Most draft analysts agree: The Carolina Panthers should take a defensive tackle with their first pick, 14th overall, in the 2013 NFL draft.
In a draft full of top-tier linemen, Carolina can find a quality player at that position.
Carolina returns its three sack leaders from last season, including defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who had six. But the void left by veteran Ron Edwards departure could be filled in 20 days, when the Panthers name is called.
I think defensive tackle is such a pressing need for (coach Ron) Rivera and company, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said on a teleconference Wednesday. I think Ron looks at (Missouri defensive tackle) Sheldon Richardson. I think he would be an ideal fit.
Several mock drafts have the Panthers taking Richardson at No. 14. Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has also been mentioned, but his draft stock increased after tests showed his heart condition isnt as serious as previously thought.
Richardson, a 6-foot-3, 294-pounder, runs a 4.96 40-yard dash and had four sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss as a junior last season.
Kiper said another possibility, if Richardson is gone, would be North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.
If you do take the defensive tackle in the first, you could look at a safety like D.J. Swearinger from South Carolina, (or) Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse in the second round, Kiper said.
I think getting a safety and defensive tackle in the first two rounds, if they do that, theyre off to the races.
The safety would automatically compete for a starting job alongside veteran Charles Godfrey. The Panthers finished last season with a patchwork secondary, but won five of its last six games en route to placing second (via a tiebreaker) in the NFC South.
Though unlikely, Kiper said West Virginia standout wide receiver Tavon Austin could slip as low as No. 23, to Minnesota. Austin is projected to play a slot receiver role thats been popularized by players such as Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, both of whom were in high demand this offseason.
Now the three guys that are putting up big numbers at the slot receiver went undrafted, but that doesnt effect Tavon Austin, said Kiper, who mentioned Carolina as being in the mix for him. Hes a guaranteed first-round draft choice.
Heres a look at what five other draft experts have to say about the Panthers pick at No. 14:
Analyst: Dane Brugler, NFLDraftScout.com
Pick: Utah DT Star Lotulelei
The interior of the Panthers defensive line has been a question mark since Kris Jenkins left in 2007 and, ironically, Carolina hasnt invested a top-50 draft pick on a defensive tackle since Jenkins over a decade ago. Lotulelei has enough talent to be a top-five pick, but his heart issue could cause him to slip a bit.
Analyst: Josh Norris, Rotoworld.com
Pick: Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes
The Panthers asked their corners to play a lot of off man and zone coverage last year, giving up a large amount of cushion. That is not Rhodes game, but I will chalk up last years scheme to poor talent at the position.
Analyst: Nate Davis, USA Today Sports
Pick: Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Ron Rivera has acknowledged the need to find a successor for WR Steve Smith, who will be 34 this season. Patterson is a bit of a project but offers superior size (6-2, 216 pounds) and explosion. And he can apprentice behind Brandon LaFell and Smith, provided he earns No. 89s respect.
Analyst: Don Banks, SportsIllustrated.com
Pick: Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson
Richardson has looked pegged for the Panthers for a while now, because the interior of their defensive line needs an upgrade and his disruptive style of play would address that issue nicely. Receiver is the other potential need to be mindful of, and with West Virginias Tavon Austin and Tennessees Cordarelle Patterson still on the board, it may at least give Carolina something to think about.
Analyst: Russ Lande, National Football Post
Pick: North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams
Despite not receiving much national attention, Williams is very high on many draft boards and would be a great choice by the Panthers. With his initial quickness, strength and excellent competitiveness, Williams would provide an immediate upgrade on the interior of the Panthers defensive line.