Carolina Panthers' head coach Ron Rivera confirmed for Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com yesterday that his team will use their Franchise Tag but did not specify which player they'll designate.
The Panthers are expected to pick between three players -- running back DeAngelo Williams, center Ryan Kalil and defensive end Charles Johnson.
With former first round pick Jonathan Stewart waiting in the wings, the Panthers appear best suited to lose Williams. Mike Goodson was impressive when given the opportunity, as well.
Kalil is one of the best young centers in the game and would be a significant loss for a team built to control the line of scrimmage.
The team boasts a talented young duo of pass rushers in Everett Brown and Greg Hardy behind Johnson, but neither has yet demonstrated the consistency to allow Carolina to feel good about the position should they risk losing him. Johnson finally got the chance to be a full-time starter in 2010 and responded with a team-high 11.5 sacks -- the 2nd highest total among NFC defensive ends (Atlanta's John Abraham had 13 sacks).
Should the Panthers elect to franchise Kalil, Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers could shoot to the top of Carolina's draft board. The 6-4, 275 pound defender led the country with 15.5 sacks and his size and physicality make him an better run supporter than a pass rusher.
On the other hand, if the Panthers elect to franchise Johnson, they almost certainly would not take Bowers or any other defensive end. Even a defensive tackle like Auburn's Nick Fairley or Alabama's Marcell Dareus might be viewed as financially irresponsible if the Panthers invest a huge contract into Johnson.
This is shaping up to be a solid class of interior linemen, though none of the top center prospects are nearly as polished as Kalil was coming out of USC in 2007.
As always for the very best in NFL Draft coverage, be sure to keep NFLDraftScout.com refreshed.