The shadow of this year’s Super Bowl has passed, and it’s time to bask in the rays of draft season. It’s like a big puzzle. People are into puzzles, right?
The Panthers, of course, have a great opportunity this year. Not only does the team have the No. 8 pick in the draft, general manager Dave Gettleman anticipates (with the addition of a compensatory pick) four top-100 picks in a draft class full of great talent at most of the positions Carolina needs to fill this offseason: Defensive ends, safeties, running backs tight ends and quick, sharp-route-running receivers.
Draft analysts are in their stride, too, and churning out mock draft after mock draft in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of the month and the 2017 NFL Draft.
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Here are a few of the latest first-round projections for the Panthers:
What Matt Miller (NFL Draft lead writer at Bleacher Report, @nfldraftscout) thinks: Jamal Adams, safety, LSU.
“No left tackle makes sense in the top 10 on value as of today. What does make sense for the Panthers is adding an alpha male in the secondary like Jamal Adams,” said Miller.
What I think: Miller does a phenomenal job scouting players based on team needs, and this pick is no exception. Carolina will want to bring in a young, athletic safety this offseason to complement veteran Kurt Coleman and Adams certainly fits the bill. It’s a great pick –especially considering how deep the running back class is (also a must-get for Carolina), and when considering a very weak offensive tackle class.
Same position, alternate option: Malik Hooker, safety, Ohio State.
What Todd McShay (ESPN Insider NFL draft analyst) thinks: Running back Leonard Fournette, LSU.
“Fournette is the best running back prospect I’ve evaluated since Adrian Peterson. His rare combination of size, power, agility and speed would be a good fit for Carolina’s run-first scheme,” wrote McShay in his latest mock draft.
What I think: Great pick. The potential upside for Fournette is nearly unfathomable. But what if he’s taken before the Panthers can get him, as some have predicted?
Same position, alternate option: On paper, I’d have Florida State running back Dalvin Cook here because of his running style and the versatility he adds with his hands. But Cook has a troubled off-the-field background – with repeated issues – that might not be ideal for what the Panthers want. I’d actually suggest a guy such as Texas power-back D’onta Foreman or a little combination back/slot receiver such as Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey – and maybe not in the first round. As many readers know, I’ve been high on McCaffrey’s potential in a variety of positions since he declared for the draft, and think he will (yet again) be underestimated by many teams looking for a guy in the same mold as Fournette – and that could make McCaffrey fall.
What Walter Football (National scouting and draft site) thinks: Marlon Humphrey, cornerback, Alabama.
“The Panthers missed Josh Norman last year. James Bradberry performed on a high level at cornerback this past year, but Carolina is still in need of help at the position,” said Walter Football.
What I think: No. Nope. No.
Other than linebacker, this is essentially the last option the Panthers will look at in the draft. They have two rookies, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, who have more than proved they can man the positions regardless of relative inexperience. In fact, Bradberry was just graded as Pro Football Focus’ top rookie corner in 2016.
Same position, alternate option: Nah. ... If you’re going to go defensive back this early, pick up a safety. See above.
Tip of the Week: It’s also smokescreen season, y’all. Stay alert. “No emotional decisions,” as Gettleman likes to say.
Underdog of the Week: I keep coming back to Penn State receiver Chris Godwin as a late-round pickup. I covered him earlier in my (and his) career and was blown away by his football I.Q., ability as a route runner. skill when racking up yards after contact and handiness as a blocker. And despite his large frame, Godwin runs a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash. He’s very much under the radar in this draft class (Miller has him as this year’s No. 11 receiver), but something tells me he won’t be much longer.