Three weeks of “Mock Talks” have passed and so far, the conversation surrounding the Panthers’ pick at No. 8 in this year’s draft has gone mostly like this:
The Panthers want defensive end Myles Garrett, but they won’t get him because he’ll probably go top-3. They also want running back Leonard Fournette, and they will probably go for him. If he’s not available, they will pick running back Dalvin Cook – except if his off-the-field background is a concern. Defensive end Solomon Thomas also seems like a good fit and a solid pick at No. 8, if Carolina thinks a running back will fall low enough to be their second pick. Safeties Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker are also options, but if any of the above are available, unlikely.
I’m paraphrasing of course, but largely, this is it. And we can’t blame these analysts for their logic – any of these picks would be logical for Carolina.
But with days to go before the NFL scouting combine, mock draft season is already starting to drag.
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Enter SB Nation’s Dan Kadar (@mockingthedraft).
Bless you, Dan. Because while your scenario likely won’t happen, it offers a different look at this year’s draft shakedown.
Now, Kadar still writes that he thinks the Panthers will take Fournette – but he also thinks they will have to “leapfrog the Jets” to do it. This means a trade to the No. 5 pick with the Tennessee Titans for the Panthers’ No. 8 pick and a late-round pick, which according to Kadar in this case could mean No. 72.
Could Carolina want Fournette that badly? Maybe, especially if the offensive line is re-stocked enough in free agency to make sure he is in a prime position to be immediately effective.
And as Kadar writes, “a player like Fournette can change an offense.”
But because the Jets badly need a quarterback – I’ll pull out my Penn State beat writer background once again and tell you there is no way they let Christian Hackenberg take the reins in 2017 – this option is largely improbable.
Still, a little shake-up never hurt anybody.
Underdog of the Week: I didn’t see enough from slot (nickel) corner Zack Sanchez last season to believe he has the job locked down, and despite a few solid games I am not sure Leonard Johnson is the go-to at the position, either. The Panthers might be looking for a late pickup, and if so, I think a long look at Colorado corner Chidobe Awuzie, who played most of his career as a starter in the slot, is warranted.
NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein writes that Awuzie is “experienced outside and from slot. Able to maintain coverage on shifty slot receivers. Instinctive with feel for route development. Possesses short-area closing burst. ... Finds receiver on deep balls and gets head turned around. Dangerous slot blitzer with seven sacks over final two seasons at Colorado.”
Awuzie’s film backs this up, especially his ability as a blitzer. Versatility is a plus for the Panthers, and Awuzie could be the guy to provide it.
Tip of the Week: Because it is very, very likely that the Panthers take a running back in this draft, it’s time to get even more acclimated to the position and why this class is so very unique. NBC Sports Analysts Josh Norris and Graham Barfield recorded a 40-minute podcast that breaks down the top seven in the class, and it’s as thorough as it gets. Listen to it here.