Draft season has sprung upon us, like Jack Nicholson’s face through a hole in the door.
Suddenly, we are once again two weeks away from the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
Draft season also means the return of mock drafts, and the breakdown of these mocks. Does the player fit? Is he in line with what Carolina needs? Is it a likely pick?
Some things to keep in mind:
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▪ The Panthers have the 24th pick in the first round of the 2018 draft. They have a second-round pick (No. 55), and two third-round picks (one, No. 85, courtesy of Buffalo via the Kelvin Benjamin trade, and No. 88). They don’t have a fourth-round pick, because they gave it up for former punter Andy Lee in 2016. They have a fifth (No. 152) and a sixth-round pick (No. 183), and two seventh-round picks (the other part of the Benjamin trade and theirs, and Nos. 213 and 216 respectively).
▪ Team needs include (but are not limited to) defensive end, wide receiver, guard, safety, cornerback and running back.
▪ The Panthers will use free agency to set up the draft, so they can ideally select the best player available. That will shape draft projections in the coming weeks. Current projections do not factor in options in free agency. The Panthers have crucial contract decisions to make regarding guard Andrew Norwell and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and await a career announcement from defensive end Julius Peppers. Those factors will affect what they do in the early rounds of the draft.
▪ Carolina is still without a general manager, with interim GM Marty Hurney on paid leave as the NFL continues an investigation into allegations made (and then withdrawn) by his ex-wife. While that makes free agency murkier at the moment, it doesn’t mean draft meetings have halted in the building.
Some early projections for the Panthers’ first round pick:
Todd McShay, ESPN, Mock Draft 2.0: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
What McShay thinks: “The Panthers need to continue to put playmakers around (quarterback) Cam Newton, and Kirk can threaten defenses vertically and create with the ball in his hands.”
What I think: I love this pick. Carolina is built in many phases to be a championship contender, but has struggled for two years to produce a consistent offensive attack. Much of the blame falls on the wide receivers. Quarterback Cam Newton needs more weapons, and Kirk is a special and versatile talent who can win catches and at the line of scrimmage, and also turn a garbage ball into a big gain.
NFL.com analysts Charley Casserley and Bucky Brooks also mocked Kirk to the Panthers at No. 24 in their first projections.
Josh Norris, NBC Sports/Rotoworld, Mock Draft No. 2: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
What Norris thinks: “Adding pieces on offense is important, and Goedert can be used in multiple tight end sets and win in individual matchups at multiple levels of the field.”
What I think: Norris and I agree on many things, including good names for dogs and Carolina’s need for offensive help, but the Panthers picking a tight end in the first round of the draft isn’t one of them. The team will have at least one more good year from Greg Olsen, who is not expecting to have a second surgery on his repaired foot, and Goedert will be neither the highest need nor the best player available at No. 24.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report, Post-Super Bowl mock draft: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
What Miller thinks: “Hubbard is a value at pick No. 24, but he also fits what the Panthers do in the base 4-3 defense. Hubbard also fills a need given the age of the Panthers’ defensive ends. Peppers might be able to play forever, but the front office should prepare just in case he can’t. Hubbard can be the plan at right defensive end for the future.”
Miller also postulates that this pick could be Kirk or Maryland wideout D.J. Moore.
What I think: Hubbard is polished and pro-ready, and would be a safe pick for Carolina here. As mentioned earlier, Peppers’ decision is an enormous factor in the round in which Carolina picks up an edge-rusher. I’d be concerned, however, about selecting an edge rusher early and missing out on some of the premium offensive talent needed for Newton.
I also like Moore.
Dan Kadar, SB Nation, Mocking the Draft: Isaiah Wynn, T-G, Georgia
What Kadar thinks: “If the Panthers happen to lose (Norwell) in free agency, it opens a big hole on the offensive line. Wynn would fit in perfectly at left guard, and in a pinch he can even play tackle.”
What I think: Kadar had previously mocked SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton to the Panthers at No. 24, but switched to Wynn in his most recent projection. I agree with the change, as Sutton’s skill set is too similar to Devin Funchess and the Panthers must build a complementary receiving corps instead of stacking identical talents.
Also, the Panthers love versatility in their linemen, making Wynn an appealing pick. Wynn is short for his position but his draft report cites an NFC scout wondering if a team might draft him as a center – another position the Panthers will need to fill with veteran Ryan Kalil entering his final season.
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com, Mock Draft 1.0: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
What Jeremiah thinks: “The Panthers continue their recent trend and add another explosive weapon for Newton.”
What I think: There is no way Ridley, regarded as the top receiver in the class, falls this far. But if he does, there is no way the Panthers don’t pick him and make him their No. 1 receiver. Ridley is dominant, with the kind of versatility and crispness the Panthers will prioritize when looking to spruce up their receiving corps.