2018 NFL Draft: Carolina Panthers team needs, draft picks, prospects to watch

While the 2017 Panthers didn't have another Super Bowl run in them, this year's squad was certainly a big step up from the disappointment of 2016, when Carolina followed up a 15-1 season by going 6-10 and finishing last in the NFC South. With Cam Newton and the offense evolving while the defense continues to play at a high level, what needs to happen this offseason to get the team back to the big game? Let's dive in.

2018 draft picks

  • Round 1: Carolina
  • Round 2: Carolina
  • Round 3: Carolina, Buffalo
  • Round 4: None
  • Round 5: Carolina
  • Round 6: Carolina
  • Round 7: Carolina, Buffalo

The Panthers are without a fourth-round pick due to the trade that brought punter Andy Lee to Carolina before the 2016 season. That trade also included a 2017 seventh-round pick, which the Panthers used to draft Harrison Butker, who's now kicking for the Chiefs. So if you're a fan of the kicking game, that trade turned out to be a big deal. The Panthers landed extra third- and seventh-round picks from Buffalo for Kelvin Benjamin at the trade deadline this year.

Biggest offseason needs

  • Wide receiver
  • Guard
  • Defensive end
  • Cornerback

After dealing away Kelvin Benjamin for a pair of picks, the Panthers should be in the market for help at receiver to go along with new No. 1 Devin Funchess and rookie Curtis Samuel. The offensive line could use a better left tackle, but the Panthers are paying Matt Kalil too much to cut bait. Instead, a new left guard needs to be found if the excellent Andrew Norwell isn't retained.

Julius Peppers has been incredible in his return to Carolina, and while Wes Horton should remain part of the rotation behind Mario Addison, the team will need a better plan than relying on improvement from Charles Johnson, who could save the team $3.5 million if he isn't retained. At cornerback, James Bradberry has taken a step back after an excellent rookie season, but even if he gets back on the right track the Panthers still need more talent at the position. Free safety could also use an upgrade.

Prospects to watch

Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF

Smith's an underrated prospect at over 6-foot and 200 pounds with top-level speed and good contested-catch ability. He could be a multi-dimensional wideout for the Panthers. At times, he can move the chains. In other instances, he can be a field-stretcher for Cam Newton. Smith's yards-per-catch average was 19.5 in 2017, and he snagged 13 touchdowns. 

Isaiah Wynn, OT/G, Georgia

Carolina has preferred oversized power blockers over the past few seasons -- Trai Turner, Daryl Williams -- and while Wynn doesn't fit that criteria, he plays with plenty of pop at the point of attack. He's been a sometimes-overlooked key to Georgia's remarkable running game, and he can play tackle or guard. 

Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest

Ejiofor is a refined pass-rusher who's dynamic against the run due to his length, athletic talents, and surprising strength to anchor on the edge. He's not bendy around the corner, but his size and pass-rushing moves scream "Panthers defensive end."

Quenton Meeks, CB, Stanford

Another prospect who appears to fit a positional archetype in Carolina. Meeks is a tall, lengthy cornerback who's ready to cover some of the bigger wideouts in the NFL. He possesses quality athleticism too. In a zone-based scheme, Meeks can be an interception machine.  

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