First, "tiny bit" is a bit extreme. I think the Panthers will spend some money this offseason and a chunk of it could go to a big-ticket item.
The roster wasn't Super Bowl caliber this season, so it needs a good amount of work. But how about I just give you what I see as the biggest hole?
Here's who's under contract for next season at defensive end: Mario Addison, Charles Johnson, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall, Zach Moore, Bryan Cox Jr., Efe Obada. If I had to guess right now, I think Julius Peppers will be back next season and Johnson won't. But even if Peppers does return, we know that'd be in a part-time role. So D-end is a big concern, IMO.
There won't be a ton of help available in free agency, but guys like Ziggy Ansah, DeMarcus Lawrence and Adrian Clayborn may be out there if they're not hit with franchise tags.
Do the Panthers have enough space or are they willing to spend what it would take to land one of the more productive free agents at the position? Those are answers I'll get a better sense of over the next few weeks.
Email from Greg: I've heard a lot of folks say we need to draft a WR early. Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I want to see a healthy Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd. Both guys have speed, and can probably help Funchess get open more often. Funchess was playing with a bum shoulder half the season as it was. I think we may have what we need on the roster.
Is Funchess a true No. 1? Could Samuel and Byrd be the speed guys Cam Newton needs?
But the sample sizes we've seen are way too small, and I think it would be a mistake to take what they have now into 2018. It's a safe bet Norv Turner will have at least a couple of new wideouts for his offense.
I see where you're going, but while there's reason to be hopeful, I'm not sure folks are that hopeful.
The better possible timeline is 21 months from now.
Website submission from A. Jones:Upcoming draft....will Panthers look to build up defensive backs, offensive linemen, and a quarterback, in that order?
It's mid-January. They won't even have an order like that when the draft starts, so to pretend I know something like that would just add to the inaccurate noise of the pre-draft season.
Mock drafts, etc. are fun and generate more clicks than just about anything on a sports-related website, but teams won't have a good sense of their boards until a month before the draft – at the earliest. Also, the Panthers are drafting at No. 24, so I'm not going to pretend I know who they'll land three months from now when they won't even know how the draft will play out until it actually plays out.
But to be fair to the mock drafters, I took a look back to some samples from last January. Here's who they had the Panthers taking at No. 8:
- NFL.com – RB Leonard Fournette
- Bleacher Report – Fournette
- FOX Sports – RB Dalvin Cook
- Sports Illustrated – Fournette
- ESPN – Fournette
- Washington Post – Cook
- Walter Football – Fournette
- The Big Lead – Fournette
To their credit, the mock drafters nailed which position the Panthers would focus in on. But here's where those sites had Christian McCaffrey:
- NFL.com – 32nd
- Bleacher Report – 38th
- FOX Sports – 29th
- Sports Illustrated – 30th
- ESPN – 29th
- Washington Post – 23rd
- Walter Football – 51st
- The Big Lead – 31st
If you want to use one season as a full picture, you could argue the mock drafters did a pretty good job pegging where McCaffrey should have gone before his solid if unspectacular rookie year. But my argument isn't about whether he was a good pick at No. 8. It's that mock drafts this time of year need to be taken for what they are – wild guesses before most media catches up to what teams actually think of players.
Let's take a look at another example.
The Raiders had the 24th pick last year. With it they took cornerback Gareon Conley. Again, I'm not saying that was the right pick. I'm just saying it's worth remembering stuff like this from last January.
Where mock drafters had Conley going:
- NFL.com – 30th
- Bleacher Report – 30th
- FOX Sports – 36th
- Sports Illustrated – n/a
- ESPN – n/a
- Washington Post – n/a
- Walter Football – 40th
- The Big Lead – n/a
Who mock drafters predicted Oakland taking (credit again due for the amount of right guesses on the position):
- NFL.com – CB Teez Tabor
- Bleacher Report – CB Marshon Lattimore
- FOX Sports – CB Sidney Jones
- Sports Illustrated – CB Quincy Wilson
- ESPN – DT Malik McDowell
- Washington Post – CB Desmond King
- Walter Football – OT Garrett Bolles
- The Big Lead – McDowell
It happened at least 15 times before 2002. Fewer divisions back then made it easier to get three teams in.
So since 2002, when the league went to its current four-division alignment, it's happened eight times.
- 2006: NFC East (Eagles, Cowboys, Giants) – None made the NFC title game.
- 2007: NFC East (Cowboys, Giants, Redskins) – Dallas and Washington went one-and-done. The Giants won the Super Bowl.
- 2007: AFC South (Colts, Jaguars, Titans) – None made the AFC title game.
- 2011: AFC North (Ravens, Steelers, Bengals) – Cincinnati and Pittsburgh went one-and-done. Baltimore lost to New England in the AFC Championship.
- 2013: AFC West (Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers) – Denver lost to Seattle in the Super Bowl.
- 2014: AFC North (Steelers, Bengals, Ravens) – None made the AFC title game.
- 2017: NFC South (Saints, Panthers, Falcons) – We know how that played out.