Carolina Panthers

NFL draft: What happens in top 7 dictates what Panthers do at No. 8. So what’ll it be?

Cam Newton after season-ending loss: I need a rest, time away

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says he needs "a lot of rest" and that he has a "love-hate relationship" with football right now.
Up Next
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says he needs "a lot of rest" and that he has a "love-hate relationship" with football right now.

Leonard Fournette.

O.J. Howard.

Edge-rushing hunter of quarterbacks.

These are the names or positions most often connected in mock drafts to the Carolina Panthers with the No. 8 overall pick, which is all well and good provided one of them is available when the Panthers are on the clock next month in Philadelphia.

When doping out what general manager Dave Gettleman might do, it’s instructive to know what direction the seven teams ahead of Carolina might go on the opening night of the draft.

So we turned to the beat writers for those clubs picking 1-7 to get a better handle on how things might shake out.

What we learned is that although four of the seven teams ahead of Carolina could use a quarterback, the writers covering Cleveland (first), San Francisco (second), Chicago (third) and the New York Jets (sixth) don’t think there’s a QB who’s worth a top-10 pick.

The same thinking goes for teams in need of a wide receiver (Tennessee at No. 5) or an offensive lineman (the Chargers at No. 7): It seems like a reach to take a Mike Williams or Cam Robinson at those spots, the writers believe.

So what does that mean for the Panthers?

In the Observer’s first Eight is Enough mock, there was a run on defensive players before the Panthers picked.

The top two edge rushers and both of the highest-rated safeties were off the board within the first five picks, and each of the first seven selections were defensive players.

If such a scenario plays out on April 27, the Panthers would have their choice from among the best offensive players in the draft, a veritable smorgasbord of playmakers such as Fournette, Howard, Washington wideout John Ross, Stanford scatback Christian McCaffrey and Miami tight end David Njoku.

And while the Panthers added a year on to running back Jonathan Stewart's contract Friday, taking it through the 2018 season, that will not preclude them from taking Fournette or another back with their first-round pick.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera wants to get back to power running game to take some of the hits and pressure off Cam Newton. Adding a powerful back to complement the 30-year-old Stewart will do that.

The Carolina Panthers are not going away and will get the things that went wrong in the 2016 season corrected, Dave Gettleman said.

Meanwhile, the low regard in which the quarterbacks and some of the other offensive skilled-position players are held could have another impact on draft night. Teams needing a quarterback or a receiver but picking outside the top 10 might be content to hold their spot and try to get their guys, making it a tough market for any clubs potentially looking to trade out of the top 10.

With all that in mind, the Observer takes a closer look at the seven teams that will influence the Panthers’ pick:

1. Cleveland Browns

The pick: Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett (Mary Kay Cabot, Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Browns’ needs: Edge rusher, quarterback, safety.

Insider knowledge: Cabot calls Garrett the best player who can make an immediate impact, “whereas the quarterbacks are going to take some time.” The Browns will continue to scout Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer, although Cabot believes Cleveland will be able to get one of those QBs when the Browns pick again at No. 12.

People’s choice: Given Cleveland’s dark quarterback history, Browns fans seem fine the idea of taking Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick.

2. San Francisco 49ers

The pick: Stanford DE Solomon Thomas (Eric Branch, San Francisco Chronicle)

49ers’ needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, edge rusher.

Insider knowledge: As much as first-year coach Kyle Shanahan would like to get rolling with a franchise QB, Branch expects Shanahan to use Brian Hoyer as a place-holder until 2018, when the Niners can go after Kirk Cousins or choose from a deeper QB group. In the meantime, Branch sees new GM John Lynch going defense in his first draft by taking an elite pass-rusher from the Bay area.

People’s choice: Some Niners’ fans seem infatuated with the prospect of taking a skilled-position player such as Fournette or Clemson WR Mike Williams.

3. Chicago Bears

The pick: Ohio State S Malik Hooker (Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune)

Bears’ needs: Quarterback, safety, wide receiver, edge rusher.

Insider knowledge: Although John Fox led a big Chicago contingent at Watson’s pro day in Clemson, Biggs isn’t convinced the Bears will go quarterback at No. 3. Like with Hoyer in San Francisco, Chicago has added Mark Sanchez and Mike Glennon to keep the seat warm if they choose to wait a year. Biggs likes Hooker’s ball skills and ability to go find the football. Said Biggs: “That’s been a real need for the Bears since Mike Brown was the free safety and Ron Rivera was the defensive coordinator.”

