14. Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC (6-3, 313)
The Panthers have hit draft home runs in past seasons, in QB Cam Newton and LB Luke Kuechly, both of whom are cornerstones on their side of the ball. And now, new general manager Dave Gettleman needs to start putting the pieces around these guys to get Carolina back to the top of the NFC South.
While I'm a big proponent of drafting the best player available, the middle of this draft is a bit muddled with high-quality players -- all of whom seem to fit needs in Carolina. Newton struggled in 2012, partially because defenses caught up to him, but mostly because his offensive line struggled to protect him and establish the run game. Left tackle Jordan Gross has slipped tremendously, and right tackle Byron Bell, while serviceable, shouldn't be a starter. This is where the Panthers could look at Alabama OT D.J. Fluker or Florida State OT Menelik Watson.
The Panthers' offense could also use another playmaker to pair with the aging Steve Smith. West Virginia's dynamic WR Tavon Austin is still on the board but might not have the size needed to truly complement Smith.
On defense, coordinator Sean McDermott did a nice job with a talent-deficient group last year. Kuechly was a godsend at middle linebacker, and DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy became a dangerous duo. But the backend of the defense let McDermott down time and again by giving up big plays. This is why I strongly considered Washington CB Desmond Trufant and Texas S Kenny Vaccaro here. But since corners and safeties are so deep in this draft, I decided to focus on the defensive line's interior, where the Panthers haven't had a difference-maker since Sean Gilbert. Currently, Dwan Edwards and Sione Fua are penciled in as starters, but both are rotational guys and give Carolina little in terms of penetration or pass rush.
North Carolina's Sylvester Williams has a great story to tell. After playing just a single season of high school football and getting no interest from colleges, Williams began working at the Modine Manufacturing Company's factory in Kansas before deciding to walk on at Coffeyville (KS) Community College. After two seasons there and earning honorable mention Junior College All-American, he signed with UNC in 2011, where he ultimately started all 25 games of his career in Chapel Hill and was named to the 2012 Pro Football Weekly All-America team.
Williams' body can be described as thick. At 6-foot-3, 313 pounds, he is quick off the snap and uses a highly effective swim move to blow by interior linemen. He holds his ground well, and I rarely saw him get moved once he anchors. Powerful at the point of attack, Williams can jar blockers back and get them off-balance when he bull rushes. He won't be a dynamic pass rusher like Sheldon Richardson, but he'll move players into the backfield and help collapse pockets. Williams pursues well for such a big man and doesn't go to the ground very often.
Williams will have to vary his pass-rushing technique once he gets to the NFL. His swim move, while very effective in college, will be figured out in the pros. He'll also have to become more consistent, as he sometimes disappeared for long stretches. This seems to be a recurring theme when talking about UNC's top defensive prospects over the years (Quinton Coples, Marvin Austin, Kentwan Balmer), but I get the sense Williams is just so raw, he gets lost sometimes -- it's not for lack of effort.