GM search after doing the same for Atlanta when the Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff before the 2008 season. Atlanta has made the playoffs in four of five seasons under the direction of Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, who also arrived in 2008.
“That’s worked out phenomenally well for the Atlanta Falcons’ organization,” Kiper said. “I think you get that influence that you’ve seen throughout the years with successful organizations. Anywhere Ernie’s been, he won.”
Kiper on players from Carolinas: With Matt Barkley coming off a shoulder injury and Geno Smith skipping the Senior Bowl, Kiper said there’s a chance no quarterbacks will be taken in the first round. The last time that happened was 1996, when Tony Banks went to St. Louis with the 42nd pick.
Kiper said N.C. State’s Mike Glennon had the worst supporting cast among the top quarterbacks, citing dropped passes among the Wolfpack receivers. Kiper said Glennon “didn’t play well against Vanderbilt and didn’t have a wow-you-over Senior Bowl.”
Still, Kiper said Glennon could go late in the first round or early in the second.
• Kiper said North Carolina offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, projected as a top-12 pick, could rise to the top four to six picks with a good showing at the combine next week.
“He’s going to test out very well I believe,” Kiper said. “He’s a guy who’s 30 yards down the field making blocks.”
• Before Jadaveon Clowney arrived, Devin Taylor was South Carolina’s best defensive end prospect. The 6-8, 267-pound Taylor had only three sacks as a senior, but forced a fumble and played well in the East-West Shrine Game.
“He has talent, but I didn’t see the production,” Kiper said.