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OLB and G targets at 39, 93, and beyond

BJ Ojulari

CHARLOTTE — All the attention surrounding the Panthers' upcoming draft has been around that first pick, which will be used on a quarterback.

But the Panthers have other needs, and other picks, as they try to fill out the roster heading into the season.

We're taking a look at those needs, and how the rest of their picks could be used to fill them.

Other than the first one, the Panthers have five other selections this year, beginning with their own second-rounder (39th overall), San Francisco's third-rounder (93rd), two fourths (114th and 132nd), and a fifth (145th).

So here's a look at two more of the positions they could look to address and some of the possibilities with those picks. (Here are the previous installments about the receivers and tight ends, and the linebackers and corners.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Why it's a need: First off, it was a need before Brian Burns underwent ankle surgery last week. That gave it a certain top-of-mind attention, but it was clearly one of the priorities heading into the offseason.

As the Panthers transition to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ejiro Evero, it was a glaring positional need once they signed a few linemen who fit the scheme in free agency. The system requires a couple of edge players who can rush the passer, and the Panthers had one proven commodity in Burns (coming off a career-best 12.5 sacks).

During this week's voluntary veteran minicamp, the Panthers were working with Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes Sr., and Amaré Barno there. While Barno has the same kind of frame and speed as a young Burns, he's still very raw and needs the most work. The other two are built more to be 4-3 ends, though they did stand up occasionally in previous years when Phil Snow was the defensive coordinator.

While Burns is expected to make a full recovery by training camp, they'd still love to add to the position, and the veteran options remaining on the market are likely to be beyond their price range at the moment.

Will McDonald IV

Possibilities at 39: One of the dangers of looking for pass-rushers is that everyone is looking for pass-rushers. They tend to go off the board in clumps. Elite ones (such as Alabama's Will Anderson) go in the top five, and because of the need across the league, projects are routinely overdrafted.

So they have to look at their board with the realization that after they take a quarterback first, this field will thin considerably before they come back around. Players such as Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson, Iowa's Lukas Van Ness, and Georgia's Nolan Smith will likely be gone in the top half of the first round.

Once the draft moves into the 20s, a group of players, including Clemson's Myles Murphy, Iowa State's Will McDonald, and LSU's BJ Ojulari will likely come into play. If they lasted until the late first or early second, you could see the Panthers being tempted to go up and get one of them (though it will be costly for a team entering the weekend with just six picks).

Kansas State's Felix Anudike-Uzomah and Georgia Tech's Keion White are also possibilities in that 25-40 range, but the law of supply and demand works against them here.

Possibilities at 93 and beyond: Once you get past the first two rounds, many of the guys you're looking at have holes in their games, and you'd have to adjust your expectations accordingly. Because of the way the position gets picked over, it's hard to find starting-caliber players past the first couple of rounds. So finding someone who could fit into a rotation and be developed becomes more of the thought process.

And honestly, the Panthers might need to move up from their late third-rounder at 93 if they want to get in on players such as Auburn's Derrick Hall or Ohio State's Zach Harrison. Wisconsin's Nick Herbig is a player who showed a lot of pop as a pass-rusher in college, but lacks the ideal size to play on the edge, and may shift inside in the NFL.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

Why it's a need: The Panthers bring back all five starters from last season, but their starting guards are coming off significant injuries. Left guard Brady Christensen's broken ankle is the less serious of the two, as right guard Austin Corbett's torn ACL will push his timeline right up to the start of the regular season.

And since the Panthers haven't re-signed veteran tackle Cam Erving (who remains a free agent), Christensen's probably also their backup left tackle once he gets well, since he has the athleticism and background to play outside.

Either way, the Panthers need to reinforce the middle of the line to make sure their new quarterback is protected well from day one. They used veteran backup Justin McCray and 2022 sixth-rounder Cade Mays with the starters in minicamp, and while both have their qualities, this is a numbers situation as well. The Panthers will probably end up adding four or five new bodies up front before training camp.

Steve Avila

Possibilities at 39: Guard is a position where only elite talents get drafted high, as most teams consider the positional value on the lower end of the scale. But there's a deep group of players who could fall in the range of that second-rounder who could step in and make an impact.

Players such as Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence, TCU's Steve Avila, Wisconsin's Joe Tippmann, Syracuse's Matt Bergeron, or North Dakota State's Cody Mauch should be in the range where they're considered.

The Panthers have been investigating this group closely, and with several possibilities, you can't rule out moving back a few spots if they can pick up some value in later rounds.

Possibilities at 93 and beyond: NC State's Chandler Zavala and Old Dominion's Nick Saldiveri (who stood out at their local pro day workout) are a couple of area players who could help teams in the middle rounds.

Saldiveri, in particular, has the kind of size that could allow him to play tackle as well, and he has gained quite a bit of attention as the draft process has gone on (for more than his prowess at the dinner table).

With four picks in the third through fifth rounds, the Panthers have the flexibility to move around a bit, and adding interior line help seems like a reasonable bet.

Draft prospects from around the Carolinas came to Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday for a pro day workout before this month's NFL Draft.

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