We’re one step closer to the NFL Draft as practices at the Senior Bowl come to a close. Of course, these events in Mobile, Ala. are just one week of a nearly four-month pre-draft process but several NFL hopefuls raised their profile over the past few days, including several who could interest the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina met with several prospects throughout the week and based on team needs, here are the top five participants in Saturday’s Senior Bowl (2:30 p.m., NFL Network) who could be Panthers targets come April’s draft:
1. Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State
Sweat may have played himself out of the Panthers’ grasp this week, but if he falls to No. 16, it’ll be hard to pass on him. He turned heads at Tuesday’s weigh-in, coming in at 6-6, 252 pounds with 35 5/8-inch arms and 9 7/8 inch hands — dream measurements for an edge rusher. His length, strength and his speed around the edge should make him a top-10 pick, but he should be the top-ranked edge rusher on the Panthers’ board, as far as players potentially within their range.
2. Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware
Adderley presents another interesting conundrum for the Panthers. His play this week was inspiring but it may have moved him into the first round — where Carolina can’t afford to pick a defensive back with more glaring needs on its roster. That said, Adderley’s ball skills were apparent, he was great during his interviews and he’s versatile enough to rotate to nickel corner if necessary. The Panthers have bigger needs at No. 16, but he met with the Panthers and depending how the board plays out, Adderley could be a steal if he falls to the second round.
3. Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State
Gardner Minshew’s blind-side protector gained traction this week with his pass protection skills, notably going toe-to-toe with Sweat on multiple occasions. Dillard probably isn’t quite ready to anchor an offensive line — but that may work out in the Panthers’ favor given Ron Rivera’s reluctance to start rookie offensive linemen. His ability to shield the quarterback with his wide frame is a plus, and he’s a realistic option in the first round if he continues to rise over the next few months.
4. Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State
Drafting a wide receiver would be a luxury for the Panthers but Hart may be too versatile to pass up later on in the draft. He’s only 5-foot-8 but weighs a sturdy 185 pounds and can be an asset as a punt and kick returner. As a receiver, Hart creates separation at will; given his ability to change speeds quickly, he could be a nightmare in the slot. Again, Hart would be a luxury pick, but the Panthers should treat themselves if they’re able to hit on a few of their other needs first.
5. Nate Davis, OG, Charlotte
Davis wouldn’t have to move very far if the Panthers come calling. In fact, the biggest move he’ll make if Carolina drafts him is from the right side of the line — where he played for the 49ers and where Trai Turner has currently turned in four Pro Bowl seasons — to the left, where he has played during Senior Bowl practices. At least one member of the Oakland Raiders coaching staff, which coached Davis throughout the week, believes Davis is versatile and talented enough to have a productive pro career and he held his own against big-conference players. Don’t be surprised if he trades in his Green and White for Blue and Black.