The Panthers could lose a pair of veteran edge rushers this offseason if Julius Peppers retires and Charles Johnson is released.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper says if the Panthers go after a defensive end late in the first round, they’d be wading into a thin talent pool.
“I don’t think it’s going to fall that way. If you look at defensive ends at that point, you’d be reaching a little bit,” Kiper said Wednesday during a conference call. “You’d be looking at guys like Sam Hubbard from Ohio State (or) Rasheem Green from USC. I just don’t think it’s going to fall that way.”
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Kiper thinks the Panthers should go after a speed receiver with the 24th pick, something Carolina lacked in 2017 after letting Ted Ginn Jr. leave in free agency for New Orleans.
Kiper has the Panthers taking Oklahoma State wideout James Washington in his latest mock draft, which came out a week before the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Kiper liked Ohio State center/guard Billy Price for the Panthers in his first mock, reasoning that Carolina would need a replacement for free agent guard Andrew Norwell.
But Kiper now thinks handing Cam Newton an explosive weapon would be more beneficial than giving him an interior lineman.
“When Cam Newton was league MVP in 2015, he had a deep threat in Ted Ginn Jr., who could take the top off defenses. Ginn had 10 touchdowns and averaged almost 17 yards per catch,” Kiper wrote in his second mock.
“Washington could be that guy for the Panthers. He averaged 19.8 yards per catch and had 39 touchdowns at Oklahoma State. He is great after the catch. At 5-11, 210, Washington is undersized, but he was one of the best receivers at the Senior Bowl. He consistently beat defenders in one-on-ones, just like I saw on his college tape.”
Kiper thinks there’s more first-round talent at receiver than defensive end, although he could see the Panthers taking Texas-San Antonio edge rusher Marcus Davenport at 24.
But ESPN’s longtime draft analyst rattled off the names of a handful of receivers that Kiper believes could make an impact for the Panthers.
In addition to Washington, Kiper mentioned five other wideouts who could be first-round fits for the Panthers:
▪ Calvin Ridley (Alabama, 6-1/188): “I have him going 15 (to Arizona). There’s a chance he could drop down just a bit. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
▪ D.J. Moore (Maryland, 5-11/215): “I think if he’s there, he’s going to draw some consideration. I have him more as a second-round pick.”
▪ Courtland Sutton (SMU, 6-4/216): “He didn’t dominate games, take over games, the way I’d hoped. He was a little inconsistent. But I think he could factor into the late first round if he tests well.”
▪ Christian Kirk (Texas A&M, 5-11/200): Smallish wideout had a career day (13 catches, 189 yards, 3 TDs) against Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl.
▪ Jordan Lasley (UCLA, 6-3/210): Explosive WR, but dealing with red flags after two arrests and multiple suspensions in college.