Carolina roster analysis: Special teams

Beginning today is a position-by-position analysis of the Carolina Panthers roster.

This hopefully will help you better understand the needs general manager Dave Gettleman and the coaching staff will be looking at next week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and in free agency that begins on March 11.

First up: Special teams

2013 grade: A. Arguably the strength of the team after the defense, ranked second in the league.

Under contract (2014 salary cap number): Punter Brad Nortman ($589,670); deep snapper J.J. Jansen ($980,000).

Key free agents: Place-kicker Graham Gano; kick returner Ted Ginn Jr.

Good news: The Panthers are set with one of the league's best punters and deep snappers in Nortman and Jansen, a coach's selection to the Pro Bowl. Carolina was one of the league's best all season at covering punts and kickoffs, one of the many reasons the defense ranked second in the NFL in points allowed. Statistics show the longer the field the less likely a team is to score. Nortman was a big reason with single-season records for gross punting (47.6) and net average (41.6).

Bad news: Gano would like to return, but as he told me after the season he will do what's best for his family financially. The Panthers will have only so much room under the salary cap to re-sign a kicker, even one that had the highest touchback percentage (79.7) on kickoffs since 1994 and was six for six on field goals of 50-plus yards. Many of the players that were key on the cover teams also are free agents, including linebacker Jordan Senn.

The draft: When looking at needs like wide receiver and cornerback -- two of the biggest needs on the team -- players that have a college history of contributing on special teams will be a plus. Most players don't come in and start at a position right away, so they have to earn their keep through special teams. Ginn, albeit a veteran, is a prime example. The Panthers signed him last year primarily as a kick returner and he became arguably the second best wide receiver.