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The combine is now over, and it's time for the flurry of mock drafts to come pouring in, so why shouldn't I throw my hat into the ring? Here's a list of players I think the Panthers could be interested in on draft day.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm terrible at predicting the future, and for that reason I usually stay as far away from mock drafts as I possibly can. However, this year I'm in the mood to share my thoughts on who the Panthers might take in the draft, so I figured why not share them here with you?
Please note that I don't pretend to be a draft expert, and I'm not claiming to have an inside track on who may be picked by Carolina. These picks are simply my opinions. If you disagree, that's more than okay. In fact, if you disagree please share who you would pick instead in the comment thread. The exchange of ideas is kinda what this mock draft stuff is all about, right?
Anyway, here's my first super duper official mock draft.
(Note: I didn't put the number of each pick because a) I only know the first three because compensatory picks haven't been assigned yet, and b) it's easier for me to just do it by round. I also opted to avoid trades, because that makes this more complicated than it needs to be for my first mock.)
Xavier Rhodes, CB (Florida State)
Let's face it folks, Chris Gamble is as good as gone when the league year starts on March 12th. He's going to cost too much money against the salary cap, and the secondary still played well when he went on IR last season. I'm not saying he's not a good player anymore, but rather that he's a cap casualty and we just don't have the space available to retain him. The Panthers are going to look to pick up a replacement for Gamble in the draft, and why not pick up one of the best corners available with their first pick?
I went with Rhodes because I believe the other guys they want to target will already be gone, and I don't think they will be able to trade down. Rhodes is a good pick here, with CBS Sports listing him as the 14th overall player on the board. It just so happens that the Panthers have the #14 overall pick in the first round, so it's not a reach to take Rhodes here. He becomes an instant starter on the other side of either Dockery, Thomas, or Norman and gives the Panthers a good cover corner to solidify the back end of the defense.
Larry Warford, OG (Kentucky)
The Panthers need a Right Guard in the worst way. I thought about picking Chance Warmack in the first round, but then I decided to take a better value with Warford in the 2nd. We all know that guards don't get drafted in the top 15 very often, and this year probably won't be any different. I don't think Warmack will be available when the Panthers pick in the 2nd round, and Warford is listed as the 3rd best guard prospect by CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout. I avoided Cooper here for two reasons: 1) I think he will be gone by the time Carolina picks in the 2nd round, and 2) to stick it to all you UNC homers out there. (I'm only kidding about the second one, maybe.)
Warford is a massive chunk of humanity who could open holes in the run game for both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (assuming both are on the roster like Gettleman has said he wants), and his pass blocking is good enough to help keep Cam Newton upright long enough to complete passes downfield.
DJ Swearinger, FS (South Carolina)
I won't lie, if Swearinger played for any other school he wouldn't be in this mock. You should cut me some slack though, because at least I saved my homerism for a later round. Even though he was fortunate enough to play for the Gamecocks, Swearinger is a good pick in the 4th round because he is a hard hitting safety who can make an impact on special teams for his first year and then move over to Strong Safety in 2014 when Charles Godfrey is ultimately released before his cap figure escalates to $7.1M (due to a base salary increase to $5M).
The Panthers aren't going to want to pay him that much money and take up that much cap space, so finding his replacement now is a good idea, and there's no better replacement for Godfrey than Swearinger.
Kenny Stills, WR (Oklahoma)
This is probably the one pick that most of you are going to question (other than the homer pick). The Panthers need a WR to eventually replace Steve Smith when he hangs up the cleats, but they don't need to spend a first or second round pick on one this year. There are just too many needs to do that. With that being said, why not spend a 5th rounder on a guy who's projected to go in the 4th round if he's still on the board? (Obviously, I think he will be there in the 5th round.)
Stills is a 6'1", 194 lbs. receiver from Oklahoma who had decent production last season. In 13 games, he posted 82 catches for 959 yards and 11 TD's, so he knows how to find the end zone. According to CBS Sports, he has a tendency to round off his routes instead of making crisp breaks, but he also has a natural ability to make catches away from his body. He's probably a developmental guy, but the Panthers need to get receivers, and he appears to be one that could be coachable and could pay off huge dividends in 2014 and beyond.
Dustin Hopkins, K (Florida State)
The Panthers need to address the kicker position. It's something they haven't done since it was evident that John Kasay's days were numbered. They've brought in stop gap after stop gap, and it's time to draft the kicker of the future and be done with it. There are a few kickers who are worth drafting, and Hopkins is the best of the bunch. The other option here was Caleb Sturgis out of Florida, but I feel that Hopkins has a better leg and is less likely to have his kicks blocked than Sturgis.
There's really nothing more to say about Hopkins. He's a kicker, after all. We don't know yet if the Panthers will get any compensatory picks, but if they do they will probably get at least one in the 6th round, and that's probably the one they would use on a kicker. They used their 6th round comp pick on a punter last year, and it looks to me like they found a future Hall of Famer with that draft pick, so it's possible that lightning could strike twice for them.
Well, that's it for the first edition of Mocking B-Dub Style. Stay tuned for future episodes as we make our way to the NFL Draft in April. Like I said at the beginning, if you have any alternative choices, please feel free to mention them in the comment thread, because that's what this mock draft stuff is all about.
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