The Combine brought some changes to draft boards, with the next (and probably most important) step being free agency. Actually the draft is just two months away, and the Panthers have already started showing interest in certain guys. That helps take a little guess work out of our random swings. Here's my next stab in the meantime, with an emphasis on building a solid team, and on throwing in some guys/positions we have already shown an interest in. Free-agency wise, I beleive we sign at least one mid to upper level wide receiver, and another older mid-level defensive back.
1.28: Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech 6-0, 190, 4.49
In my most recent NFL mock, Watkins (San Fran), Evans (Detriot), Lee (Pittsburg), Benjamin (NY Jets), Beckham, Jr (Kansas City), and Cooks (Cleveland) are all off the board, as well as Gilbert, Dennard, and Zack Martin. So what do you do?
Why take him?: Fuller isn't a bad option with what is left. As a read and react CB, he excels in what the Panthers ran last year. He's instinctive and has decent size for a DB (something that appeals to Gettleman and Rivera). Both should help his transistion to the NFL. Many times he beats the opposing WR to the spot, and would have a lot more INTs if he had better hands. Plus by running in the 4.4s at the combine, he answered some speed concerns. I like Jason Verrett too, but I'll give Fuller a slight edge right now due to Verrett's torn labrum issue.
Why would he still there then?: Sometimes he sits too much, allowing wideouts to run right by him. That's a potential issue against Julio Jones or Vincent Jackson. He comes across as a potentially solid CB, but not a superstar
2.60 : Brandon Thomas, OT Clemson, 6-3, 317, 1.78
Why take him?: Obviously we are in desperation mode for one, if not two offensive tackles. The team has already shown reported interest in the South Carolina native, who went 1st team ACC this year. Though it is not a consensus, I actually believe he can be a left tackle in the NFL. He's a captain and a senior with plenty of experience at LT. He moves really well for his size and can hit multiple levels. He had a pretty solid match-up against Jadeveon Clowney. His arms measured tackle length at the combine, and he ran very well. I also think he's a nastier run blocker than what he's given credit for. He had a great Senior Bowl, though Zach Martin seemed to get much more pub. At a minimum, I envision a career arc just as good as fellow SC Upstater Travelle Wharton.
Why would he still be there then?: After a great combine, Thomas is starting to move up in many mock drafts. If he's still here, it will be because teams still view him a a guard prospect, and not as a tackle. Mostly because he is built more like an NFL guard than a NFL tackle.
3.92 : Jared Abbrederis, WR Wisconsin, 6-1, 195, 4.50
Why take him?: Smitty is the only wideout currently under contract, and his status is still under evaluation update: it's a travesty!. I think that makes us a lock to pay a free agent WR, whether it's Golden Tate or Hakeem Nicks. Abbrederis brings precision-route running, experience, and toughness, all which translate well into the leauge. His coach said that Abbrederis was the one guy on the team he never had to worry about getting into trouble out at night. He married a young lady he met in his Bible study, and preferred to spend his evenings at home with her watching a movie. Reminds me a lot of Star in that regard.
Why he'll still be there then?: This is a super-deep WR class. Some with size, some with eye-popping athleticism. Abbrederis has neither so because of that, I believe he could at least last until the end of the 3rd round, similar to Stedman Bailey and Quinton Patton last year.
4th: Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota St., 6-5, 315, 1.75
Turner plays with a nastiness that has already drawn the Panthers attention. Reportedly he met with them at the combine. He's started for multiple years for an elite FCS program. Despite playing at a lower level, he has experience and played well against FBS competition. Though there's some talk of him being a guard, I believe he is long enough and moves well enough to eventually challenge for our starting right tackle spot. If he's still on the board here, it's because teams went with other players early, or don't view him as a tackle prospect.
5th: Arthur Lynch, TE Georgia 6-5, 254, 4.82
Gettleman has said that the team is in the market for a blocking TE. Hartsock is older, and struggled to stay on the field this year. Yet in our offense, the blocking TE is important in both run-blocking and pass protection. Lynch can do these things, and add some in the pass-catching department too. He has enough size/skill to be another option in the red-zone. Lynch has a strong leadership type of personality. He was active in pushing for better rights nationally for college atheletes. Perhaps that scares certain teams enough for him to make it to us.
We have shown interest in Justin Nellis, the NT from Louisana Tech. He could be a strong candidate if he's on the board here as well. I just went offense here instead, with hopes of getting another rotational nose tackle later.
6th: Dontae Johnson, CB/S NC State, 6-2, 200, 4.45
Johnson is another guy that is nearby, and really "upped" his stock at the combine. The senior has spent time at CB and safety. He has had solid performances matched up against both Micheal Camparano and Jordan Matthews. He brings size and experience that Gettlevera prefers in their rookie DBs. Maybe Gettleman likes the fact that he is a Jersey guy as well. Here I believe he is worth a depth pick to see how he could develop.
As a side note, I don't think Anotone Exum's injury makes him totally out of the question here. He had a microfracture on top of his ACL. Combine that with an ankle injury, and he only played in 3 games last year. He did not look healed at the combine, and he could slide even more depending on how he looks at VT's pro-day. If he makes it this far, he would be my auto-pick. Some other DBs I like here: Brock Vereen from Minnesota, Ty Zimmerman from Kansas St, and BJ Lowery from Iowa.
7th (from Giants) Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin 6-3, 333
A Wisconsin double-dip. With Cole as a free-agent, the Panthers have already shown interest in drafting a guy who can be a 0 or 1 tech NT. CJ, Hardy, Star, and Short all benifit with someone else doing the dirty work. Many times when Cole was in, we could move Star to the 3 tech and exploit mismatches. Allen is an Big 10 All Academic selection who has the ability to take on double-teams and stop the run. The experienced senior never missed a game his entire career. He had a decent Shrine Bowl too, recording a sack and a forced fumble. He's still left on the board here because the draft tends to under-value NTs (See Jesse Williams, John Jenkins, etc). Add him as potential depth and see if he develops any.
UDFA: Nickoe Whitley, S Missippi St., 6-0, 205
The senior tore some knee ligaments during the season, but wanted to tough it out and finish the season for his team. Probably would have been a 2nd to 3rd round pick other wise. He just had knee surgery at the end of last year. I believe the team would like the toughness he played with and the leadership he showed in college. He also has 15 career INTs. If he goes undrafted, hopefully we can convince him to sign with us, red-shirt for a year, and see what his potential could be.