Because of Tuesday’s sudden news, I’d like to start by saying this: I don’t think the Panthers’ draft plan will change because of Cam Newton’s upcoming surgery.
From my perspective, the plan of Dave Gettleman and Co. the whole time has been to get Newton some added protection on the offensive line in free agency, and some help in the run and pass game in the draft – including a ball-carrier and an infusion of much-needed speed, not necessarily packaged together as the same player.
The Panthers have known since December that Newton has a partial tear in his rotator cuff – rehab was the first option to heal it, but surgery could never be ruled completely out – so I’m working under the assumption that their draft plan certainly always prioritized bringing in some “spark” talent on offense, specifically in the draft. Gettleman’s moves to stabilize the defense in free agency doubled down on that.
While Tuesday’s news will probably shake up some future mock drafts, this week’s set includes a lot of the same logical picks – and frustrating ones, too.
Let’s get to it.
What Peter Schrager (FOX Sports NFL analayst) thinks: Leonard Fournette, running back, LSU.
“There seems to be no baggage, and he could go even higher than this. I love this fit for Carolina and for Fournette,” Schrager wrote in his post-free agency mock.
What I think: Fournette is the popular pick at No. 8, it’s true. ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper both have Fournette locked in to the Panthers with this pick in their latest mocks, as does SB Nation’s Dane Brugler, and he’s been the favorite all draft season for many.
But where I draw more issue with Schrager’s mock is in the second round (remember, the Panthers have the No. 40 and No. 64 picks, the latter of which came from the Patriots in the Kony Ealy trade).
Schrager projects (respectively) that the Panthers pick up Florida corner Quincy Wilson and Pitt guard Dorian Johnson.
First and foremost, the Panthers do not need a third starting corner, and Wilson should be a Day-1 NFL starter. It just doesn’t fit.
Instead, a later-round corner who can perhaps play on the outside and in the nickel as a serviceable backup to James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Captain Munnerlyn is a logical move. There are certainly plenty for those options in this draft – I have mentioned Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie a couple of times in the past, and Miami’s Corn Elder seems a good fit as a nickel backup to Munnerlyn who could very well be available in later rounds. Elder is typecast in the nickel because of his smaller size – he’s 5-foot-10 with 31-inch arms – but appears to play like he thinks he’s a lot bigger.
Second, the Panthers do not need to take a guard that high – if at all. In fact, if they are going to reach on an offensive lineman as early as the second round, it had better be a tackle. There will be plenty of project offensive linemen – in a weak class overall – who will be around in third round and beyond, and Carolina needs to spend its first two or three picks on players who can have an immediate impact.
What Chris Burke (Sports Illustrated) thinks: O.J. Howard, tight end, Alabama.
“Two things about Howard to Carolina: 1) Pairing him with Greg Olsen would make for a lethal combination; 2) His blocking would help set up the ground game and protect Cam Newton,” Burke writes in his latest mock draft.
What I think: I love this pick. In fact, I’m becoming more committed by the day to Howard being the Panthers’ No. 8 pick in the draft. Like me, Burke operates under the assumption that Fournette will be gone by No. 8, but even if he’s not. ...
At the risk of gushing, Howard is to the offensive class what Texas A&M (and projected overall first pick) defensive end Myles Garrett is to the defensive class. He has the size, the hands and the speed to be a real hassle for NFL defenses. He can create space in a very Greg Olsen-esque way – and he can block. The Panthers want to use more two-tight end sets, and Howard would be a huge asset for Newton on just about any type of route imaginable, as well as in pass protection.
Same position, alternate pick: David Njoku, tight end, Miami.
Njoku is an athletic freak and a first-round talent, simple as that. He also visited the Panthers this week according to his interview on the Rich Eisen show. But while Howard is clearly a top-10 talent, it’s very possible Njoku could fall later in the first round because so many other high-profile positions are so thick with talent. If Howard gets snapped up pre-No. 8 (as a few analysts have projected), a trade-up to get him would be a tantalizing idea now that Carolina has an extra second-round pick.
What Chad Reuter (NFL.com) thinks: John Ross, wide receiver, Washington.
“Finding speed at the receiver position should be a priority for the Panthers,” Reuter writes in his latest mock draft.
What I think: I like Ross’s speed a lot and I really like his hands. I like his route-running and his versatility. I don’t like his tendancy toward injury - the hits a player takes in the slot (where the Panthers would play him) can be truly brutal, and often executed by much larger players. I don’t like that he had to have surgery right after the NFL Combine. The No. 8 pick in the draft is a huge investment, and one that can’t be risked on health questions.
However, I like the idea of someone like Ross on the roster, even if that pickup comes in the second round. This class of receivers is talented enough to make that a real possibility.