For the third season in a row, the Carolina Panthers won just five games in 2021-22. The franchise has suffered through four straight losing seasons with a combined record of 22-43.

Head coach Matt Rhule, who signed a 7-year contract in 2020, will almost certainly have to win at least 9 or 10 games in the 2022-23 season to keep his job. To double their win total, the Panthers will have to make some crafty moves this offseason.

As it stands, Carolina enters the 2022 NFL Draft with six selections, and no picks in the second or third rounds. The Panthers have the No. 6 pick overall, but they have traded away their second, third, fourth and seventh round picks.

In addition to their first-round selection, Carolina has its own pick in the fifth round, and through trades the Panthers also have the Rams’ pick in the fourth round, the Jaguars’ pick in the fifth-round, the Raiders’ pick in the sixth and the Titans’ pick in the seventh.

What they need mostCarolina will almost certainly use at least two of their draft picks on offensive lineman, and could easily use the No. 6 pick to take a blue-chip left tackle.

The Panthers have an anchor at right tackle — Taylor Moton (6-foot-5, 325 pounds) has played every offensive snap over the past four seasons.

Another keeper on the O-line is rookie third round pick Brady Christensen, who started six games in 2021 and played 480 offensive snaps (41.8%); tight end Tommy Tremble, also a third-round pick, is the only rookie who played more (521 snaps (45.3%).

At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds with short arms, Christensen will likely play a lot of guard as a pro, but he has the versatility to swing outside as needed. Christensen moving inside will upgrade the talent level at guard, and free up Pat Eflein (6-3, 303) to focus on playing center.

Improving the offensive line will be Carolina’s top priority in the offseason, and they will probably bring in two new starters, if not three. To create room on the roster, Carolina will likely part ways with guards John Miller and Michael Jordan as well as center Matt Paradis and tackle Trenton Scott.

Carolina’s most intriguing young offensive lineman is Deonte Brown, a massive, powerful guard taken in the sixth round of the 2021 draft out of Alabama. The 6-foot-4 Brown weighed in at 364 pounds in January of 2021, and it likely hurt his draft status. He’s lost about 30 pounds since then, and played 30 snaps at right guard in Carolina’s last game of the season at Tampa Bay last Sunday (Jan. 9). Brown is a mauler in the run game, but like most rookies, needs improvement as a pass blocker.

Get more creativeIn addition to needing two or three new offensive linemen who are good enough to start, Carolina has to get more playmakers on the field.

One way to do that is by playing running backs Christian McCaffrey and Chuba Hubbard together. McCaffrey is the best player on the team when he’s healthy,

but he’s missed 23 out of a possible 33 games over the past two seasons.

So Carolina has to lighten McCaffrey’s load, especially when it comes to carries between the tackles.

As a rookie fourth-round pick, Hubbard showed he’s capable — as a runner, receiver and pass blocker — of being a starting tailback in the NFL.

McCaffrey’s 25 years old and under contract for three more seasons.

The Panthers need to be smarter about how they use him going forward. In addition to playing tailback, McCaffrey should line up more as a receiver; he has the best hands on the team.

If Carolina can cut down on McCaffrey’s touches, and find more ways to get him the ball in space, maybe he can make it through the 2022 season.

Keeping McCaffrey healthy is critical to Carolina’s success. His talent can be the difference in winning another two or three games.

Other rookies to watchHubbard, Tremble and Christensen were Carolina’s most productive rookies in 2021, and before breaking his foot in late September, first-round pick Jaycee Horn showed signs that he can be a shut-down cornerback.

Carolina got a lot

out of rookie cornerback Keith Taylor, a sixth-round draft pick who started three games and played 450 snaps (41.3%) — third-most among the team’s rookies. Taylor’s size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) gives him an advantage when jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage,

and he’s a reliable tackler.

Taylor had 10 solo tackles in Week 6 against Minnesota and his 31 solo tackles on the year tied for sixth on the team.

The Panthers have a lot of good cornerbacks, including Horn, C.J. Henderson, A.J. Bouye, Stephone Gilmore and Donte Jackson.

Taylor’s emergence gives Carolina the flexibility to let either Gilmore or Jackson go in free agency.

Carolina has one of the best defenses in the NFL, ranking second in the league in yards allowed per game (305.9) behind Buffalo, so tweaks on that side of the ball should be minor.

Finding a starting linebacker to replace Jermaine Carter could be addressed in the draft, and the Panthers could also use another safety to play alongside budding star Jeremy Chinn.

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