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Top First Round Prospects For Panthers Post-Free Agency

The Panthers filled some key holes during free agency, adding veteran leadership with the additions of former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers and corner back Captain Munnerlyn among others. They also invested into protecting quarter back Cam Newton by signing left tackle Matt Kalil, one of their largest glaring needs. General manager Dave Gettleman created flexibility for the draft by being aggressive during free agency, and they are now in the position to draft for best player available rather than for need. Here are a few prospects the Panthers may be interested in come April:

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Tight End O.J. Howard, Alabama

Via al.com

The Panthers already have All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen at their disposal, but they love to run two tight end sets on offense and would love to add another versatile player to the position. Howard would fit the bill, posting impressive physical numbers (6'6", 251 lbs) and even more impressive combine results, running a 4.51 sec 40 yard dash and 22 reps on bench press. He can run and catch like a wide receiver, and greatly improved his blocking skills in Alabama's run first offense.

Wide Receiver Mike Williams, Clemson

Despite having starting wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess in place, the Panthers may consider taking Williams with the eighth pick. He is big bodied receiver (6'4", 218 lbs) that moves fast, running a 4.49 sec 40 yard dash at Clemson's pro day. He produced at a high level in 2016, catching 98 receptions for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns, making tough catches and showing he is a receiver that goes and gets the ball.

Defensive End Solomon Thomas, Stanford

Even after adding Peppers and retaining linemen Mario Addison, Charles Johnson and Wes Horton, the Panthers may still look at adding a versatile and young edge rusher like Thomas. He is an elusive and big bodied (6'3", 273 lbs) lineman capable of playing on the edge and in the interior of the defensive line. He showed he has speed off the edge after running a 4.69 sec 40 yard dash at the combine, while also showing his strength by recording 30 reps on bench press.

Running Back Leonard Fournette, LSU

With running back Jonathan Stewart not getting any younger, it is time to find a successor for him as the lead ball carrier. Fournette is a perfect fit here, matching well with the Panthers zone read and power run schemes. His running style is to be a bruiser coming out of the back field, a style the Panthers look for in a runner. He also has the elite size (6'1", 240 lbs) and speed (4.51 sec 40) combination the Panthers look for in their system. He would be a great fit in Carolina.

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