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Panthers mock draft: What if Carolina goes OL in round one, QB later?

Panthers discuss possibly drafting a QB

Carolina Panthers General Manager Marty Hurney and Head Coach Ron Rivera discuss possibly drafting a backup quarterback, as well as the off-season progress of starting quarterback Cam Newton.
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Carolina Panthers General Manager Marty Hurney and Head Coach Ron Rivera discuss possibly drafting a backup quarterback, as well as the off-season progress of starting quarterback Cam Newton.

The 2019 NFL draft begins Thursday, and as it edges closer, the Carolina Panthers are more focused than ever on their selection targets — especially after they used 29 of their 30-allotted “official” pre-draft visits before the period ended this week.

The Panthers’ top two needs remain simple, head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney reiterated during their press conference this week: Get more protection for quarterback Cam Newton up front; and revive their pass-rush.

With my first of two mock drafts at the beginning of April, I addressed the possibility of the Panthers selecting an edge-rusher in the first round.

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Perhaps this happens because they feel it best matches biggest need with best available player, or perhaps because an early run on offensive linemen forces them to pivot to defensive end.

Or, maybe it’s the opposite. And maybe, they select an offensive linemen with the No. 16 pick.

Heck, maybe they also take a quarterback a few picks later.

If that’s the case, how would the rest of the draft shake out?

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Round 1, pick No. 16: Cody Ford, OL, Oklahoma

Ford is a versatile, pro-ready “mauler” type of offensive lineman who could immediately help the Panthers solidify their line. If the team wants to play third-year tackle Taylor Moton on the left, slide tackle Daryl Williams in at left guard and play Ford at right tackle, they could. Or, they could put Williams at his more natural right tackle position and play Ford at left guard. Ford’s ability allows Carolina the flexibility to move him until they find the best combination.

Ford was also one of the Panthers’ final “top 30” visits in Charlotte on Tuesday, a league source told the Observer.

There is a high risk involved in taking an offensive lineman in the first round — remember, former Panthers left tackle Matt Kalil was once a first-round pick — but Ford is consistent and seems to have a high ceiling if matched with good coaching.

Round 2, pick No. 47: Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan

Winovich is explosive as a pass-rusher and steady against the run. The Panthers need a defensive end who can be consistently impactful from the start, and Winovich could fill that role in rotation with veteran defensive end Bruce Irvin.

Winovich earned third-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors in his final season at Michigan, after racking up 69 tackles with 17 for loss and five sacks.

Round 3, pick No. 77: Darnell Savage, S, Maryland

Head coach Ron Rivera said a few players currently on the Panthers’ roster will have a shot at the free safety job opposite safety Eric Reid this fall.

But I’d wager safety is still a strong position of need, and Savage fits the mold of a player who could complement Reid well. He’s fast — he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine — and covers well, with impressive on-ball ability.

Savage was reportedly one of the Panthers’ “top 30” visits, and it’s likely the team has evaluated how high they might have to jump to select him — he might not last to pick No. 77.

Round 3, pick No. 100: Christian Miller, OLB/DE, Alabama

Miller is a fascinating study for draft analysts this spring, because he has the mark of a player who could be hugely successful with a streak of good health and some coaching.

The former Alabama defensive end can slide into an outside linebacker role if needed, which fits well with the Panthers’ efforts to be more multiple — mixing three-and-four-man fronts — in 2019. Miller played a more situational role in 2018, battling a hamstring injury near the end of the season and torn biceps in 2017. But his ability and football I.Q. are extremely impressive, even in relatively limited snaps.

Miller worked out for the Panthers this week, according to NFL reporter Aaron Wilson.

Because the Panthers signed three former Alliance of American Football offensive linemen earlier this month, they might consider that a pre-draft “draft” of sorts for developmental depth up front — which means they have more freedom to stack the deck on defensive linemen in this draft.

Watch this Panthers draft preview with Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue sharing what the team needs and who to watch for.

Round 4, pick No. 115: Renell Wren, DT, Arizona State OR David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

Wren could back up multiple defensive line positions as he continues to develop, and be the heir to key rotational defensive tackle, Kyle Love, who re-signed with the Panthers to a one-year deal this week. A league source told the Observer in January that the Panthers had been interested in Wren for some time.

Montgomery (5-foot-10, 222 pounds) is not one of the faster backs in this class — he ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine — but he’s very durable, and was used often in the passing game at Iowa State. He could be a steady complement to starter Christian McCaffrey.

Round 5, pick No. 154: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

Rivera let something interesting slip this week during his press conference with Hurney: As the Panthers look for the ideal backup to Newton, they’d like to have a guy who can model after Newton’s skill set — though they’re not married to that concept.

That makes me think of Stidham, who the Panthers flew in for a top 30 visit, according to NFL Network, and who can be mobile when needed . If they draft him, they have both a non-mobile guy on the roster in Kyle Allen (who they like), and Stidham competing for the backup job in 2019. That gives the team options.

Stidham has accuracy issues and can be inconsistent. But Rivera and Hurney are specifically looking for a backup quarterback to develop. So if they draft Stidham they obviously think quarterbacks coach Scott Turner can help fix any problems.

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Round 6, pick No. 187: Clifton Duck, CB, Appalachian State

Duck reminds me a lot of former longtime Panthers nickel, Captain Munnerlyn, because he’s scrappy and tenacious with a huge personality despite a relatively diminutive frame.

And as timing would have it, the Panthers cut Munnerlyn in the spring and are looking for a player to elbow his way into the starting role at nickel. Carolina needs a speedy and versatile player in the position, and Duck could be that guy. He also has proven his ability to make plays on the ball, with 12 picks and 19 pass breakups in three years.

Duck attended Carolina’s regional pro day this month.

The Panthers do not currently have a seventh-round pick (it was included in a 2017 trade with Buffalo for cornerback Kevon Seymour). But it’s not out of the question that they trade back at some point to acquire a couple of sixth- and seventh-round picks.

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Jourdan has covered the Carolina Panthers as a beat writer since 2016, and froze during Pennsylvania winters as an award-winning Penn State football beat writer before that. A 2014 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, she’s on a never-ending quest for trick plays and the stories that give football fans goosebumps.

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