Carolina Panthers

NFL draft expert Mel Kiper has an offensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers selected wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of last year’s draft, choosing to address their left tackle position in-house rather than reach for a second-tier prospect late in the first round.

It’s hard to argue with what Benjamin did during his standout rookie season, but the Byron Bell experiment at left tackle was less successful.

A year later, the Panthers again are picking late and still have a need at the position after an inconsistent season by Bell.

If general manager Dave Gettleman decides he wants to select a tackle with the 25th overall pick, longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has just the guy for him – Stanford’s Andrus Peat.

Being the son of a former NFL offensive lineman with Peat’s size (6-foot-7, 316 pounds), should put him among the top tackles in the draft. But after an inconsistent junior season, his stock has slipped a bit.

And while he could climb back up draft boards with strong showings at the combine and at his pro day, Kiper at this point views him as a good, value pick for the Panthers near the end of the first round.

“He had an inconsistent, up-and-down year. But he looked to be a top-5, top-10 pick when the season began,” Kiper said Wednesday during a conference call.

“He’s coming out early. With another year, if he could have rounded it off and become more consistent, he’d be a high pick,” Kiper added. “You get him at (pick) 25 and coach him up a bit, Andrus Peat’s got a lot of talent coming out of Stanford. So maybe (the Panthers) do that.”

Peat is the son of former Cardinals and Raiders offensive lineman Todd Peat and is said to be a serious student of the game. And while Kiper said Andrus Peat’s pass protection was fairly solid in 2014, some draft experts thought he made a mistake by forgoing his senior season.

Kiper has three tackles going before him in his first mock draft – Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings and Miami’s Ereck Flowers.

Kiper said Flowers – “if he dropped down that far” – and LSU’s La’el Collins also could be around when the Panthers pick. Some teams view Collins, who is at the Senior Bowl this week, as a guard at the next level, according to Kiper.

The offensive tackles available this year’s do not appear to be nearly as top-heavy as last year, when three tackles were among the first 11 picks, including two (St. Louis’ Greg Robinson and Atlanta’s Jake Matthews) in the top six.

That said, there might not be enough depth at the position to warrant taking a tackle in the first round. Gettleman last week said it looks like this draft will feature a lot of good, pass-rushing defensive ends, a position where the Panthers figure to have a major need with the expected departure of Greg Hardy.

Kiper – whose first mock draft was published 31/2 months before the April 30-May 2 draft – echoed Gettleman’s thoughts about the available edge rushers.

“If you want a pass rusher, there’s going to be plenty of them there,” Kiper said.

Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Missouri’s Shane Ray are considered the top pass rushers in the draft, although Kiper said Kentucky’s Bud Dupree could be a fit for the Panthers at 25.

Dupree (6-4, 264 pounds) is a little undersized, and some scouts see him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. But Kiper expects Dupree to have a strong showing at the combine.

Kiper mentioned Utah’s Nate Orchard, Arkansas’ Trey Flowers and Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin as three other pass rushers to keep an eye on.

“That’s probably the strongest position in this draft, those combo guys that can get after the quarterback,” Kiper said. “If you want those types of players, they’re out there in high numbers this season.”

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