Matt Rhule’s Carolina Panthers have their second top-ten pick in a row. The team made a flashy pre-draft trade for Sam Darnold, which takes them out of the quarterback market this year. Right? Carolina’s goals at eighth overall remain largely unknown. There are plenty of potential outcomes, all of which point toward Rhule accelerating the team’s rebuild.
The Panthers gave Rhule a seven-year deal hoping to see their franchise turned around. The former Baylor head coach certainly brought in and developed a lot of talent during his first year. However, the 46-year-old is moving too fast. He’s trying to make the Panthers run before they can walk. If the team doesn’t handle Teddy Bridgewater’s departure and the 2021 NFL Draft well, the current regime could set itself back years.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t create any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.
Carolina started the 2021 offseason on the right foot by franchise tagging right tackle Taylor Moton. The former second-round pick is one of the NFL’s best right tackles, and he’s improving each year. However, the Panthers don’t have a reliable option on the left side. Russell Okung started seven games there last season, but he’s a free agent and injury-prone.
Rhule’s best options at left tackle right now are Cameron Erving and Greg Little. Those two combined for 16 appearances and eight starts last year. The Panthers would love to have them as reserve tackles capable of stepping in for a play here or there, but neither is a full-time starter. Slater can step in and beat out Erving and Little immediately.
There’s some thought that Slater could start his career as a guard. While the NFL generally frowns on taking interior linemen in the first ten selections, Slater’s positional versatility might make him an exception. Dennis Daley, Pat Elflein, and John Miller are Carolina’s best guards. Assuming he’s even a fraction as good as analysts believe he is, Slater should top all three of those veterans.
Mac Jones made it to eighth overall for TDN and PFF in the majority of simulations I ran. I would’ve taken Justin Fields if he fell that far, but Jones isn’t worth taking over Slater. The Panthers gain nothing from tripling down at quarterback with this year’s fifth-best passer.
Ideal pick: Penei Sewell, OT Oregon
Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley saw his draft stock begin sliding following a medical procedure done on his back. Farley’s back issues could raise flags and drop him into the second-round. However, the former Hokie is so physically gifted that I can’t imagine him reaching 39. On the other hand, Stokes and fellow Georgia corner Tyson Campbell could make it that far.
Stokes starred with the Bulldogs. According to PFF, quarterbacks only completed 53.4% of their passes when targeting the standout corner. In his final collegiate season, Stokes intercepted four passes and returned two for touchdowns. The Georgia product continued rising up boards by running a 4.34 40-yard dash and testing well across the board.
The Panthers recently strengthened their secondary by adding A.J. Bouye on a two-year deal. Unfortunately, the former Pro Bowler hasn’t held quarterbacks to a passer rating below 100.0 when targeted since 2018. Carolina also faces the reality that Donte Jackson is in the final year of his rookie contract.
Adding Stokes gives the Panthers options at corner and builds depth for the future.
Ideal pick: Caleb Farley, CB Virginia Tech
You can throw this pick out the window if Rhule deploys Jeremy Chinn as a safety. However, if Chinn continues starting as a linebacker, the Panthers could capitalize by adding one of the draft’s four best safeties. Despite struggling in coverage, Chinn amassed 117 tackles and two defensive touchdowns as a linebacker last year. That could become his permanent role as Grant slides in next to Juston Burris.
Grant had an up and down collegiate career. He intercepted six passes in 2018, followed by only one in 2019. Grant closed the door on his time at UCF with three picks in his senior season. While he was highly productive, there are some concerns about the angles Grant takes to tackles. He also lacks true sideline-to-sideline range.
Luckily for Carolina, UCF played Grant in a variety of roles and schemes. The Panther can count on him to adapt and continue making plays at the next level.
Ideal pick: Jevon Holland, S Oregon
Assuming the Panthers view Slater as a tackle, taking Green in the fourth-round adds an extra layer to the offensive line. The former defensive tackle successfully transitioned to guard and center during his time at Illinois. He’s capable of filling either role in the NFL but might take some time before developing into a reliable starter.
Even if Green isn’t a Day 1 starter, it’s worth throwing another name into the guard group. Daley, Elflein, and Miller are fine bridge starters and rotational role players, but you can’t rebuild a young offense with those guys.
Green is quick and explosive out of his set. He’s a fun player to watch because he can completely take defenders out of the play. There are plays where he’s too stiff, and sometimes he overextends. However, you expect some of those flaws from a high-upside Day 3 prospect like Green.
Ideal pick: Hunter Long, TE Boston College
Ideally, concerns over athleticism and size drop Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Twyman to the fifth-round. However, the 6-1 defensive tackle probably has too many fans to reach 151. Although, his pro day was a mixed bag highlighted by 40 bench reps and some of the slowest speed drills recorded this year. Assuming Twyman goes before pick 151, the Panthers should continue fortifying their secondary.
Wilson broke out quickly at Florida, emerging as a starter during his freshman season. Unfortunately, things got sidetracked from there. He only played in one game in 2018, and all three of his collegiate interceptions came in 2019. Most fans know Wilson for throwing a cleat, which cost Florida a win over LSU last season.
The Panthers could home in on Wilson because of his exceptional athleticism. The former Gator blew away scouts at Florida’s pro day in every drill he completed. While Wilson’s tape is erratic, he’s worth the risk as a fifth-round pick.
Carolina signed Dan Arnold this offseason, adding him to a tight end room that already features Ian Thomas. The Panthers haven’t replaced Greg Olsen yet despite the former Pro Bowler departing over a year ago. McKitty isn’t as good as Olsen, and he may never be. However, the Georgia product is a solid blocker and has enough athleticism to compete for snaps as a team’s third tight end.
McKitty wasn’t very productive in college, so I made this selection based on his traits and history as a decent blocker. He can still develop as a run blocker, but I’d like to see him get more opportunities in the passing game.
Ideal pick: Tony Fields II, LB West Virginia
I’ve railed against taking quarterbacks in the mid-rounds in other articles. However, there are some players worth using late Day 3 selections on because of their raw potential. I’m not betting on Costello becoming a starter or even a reliable backup. Still, the quarterback position is so valuable that you can justify taking a shot in the sixth-round.
Costello peaked during his 2018 season at Stanford. That year, he threw for 3,540 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Davis Mills began seeing playing time the following year, which led to Costello transferring. He split time with Will Rogers in Mike Leach’s air raid offense last season.
Costello faces plenty of criticism and could fall into the seventh-round. Perhaps taking him when the quarterback room already features Bridgewater, Darnold, Will Grier, Tommy Stevens, and P.J. Walker is foolish.
Ideal pick: Paris Ford, S Pittsburgh
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