At a press conference last week, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said there wasn’t a glaring hole at any position for Carolina.
Nearly every draft expert seems to disagree, with numerous mock drafts projecting the Panthers taking a defensive tackle with their first-round pick at No. 14.
“Maybe you guys think I’m Pollyanna,” Gettleman said, “but I don’t see any major hole here. Not after what we’ve done in free agency.”
What the Panthers didn’t do in free agency was bring in a starting nose tackle to put alongside Dwan Edwards. But this year’s draft is teeming with talent at that position.
Asked the strongest positions in the draft, Gettleman listed the three positions where the Panthers need help – including defensive line.
“I think your D-line group is strong. Deep,” he said. “I think your defensive backfield group is deep. I think those are probably … the next group would probably be the offensive line. I think those are the deepest groups.
“Let’s just say I’m not angry.”
The player most associated with the Panthers at No. 14 is Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson. In his redshirt junior season he had 75 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks.
Against eventual national champion Alabama, Richardson had 14 tackles and a sack going primarily against Crimson Tide right tackle D.J. Fluker.
“I’m a genuine guy. A ballplayer, playmaker,” Richardson said Monday in a phone interview. “Most of these guys are gap responsibility guys. I prefer to make plays. That’s what I bring to table.”
The Panthers got 29.5 sacks from the three starters returning to the defensive line. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy combined for 22.5 sacks off the end, and Dwan Edwards provided six sacks, which was the second-most for a tackle in the NFC.
Carolina cut veteran nose tackle Ron Edwards this offseason, and Richardson, who said he’s at 295 pounds, could fill the void.
“I think defensive tackle is such a pressing need for Rivera and company,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a teleconference earlier this month. “I think Ron looks at Sheldon Richardson, (who) would be an ideal fit. … So I think there’s going to be a defensive tackle there.
“Richardson, (North Carolina’s Sylvester) Williams I think would be two viable entities. If you want to wait until the second round on a defensive tackle, then you’d probably be looking at a Jesse Williams from Alabama, Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State or John Jenkins from Georgia.”
Richardson said he’s versatile enough to play any position on the defensive line and even stand-up linebacker, but with the Panthers being set on defensive ends and linebackers, Carolina is looking for someone in the middle.
Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, the top two tackles in the class, could be off the board by the time the Panthers pick. Lotulelei has been mocked to go before the Panthers pick at No. 14, and Carolina has little interest in trading up for a defensive tackle in a draft full of them.
“To be very on point, I’m not talking myself out of a (good) player,” Gettleman said. “For us to move up, it’s going to cost us draft picks. We’ve only got five now, we’ve only got six next year.”