People’s choice: A segment of Da Bears’ faithful seems to have a QB crush on Watson, the gun-slinger from Gainesville, Ga.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

The pick: Alabama DL Jonathan Allen (Ryan O’Halloran, Florida Times-Union)

Jaguars’ needs: Defensive line, running back, offensive line.

Insider knowledge: The Jaguars barely cracked 100 rushing yards a game last season behind the pedestrian backfield duo of T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory. As a result, many analysts are predicting the Jaguars will grab a running back for new coach Doug Marrone. O’Halloran also thinks they’ll draft a back, just not at No. 4. Instead, he sees Jacksonville adding Allen to an already-stacked defensive line that include Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler.

People’s choice: Remember when Jags’ fans wanted Tim Tebow to play for his hometown team? Yeah, well, now there’s sentiment for Florida State back Dalvin Cook to wear the black and teal.

5. Tennessee Titans

The pick: LSU S Jamal Adams (Jason Wolf, The Tennesseean)

Titans’ needs: Wide receiver, cornerback, inside linebacker.

Insider knowledge: The Titans want to give Marcus Mariota a game-changing receiver, but failed to land Brandin Cooks in a trade and didn’t sign a wideout in free agency. Wolf thinks the Titans will take a receiver in the first round – at 18, not at 5. “I think one of those receivers would be a reach at five,” Wolf said. “I think you’ve got to go best available at five and Jamal Adams might be the guy.”

People’s choice: Ross’ 4.22-second clocking in the 40 caught everyone’s attention, particularly in Nashville because it broke the combine record of former Titans RB Chris Johnson. Tennessee fans have visions of Ross stretching defenses and helping Mariota take his game to the next level.

6. New York Jets

The pick: Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore (Kimberley Martin, Newsday)

Jets’ needs: Cornerback, quarterback, safety, running back.

Insider knowledge: It’s a reboot in Todd Bowles’ third season. quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerback Darrelle Revis are gone. Josh McCown is the presumptive starter at QB, although one-year UNC starter Mitchell Trubisky has a private workout scheduled. Drafting Fournette as the eventual successor to 31-year-old Matt Forte also makes some sense. But Martin believes the Jets will take Lattimore to pair with recently acquired Morris Claiborne. “(Lattimore) is arguably the top corner,” Martin said. “I think if you’re the Jets and he’s there I think it would be hard to pass up given how bad their secondary has been.”

People’s choice: Forget this year’s class of quarterbacks. Because they’re Jets’ fans, they’re already dreaming of USC’s Sam Darnold, with the New York Daily News wondering if the team should tank in a “Suck for Sam” campaign.

7. Los Angeles Chargers

The pick: Michigan S Jabrill Peppers (Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times)

Chargers needs: Offensive line, safety.

Insider knowledge: The Chargers aren’t going to hire a new coach (Anthony Lynn), move to a new market and draft a player in the first round who needs seasoning. They saw how well that went over last season with the Rams’ Jared Goff. With that in mind, Woike says Peppers is a player who can make a splash right away on special teams and on Gus Bradley’s defense. “He’s a playmaker in the defensive backfield. I think that’s important for them,” Woike said. “And he’s just a football player.”

People’s choice: This one stumped Woike, who’s covering a team that’s still working out of offices with “San Diego Chargers” on the facade and hasn’t yet been embraced by the denizens of L.A. (Have the Rams?) As long as they steer clear of anyone remotely resembling Ryan Leaf, consider it a good start.

8. Carolina Panthers

The pick: LSU RB Leonard Fournette (Joseph Person, Charlotte Observer)

Panthers’ needs: Edge rusher, offensive tackle, running back, safety, slot receiver.

Insider knowledge: With Kony Ealy gone and Charles Johnson recovering from back surgery, Gettleman will look hard for a pass rusher. But there’s a drop-off at that position after Garrett and Thomas. ... This type of board almost begs for the Panthers to take Fournette, the 240-pound man-child who’s as fast as Cook without the baggage. Lots of folks in the Carolinas are jumping on the Howard bandwagon, but I haven’t yet gotten the sense the Panthers’ decision-makers are locked in on the Alabama tight end. For my money, David Njoku, the 20-year-old tight end from Miami, has more upside than Howard and projects as a bigger matchup problem for linebackers and safeties.

People’s choice: It doesn’t seems like there’s a clear-cut choice among Panthers’ fans. Howard seems to be the flavor du jour, but Fournette has his backers as well.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

Former LSU running back Leonard Fournette speaks Thursday on his weight, his projected 40 speed, and when he knew he could play in the NFL.