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Panthers mailbag: Career year for Cam Newton with upgrades on offense?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The NFL draft is over and the Carolina Panthers are preparing for a weekend minicamp with rookies and select other players.

With additions to the roster, there are questions.

I am here to answer them.

@DNewtonESPN: There definitely are more mismatch options with the 6-foot-5 twin towers of 2014 first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin and 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess. Cam Newton has a tendency to throw high when he's having an off day. Having two tall receivers to go along with tight end Greg Olsen has to help. It's been a slow process, but the Panthers finally are starting to get a decent arsenal of weapons around Newton. I'm not predicting a career year because the running game remains the foundation of this offense. But there definitely is potential if the offensive line holds up. How well Michael Oher does at left tackle is key.



@DNewtonESPN: The trades in general, to go from nine picks to five, was the biggest surprise, knowing how general manager Dave Gettleman values draft picks. But when you consider keeping all nine on the final 53-man roster unrealistic, it all makes sense. This wasn't a particularly deep draft, so getting rid of picks in the sixth and seventh round likely avoided selecting players who wouldn't make the roster.



@DNewtonESPN: Once they adjusted to the reality that Greg Hardy wasn't returning last season, and second-round pick Kony Ealy began to mature, this group helped elevate Carolina to a top-10 defense. So yes, there is potential here. Ealy and Frank Alexander are the two I am most interested to watch this offseason. Ealy made some big plays during the playoff run and Alexander reminds me of Hardy right before he emerged as a top end. If one or both of them takes a big step forward, this has a chance to be a top-three defense, as it was in 2013.



@DNewtonESPN: Not to sound contrite, but I don't think you can ever really go wrong by taking the best player available. This team improved through the draft, and that's all you can really ask for.



@DNewtonESPN: I won't go position by position giving a grade, but I will say Carolina upgraded at every position an upgrade was needed, either through free agency or the draft. How much is the key. The success of Oher at left tackle, as I mentioned above, is where it all begins. If he plays well, everything else is gravy.



@DNewtonESPN: I do. There is too much upside to the mismatches he can create not to, unless he's simply not ready. The depth at wide receiver has gone from dismal at this time a year ago to better than average. There will be some tough cuts, particularly if a player such as Stephen Hill emerges following a year on the practice squad. I can see Jerricho Cotchery's role diminishing, but he should be kept for his leadership and experience. But back to Funchess: He is too dynamic to bring off the bench.