Who Panthers should pick in this year’s draft according to Panthers beat reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue
The 2019 NFL draft is now just hours away, and naturally you’re aching with curiosity about Carolina Panthers team needs, possible targets, decision-making and more.
You had questions — a lot of them — and I tried to get to the most pressing among them.
Let’s do this.
Question from @dougdrew: With the first pick, do they go (offensive tackle) to protect Cam Newton, or (defensive end) to pressure the quarterback?
Answer: To put it as simply as possible, these two positions represent the Panthers’ biggest needs. Interestingly enough, they stand to be in a great spot to fill either, or even both, if they play the board right, based on the depth of both position groups in this year’s draft.
General manager Marty Hurney likes to say that positions often get picked in bunches — meaning multiple teams go on “runs” at one position in their eagerness (maybe panic) to select the best players of those groups. Hurney might not necessarily agree with that strategy, preferring at times to avoid the scrum and exercise patience — in this case, knowing that he has a target whichever way the board falls.
Let’s say there’s a run on offensive linemen within the first 10-12 picks. That leaves the Panthers room to draft one of the three to four defensive linemen at the top of their board, simply because of how the numbers fall. The same could happen with a run on defensive linemen, leaving more flexibility to find a top offensive lineman.
And there are enough talented players at both positions to select another impact offensive or defensive lineman at pick No. 47.
In the case of either position, the players must have these qualities: experience against pro-caliber players in college, versatility and the football knowledge to adjust, assimilate to the NFL and handle a heavy workload. Any player picked at No. 16 will start immediately, and must fill a key role.
Question from @4ourmanrush, and several others: With (news of Montez Sweat’s heart condition likely causing him to slip), any information on whether the Panthers are one of the teams concerned about his medicals?
Answer: I can’t confirm whether Sweat is still on the Panthers’ board due to what has been reported as an “enlarged heart.” But I will say that the Panthers have a recent history of sticking with a player they believe in, despite a heart condition, and making sure he is set up for success on their roster.
When the Panthers discovered 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel’s irregular heartbeat last preseason and he had surgery, the team was careful in getting him back onto the field and back into shape. This fall, the team has high hopes for Samuel’s production and wants to put him in a position to succeed. There’s no reason to think they wouldn’t exercise similar caution with Sweat — if he’s still on their draft board, that is.
Question from @bkarbley_18: Chances of a trade up or down?
Answer: If there’s a run on a position that’s not a pressing need before the Panthers pick, and five or six players who are at the top of Carolina’s draft board are still there as their pick is close to approaching, I can absolutely see Hurney trading down, stockpiling picks and filling many roster holes.
What’s harder for me to imagine is Hurney trading up. He has approached the past two offseasons — in both free agency and the draft — patiently and logically. Giving away draft capital to trade up, therefore leaving glaring holes on the roster, does not seem consistent with either of those qualities.
In 2017, head coach Ron Rivera was nervous that top target Donte Jackson, currently a Panthers starting cornerback, would be selected ahead of the team’s 55th overall pick, especially with cornerback such a huge need that year. A conversation about trading up was had. But Hurney stood pat, and the board fell to him. Now Jackson has become one of the most important additions to the Panthers roster in recent years.
Question from @BeamanDJ: In past years, you’ve given a few names and said, “The pick will be one of these three guys...” or something to that effect. Who’s on that list this year?
Answer: I think the Panthers’ pick will either be Florida State defensive end Brian Burns, Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford, or Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
A surprise pick: Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. He’s a great fit as Carolina becomes more multiple because he’s versatile, he’s strong and explosive, and could plug in where needed. He becomes a stellar pick especially if Hurney decides to not pick up defensive tackle Vernon Butler’s fifth-year option (the team has until May 3 to do so).
Question from @Mrabb010: Carolina has had repeated injuries at right and left tackle over the past few seasons. Would Hurney risk passing on a pro-ready tackle like (Jawann Taylor) or (Jonah Williams) if they were still available even if they ultimately backed up Taylor Moton and Daryl Williams during the season?
Answer: If they selected Taylor, I’d think the move would be to play the more experienced Taylor Moton at left tackle and slide Daryl Williams to left guard. Taylor seems like more of a natural right tackle, and I’m not sure a team would want to risk fiddling with that with a rookie they’d want starting immediately.
If Jonah Williams is the pick, I’d think he could slot in immediately at left tackle, with Moton at right tackle and Daryl Williams again at left guard. In case Daryl Williams doesn’t work out at left guard or has health issues, the reserves would be Greg Van Roten or Tyler Larsen.
But Daryl Williams and Moton are both natural right tackles. And to be honest, if Jonah Williams and another natural left tackle, Andre Dillard, are off the board, I believe it becomes more of a risk to add a third natural right tackle to the roster via the draft instead of a more versatile interior lineman like Ford. If a starting-caliber natural left tackle is unavailable, Moton becomes the best option — even though he might be more comfortable on the right.
Question from @Andy_Redd: Who is a player who you could see the Panthers taking a late-round flyer on (similar to former starting cornerback and fifth-round pick Josh Norman)?
Answer: North Carolina State linebacker/defensive end Germaine Pratt strikes me as a prospect who will one day be a heck of a football player, if he gets the chance to develop in a good system.
Question from @coldtakejim: Will (the Panthers) finally draft a Clemson player?
Answer: I’ll just say this — I think Hurney is as aware of Clemson’s talent in this year’s draft class as anyone. He attended multiple games over the past couple of years, and has made several visits otherwise. It would not surprise me at all if Carolina snagged Wilkins or defensive end Clelin Ferrell in the first round.
But it might also be about picking the right guy at the right time as need and “best player available” match up on their board. The defensive linemen draw the big billing, but don’t forget about cornerback Mark Fields in later rounds — he could be a great fit for the Panthers as they search for a new nickel corner. He adds speed to the secondary and has a storied family history in Carolina, too.
Question from @carteer716: Chance of a second-round quarterback?
Answer: As mentioned a couple of times above, I think Hurney’s approach to this draft, much like free agency and last year’s draft, will be about logic and patience. And so far through the first phase of voluntary spring workouts, the team doesn’t have any reason to think Newton won’t be healthy and fired up by Week 1.
If we approach the idea of drafting a quarterback from that perspective, it seems to make more sense that the Panthers wait until the fourth or fifth round to find a quarterback to compete with current backups Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke. That player would need good NFL coaching to hammer out some issues, but would also have the physical tools and good upside. A quarterback like Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham — who is potentially low-risk, high-reward — fills that category, and would be available in the fourth, fifth or sixth rounds.
Hurney and Rivera have to win in 2019. In my mind, missing on a second-round player who fills a need and could start immediately in order to pick a player who likely won’t even see the field this fall is a mistake.
Round 1: 8 p.m., Thursday (ABC, ESPN, NFLN)
Rounds 2-3: 7 p.m., Friday (ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, NFLN)
Rounds 4-7: Noon, Saturday (ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, NFLN)
Panthers Picks: Round 1 - 16th; round 2 - 47th; round 3 - 77th and 100th; round 4 - 115th; round 5 - 154th; round 6 - 187th.