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Mel Kiper: Good draft for Panthers to find edge rusher

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman loves big players who can pressure the quarterback.

This may be the year where Gettleman can get a great pass rusher at defensive end with the 30th pick of the draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said on Friday.

Kiper also said this may be the year, because of the great depth at defensive end, Gettleman could wait until the second, third or possibly fourth round to get a great edge pass rusher.

“You don’t have to necessarily take one in the first round with the great depth there is this year on the defensive line,’’ Kiper said during a conference call.

Kiper has the Panthers selecting Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander in the first round. That position is a need as well.

But it’s hard to see the Panthers selecting a 5-foot-11 corner with no interceptions and only 11 pass breakups in the first round knowing Gettleman’s affection for tall corners.

Defensive end is a need and a position where an impact player might be had at 30.

Kony Ealy showed in the Super Bowl with three sacks, an interception and forced fumble that he can be an impact player on the right side. Gettleman got Ealy in the second round of the 2014 draft, but he had a first-round grade on him.

The left side could be a concern. Charles Johnson had only one sack during a regular season in which he missed seven games because of a hamstring injury.

He’ll also be 30 this season, so he’s closing in on the end of his career.

After those two Carolina doesn’t have a player who can be an every-down end. Mario Addison is a pass-rush specialist but isn’t consistent against the run. Wes Horton is a solid run stopper but not a great pass rusher.

Frank Alexander has shown glimpses of being an every-down player, but he’s coming off an Achilles injury that forced him to miss last season. He also has been suspended three times for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Jared Allen, who announced his retirement on Thursday, was mainly a stopgap while Johnson was injured.

So if Gettleman wants to fill a need at a position where there is quality depth this might be it. Kiper said Clemson’s Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and Michigan State’s Shillique Calhoun are among the players who could fall to 30.

He also likes Penn State’s Carl Nassib, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair as viable options from the second through fourth round.

Kiper reminded that history is full of great pass rushers who weren’t selected in the first round. He mentioned Allen, who retired with 136 career sacks and was a fourth-round pick out of Idaho State.

He reminded that Seattle end Michael Bennett, a Pro Bowl selection in 2015 with 10 sacks, wasn’t drafted.

“You’ll find pass rushers,’’ Kiper aid. “That’s the one spot where some really good players have dropped down in the draft.

“This is a year where, if you want a pass rusher and you want to try to get that player at a bargain point because of the great depth at that spot, you certainly can.’’