And I like to think everyone has a little more information than we had pre-NFL scouting combine.
Let’s get right to it, with the latest in mock drafts. Who do the lead draft analysts have the Panthers picking at No. 8?
What Matt Miller (Bleacher Report’s senior NFL Draft analyst) thinks: Cornerback Quincy Wilson, Florida
Miller (who is very good at his job), makes some great points here about the level of corner Wilson is, including his size and length (which we know are sticking points for Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman).
“He’s also shown enough straight-line speed to carry players down the field, even if that’s not his biggest strength. With size, excellent length and the ball skills to locate and attack passes, Wilson can be a Day 1 impact in this defense,” Miller wrote in his post-Combine mock draft.
What I think: Every time I see a corner projected to the Panthers at No. 8, I feel like I’ve stubbed my toe.
The reality is, Carolina will more than likely draft a cornerback – just not at No. 8. And look, I get where the projection comes from. This draft class is incredibly thick with talent at cornerback. Carolina was more than a little wobbly at the position when it started the season last year.
But some really good corners will fall to a level that is more logical for the Panthers, and head coach Ron Rivera and Gettleman both have made it clear that Daryl Worley and especially James Bradberry are the future of the position. So, while a Day-1 corner isn’t likely in this draft, a nickel pickup is.
Same position, different pick: Jourdan Lewis, cornerback, Michigan
Lewis was one of the best college corners in the nation his junior year at Michigan, but his senior season started with an injury. His height will drop him in the draft despite his skill, and a 4.54-second 40-yard dash in a group of defensive backs that is thick with 4.4-second runners will also work against him. But with Lewis, watching the tape is necessary. He’s sneaky, shifty and has great awareness not only in his own coverage but across the entire field, as well as excellent hands. His size, combined with those skills, actually makes him a great option at nickel.
Let me make this clear: Lewis is not the No. 8 pick, nor should he be. But this is the year Carolina can hope to find its next starter in the nickel – and that player exists in the draft.
What Charley Casserly (NFL.com analyst) thinks: Derek Barnett, defensive end, Tennessee
“Gettleman believes in having a strong defensive line,” Casserly wrote in his mock draft 2.0. “Barnett is an excellent addition.”
What I think: Good pick, though it definitely hasn’t been the popular one in these mock drafts of late. Here is what I wrote about Barnett, one of the nation’s most efficient pass rushers, during the combine:
“Impressive at the combine because he showed up to work out despite a pretty bad virus, Barnett ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash but weighed in a little smaller than a prototypical pass-rusher at 6-foot-3 and 259 pounds. (He weighed 265 before the stomach bug took its toll.) But Barnett is probably the best pure pass rusher in the draft, and recorded 32 sacks in three years in Tennessee’s 4-3 scheme. His balance, flexibility and hand skills may make up for his shorter size, to some evaluators.”
Same position, different pick: Solomon Thomas, defensive end/tackle, Stanford.
Thomas had one of the best Combine showings among defensive ends and is really a popular pick for mock draft-ers who think running back Leonard Fournette will be gone by the time No. 8 comes around.
What Nate Davis (USA Today) thinks: Dalvin Cook, running back, Florida State.
It should be noted that Davis projects Cook to Carolina because he projects Fournette getting picked up at No. 4 by the Jaguars.
“Carolina needs to remain balanced offensively,” wrote Davis in his mock draft 3.0. “Cook’s receiving ability would make him a nice partner (and eventually replacement) for Jonathan Stewart, who will be 30 this year and has never started more than 13 games in a season.
What I think: I like Dalvin Cook’s game. A lot. I even debated my esteemed colleague, Joseph Person, last week about why I think Cook would be a better fit than Fournette – basically, he has other facets to his game in addition to “run straight through people,” could also be used in the slot as a receiver and is incredibly efficient when running out of shotgun – which Fournette is not.
But Cook’s off-the-field trouble, as it relates to the Panthers’ front office, absolutely needs to be considered. He has a lengthy arrest and citation history and might not be the investment pick the team hopes for at No. 8.
Same position, different pick: I’m going to shake things up here for the sake of argument and go with Samaje Perine, and not at No. 8. (Yes, I know, you all are screaming “FOURNETTE” at your computer screens.)
Some of the Panthers’ staff was pictured at Oklahoma’s pro day this week, but the assumption is it was NOT to watch running back prospect Joe Mixon (who was charged after punching a woman in the face and fracturing her jaw, an incident caught on camera that went viral when it was released two years after the incident).
Instead, it can be assumed that Perine was on the Panthers’ radar – for good reason. Perine is not the fastest in this draft class by far (he ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the combine and a 4.5 at his pro day), but he’s big enough to do some damage, and leans toward the “power-back” style the Panthers seem to prefer. NFL.com writer Lance Zierlein calls him a “complementary banger.”
Especially if the Panthers think they have greater need at a position other than running back that the No. 8 pick would fill ... Perine is something to think about in later rounds.