After an impressive 12-4 finish and a NFC South division championship in 2013, the Carolina Panthers were supposed to make a deep playoff run in 2014. The Panthers managed to make it to the Divisional Round this season; however, they did not do it the way they expected to:
After impressive wins over both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions in the first two weeks of the season, the Carolina Panthers went downhill pretty quickly. Aside from a home victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 5, the Panthers would not win another game until Week 14 in New Orleans; however, they did manage a 37-37 tie in Cincinnati against the Bengals.
Despite their poor 3-8-1 start, the Panthers turned things around with their Week 14 victory over the New Orleans Saints. After pummeling the Saints 41-10 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Panthers started an impressive five game winning streak that would land them in a Divisional Round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Panthers final two wins were the most impressive. A 34-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons clinched the NFC South division title for the Panthers, making them the first team to win back-to-back NFC South division titles since the divisions were reorganized in 2002. This win also gave the Panthers the chance to host a playoff game despite their 7-8-1 record.
The Panthers did not squander their opportunity, and in their Wild Card matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers won 27-16. Regardless of their record, the Panthers were able to accomplish a good amount this past season thanks to poor performances by the other three teams in the NFC South.
Clearly the Panthers have the receipt for success, but they do need some help to improve their record in 2015. Odds are the rest of the NFC South won’t all be below .500 again this coming season, so if the Panthers want to make it three in a row they will need to stock up on young talent. Here are the Carolina Panthers biggest needs heading into the 2015 NFL Draft:
Cornerback: The Divisional Round game against the Seattle Seahawks really blew the cover on this one. The Panthers have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but their secondary needs an immediate make over. Really, the main reason the Panthers lost against the Seahawks was their inability to stop any of their receivers. The Panthers front seven is one of the best in the NFL, and Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch were practically non-factors on the ground. If the Panthers want to come back stronger in 2015, they will need to bolster their secondary, especially their cornerback depth, over the offseason. Because they didn’t lose until the Divisional Round, the Panthers don’t pick until 25th overall in the 1st round. Expect their first few picks to go towards helping out their struggling secondary.
Offensive Line: The Panthers seemed determined to stick with Cam Newton as their franchise quarterback, so they need to start investing in his future. Newton has been one of the most hit quarterbacks since his rookie season, and the injuries are starting to make that clear. Sure, Newton also runs a bit more than most quarterbacks, but when he drops back to pass it is still important to protect him. The Panthers need to bring in some young linemen to help keep the face of their franchise on his feet, and what better way to acquire young talent then the NFL Draft. Look for the Panthers to attempt to improve their offensive line in the upcoming draft.