When you're 4-9 and eliminated from playoff contention, like the Carolina Panthers, it's never too early to start talking about the draft.
The 2012 campaign has been a colossal failure for the Panthers, who had Super Bowl aspirations coming into the season.
But where did it all go wrong? What holes does the team need to fill this offseason?
The Panthers, who are 0-6 in games decided by seven points or less, continue to lose close games. Aside from the obvious concerns on the sidelines with head coach Ron Rivera and his staff, the team has major needs on the offense line, defensive line and in the secondary.
ESPN draft expert Todd McShay released his first mock draft this week, and projects the Panthers to take Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins with the fifth overall pick:
Who is Johnathan Hankins?
The 6-foot-3, 320-pound defensive tackle was a second-team Associated Press All-American this season, and a two-year starter for the Buckeyes. He finished his collegiate career with 138 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Here's a quick highlight reel of Hankins (No. 52).
With 33-year-old Ron Edwards unable to stay healthy, the Panthers don't have much else at defensive tackle. Former third-round pick Sione Fua has been a complete disaster, while Andre Neblett and Frank Kearse are nothing more than solid backups.
I haven't seen Hankins play extensively, but I do know that he is a big, strong body that could clog up the middle of the trenches and take on double teams – something the Panthers desperately need.
McShay's First Four Picks:
1) Kansas City Chiefs - Star Lotulelei, defensive tackle, Utah
2) Jacksonville Jaguars – Damontre Moore, defensive end, Texas A&M
3) Oakland Raiders - Bjoern Werner, defensive end, Florida State
4) Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Joeckel, offensive tackle, Texas A&MTags: Andre Neblett, Carolina, Carolina Panthers, Football, Frank Kearse, Johnathan Hankins, NFL, Ron Edwards, Sione Fua, Todd McShay
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