Only two years — whoops, I mean weeks — until the 2019 NFL draft, and there’s still a lot of brain space to fill.
That means it’s easy to over-analyze and over-complicate team needs and targets, and projections for the Carolina Panthers are no exception.
With options at defensive end and offensive lineman conversationally exhausted, the popular topic lately on social media revolves around adding a wide receiver — do they? how early or late? — which was also addressed in a couple of recent mock drafts.
And what about quarterback? My own mock draft (the first of two, stay tuned) did not predict the Panthers selecting a backup to Cam Newton. Of course, I could be wrong — and I’ll get to that in a moment.
The important thing as we get closer to April 25, however, is to avoid being stricken with “paralysis by over-analysis,” to coin a phrase from NFL super-agent Mike McCartney.
That tactic is how general manager Marty Hurney will approach the Panthers’ draft. As should we, especially as we examine some of the latest mock drafts:
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports, 3-round mock draft: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson/Darnell Savage, S, Maryland/Michael Deiter, OL, Wisconsin/Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame
What Wilson thinks: “Savage, who can play deep centerfield or line up in the slot, is an athletic freak who uses his speed to explode downhill in the run game and to cover a lot of ground on the back end ... Deiter can play tackle, guard or center, and that versatility will prove beneficial in Carolina...(Boykin) doesn’t play as fast as he timed but in the right system (he) can grow into a consistent deep threat.”
What I think: It’s extremely hard to argue with the picks in Wilson’s mock draft, particularly Ferrell, Savage and Deiter. But where Wilson predicts a wide receiver, I think the Panthers will load up depth at defensive tackle or even draft a backup quarterback — perhaps with receiver depth coming later.
Boykin could be a great talent, and his size makes some sense after Carolina lost Devin Funchess in free agency. But the Panthers seem to be all in on third-year receiver Curtis Samuel’s development — and had no problem moving to a smaller, faster corps of receivers when Funchess missed games with a back injury and as a healthy scratch.
Samuel needs to get a full year of work in (he missed at least three games in each of his first two seasons with health/injury problems). Bringing in Boykin as a “deep threat” like Wilson describes could lessen the opportunities for Samuel, especially with veteran Torrey Smith already on the roster. In year three, it’s time for coaches to really see what Samuel can do.
Dane Brugler, The Athletic 7-round mock draft: Brian Burns, DE, Florida State/Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State/Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State/Dru Samia, G, Oklahoma/Vosean Joseph, LB, Florida/Malik Gant, S, Marshall/Trey Pipkins, OT, University of Sioux Falls
What Brugler thinks: “The Panthers will be sitting on the edge of their seats as the first 15 picks play out, hoping that Burns falls to them here. With Julius Peppers retired, the baton can be passed to a young, athletic rusher filled with potential like the former Seminole.”
What I think: I love the Burns pick — that is who I also projected to the Panthers at No. 16 in my mock draft last week. In fact, I like most of Brugler’s selections, particularly Gant (one of my favorite prospects overall) and Sanders, whom I think is underrated.
But picking a receiver in the second round? This would be a mistake, though I can understand the logic. The Panthers lost Funchess, and Butler could be a big-bodied target with similar build-up speed to Funchess, and could win contested catches.
But simply put, the Panthers have too many defensive needs and depth holes on the offensive line to not spend early draft picks on players who can immediately impact those positions.
There’s a “get more help for Newton” argument floating around that is reasonable, considering the low premium the Panthers had historically put on the receiver position prior to 2017. But then they drafted a running back/receiver in Christian McCaffrey at No. 8 overall along with Samuel in the second round. They followed that up in 2018 by picking receiver D.J. Moore at No. 24 overall and tight end Ian Thomas at No. 101.
So now, the Panthers have McCaffrey — a player defenses have not quite been able to solve. They have arguably the best rookie receiver of 2018 (and best yards-after-the-catch receiver in the NFL) in Moore. They have Samuel, who has only scratched the surface of his potential. They are getting back tight end Greg Olsen. They have a consistent and productive third-down presence in Jarius Wright, and they have Thomas, who they’d like to see become a red zone threat in 2019. If these players continue the progress they made in 2018, the Panthers have all of the right pieces — and they complement each other and Newton.
The best thing Carolina can do now for Newton in the early rounds is get him some dang protection.
Lance Zierlein, NFL.com mock draft: Jonah Williams, G/OT, Alabama
What Zierlein thinks: “There isn’t much buzz about Williams these days, but he’s an intelligent, accomplished lineman who can play either tackle spot, guard or even center. Carolina might ask him to handle the rigors of left tackle right out of the box.”
What I think: If Williams falls to No. 16, he’s a no-brainer for the Panthers. Williams would fall right in the middle of the “biggest need/best player available” Venn-diagram and could play any position the team needs on the line. The Panthers could then go after an edge-rusher in the second or third round, like Michigan’s Chase Winovich or Alabama’s Christian Miller.
Rodrigue full Panthers mock draft 1.0: Burns/Chris Lindstrom, OL Boston College/Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia/Tytus Howard, OT, Alabama State OR Renell Wren, DT, Arizona State/David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State/Mark Fields, CB, Clemson/Cameron Smith, LB, USC
Where I might be wrong: I think there’s a good chance the Panthers draft a backup quarterback this year, but he has to fall at the right pick point. This would be anywhere from the third-round compensatory pick to the sixth round.
Remember, Carolina really likes what Kyle Allen showed them late last year — and he was an undrafted free agent who wasn’t even on the roster for most of the season. A solid backup for Newton is a need for the team in 2019, but they aren’t going to reach on somebody if they can’t see him sticking around as a system backup, especially if the “right guy” at another position is available.
I still believe that the compensatory pick (100) is a great time to find rising depth on the offensive and defensive lines — guys who show a positive trajectory but didn’t reach their potential in college, and could really shine with NFL coaching. But I’m probably low-balling Howard here. He’s drawing a lot of chatter behind the scenes, and has 22 team visits scheduled this month.
I also may be wrong in my safety projection here. Thornhill is a great talent who might not fall to the third round — but I maintain that the first two picks should focus on the lines, with a sweet spot for a safety pick sometime in the third round.