Who do you think the Panthers will draft first? – Markel in Baltimore
That is the question everyone is asking at this moment, and even general manager Dave Gettleman himself can't answer it. Gettleman, to state the obvious, could provide a more accurate answer than I could, but he's not exactly in position to divulge that kind of information. And even if he was, so many things can happen before the Panthers are on the clock at No. 30.
So for laughs, I'll present five names from five different positions for your consideration, selected based on what I generally think makes sense as well as a nonsensical add-on: The Panthers' last four first-round picks didn't attend the draft in person, so I'll predict that streak keeps going.
In the secondary, how about Houston cornerback William Jackson III or West Virginia safety Karl Joseph? Up front, I'll throw out Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (Clemson's Kevin Dodd was invited to the draft). And on offense I'll mention the Henrys – Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry.
You asked for one guy; I gave you five. Nothing like trying to improve my chances of being right.
How do you think the decision regarding Josh Norman will affect our decision on who to pick come draft night? – Dustin in Mooresville, N.C.
I don't think it will. Gettleman consistently preaches drafting the best player available, as he did again the day after the Panthers rescinded Norman's franchise tag. Gettleman did call the cornerback class "a nice group of players," and head coach Ron Rivera said Norman's departure leaves "a little bit of a hole."
The ideal scenario for a general manager like Gettleman is when a preferred position (I'll stop short of saying "position of need") and value come together at the same time. I think it's better than 50-50 that sometime during the draft, that will happen, and the Panthers will pick a cornerback. Pre-draft chatter naturally focuses heavily on the first round, but don't forget it's a seven-round marathon with talent throughout.
With Norman gone, could you see Shaq Thompson playing more of a nickel role, similar to the role he played against Arizona in the playoffs? – NotLukeKuechly via Twitter
Interesting thought. Thompson played every position under the sun in college, but the Panthers drafted him as a linebacker. As his rookie season went on, coaches were more willing to trust him in pass coverage, particularly evident in the NFC Championship game where Carolina dealt with Arizona's cadre of receivers by putting Thompson in the slot against Larry Fitzgerald. Thompson more than held his own, and the Panthers rolled.
I see free agent acquisition Brandon Boykin as a perfect fit at nickel corner. But, when opposing passing offenses try to throw the kitchen sink at Carolina, the Panthers won't hesitate to throw Thompson back into that role.
Are Panthers confident that Tre Boston is the answer at safety alongside Kurt Coleman, or are they targeting someone else in draft? – JPowell via Twitter
My answer to this one is similar to the earlier cornerback question about best available player over positon need, with the addition of a Gettleman staple: "Sometimes the answer is on your roster."
It is Boston's job to lose at this point. He emerged late in his rookie season of 2014 and could well have started last season if not for the strong showing last preseason by Coleman.
In addition to Boston, the Panthers signed veteran free agent Trenton Robinson, who comes in with a similarly quiet profile like Coleman before him and Mike Mitchell before him. The Panthers also are intrigued by Dean Marlowe, who essentially took a redshirt year in 2015 but learned a lot through a season of practices.
But yes, Carolina absolutely could draft a safety, and even a first-round one isn't out of the realm of possibility. Still, given the successful third-day selections of Boston (fourth round) and cornerbacks Norman and Bene Benwikere (both fifth round) in recent years, it's more likely the Panthers wait.
View photos of Panthers players as they take part in offseason conditioning drills.