The NFL Draft is a few months away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate who we think (or hope) the Panthers will draft when it’s time to make their selections. I’ve decided to join in on the fun this year and — against my better judgment — do a series of mock drafts to hopefully foster discussion about the Panthers’ needs and how they should address them.
For the time being, I’m using Pro Football Network’s mock draft simulator, and I’m rejecting all trade offers. (Full disclosure: None of the trades offered to me in this run were worth considering even if I wanted to.) I approached this from a perspective of a) what I think the Panthers should do, and b) what I would do if the decisions were up to me.
With that being said, here’s my first mock draft of the offseason...
2021 NFL mock draft 1.0
Round 1 (No. 8 overall): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
It’s no secret the Panthers need to address the quarterback position this offseason. They tried to address the position last offseason by giving Teddy Bridgwater a three-year, $63 million contract, but that has turned out to be the equivalent to putting a Band-Aid on a shark bite. The Panthers still have Bridgewater on the books in 2021 for $23 million, but they can still take a quarterback like Lance at No. 8 and let him sit for a year before throwing him into the fire.
Lance is a boom-or-bust prospect with tremendous talent, and he could end up being one of the elite quarterbacks in the league if everything goes well. The Panthers can increase his chances of being ‘the answer’ by giving him a year to adjust to the NFL behind Bridgewater and giving him some limited snaps in certain scenarios, somewhat like the Ravens did for Lamar Jackson during his rookie year when they still had Joe Flacco.
I should also note that in my simulation Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields were all taken before it was my turn to pick. If I could pick the guy I wanted, I would have taken Wilson because I believe he has the chance to be the best quarterback of this draft class.
Round 2 (No. 39 overall): Alex Leatherwood, LT, Alabama
Other than quarterback, the Panthers’ biggest need this offseason is a quality left tackle. Leatherwood is arguably the No. 2 left tackle prospect in this draft behind Penei Sewell, and getting him in the second round is a bona fide steal for the Panthers. This was a no-brainer pick for me to make, to be completely honest with you.
I don’t think Leatherwood will be available at No. 39 in the actual draft unless we learn that he hates puppies or thinks pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza, but it’s fun to think about him anchoring the left side of the line and protecting our franchise quarterback for the next decade.
Round 3 (No. 73 overall): Deonte Brown, G, Alabama
The Panthers also need interior offensive linemen, and getting one from Alabama — which is one of the few ‘offensive line factories’ in the nation — is a good idea. Brown is a massive human being (6-4, 350) and has experience playing both left and right guard, so he would fit in well with the Panthers, who could use versatility on their offensive line.
Round 4 (No. 105 overall): Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
The Panthers also need some depth at linebacker, and the fourth round is a good place to find it since it’s not their biggest need. Cox transferred to LSU in 2020 after playing three seasons at North Dakota State, and he racked up 34 tackles, five tackles for loss and one sack in six games for the Tigers. In his three years at North Dakota State, he totaled 258 tackles, 37 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. He was one of the team leaders for the Bison in his three years there and helped the team win three straight FCS championships.
Round 5 (No. 136 overall): Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
Yes, I picked a former Gamecock. It’s my mock draft, so I’m allowed to do that. With that being said, the Panthers will likely need to replace Curtis Samuel after he leaves in free agency, and Shi Smith is a solid replacement in the fifth round. He totaled 174 receptions for 2,204 yards and 13 touchdowns in his four years with the Gamecocks, all while being part of a team coached by Will Muschamp. Considering Muschamp is philosophically against scoring touchdowns (or points, for that matter), Smith’s numbers are pretty impressive. Smith lacks size (5-10, 190), but he could fit right in as a slot receiver for Joe Brady’s offense.
Round 6 (No. 170 overall) Trey Hill, C, Georgia
The Panthers need to prepare for a future without Matt Paradis at center, and grabbing a potential replacement in the sixth round is probably a good idea. I went with Trey Hill here because he was the highest ranked center left on the board. I’m not sure if he will be available in the sixth round (Walter Football has him as the No. 2 ranked center with a first or second round projection), but he was in my simulation so I took him. If he’s still on the board in the third round of the actual draft, the Panthers could take him instead of a guard and still address a need on the roster.
There are some inconsistencies in which picks the Panthers have depending on which source you use. According to Tankathon, the Panthers hold picks 104, 135 and 169 instead of picks 105, 136 and 170. I don’t know which one is correct and the official draft order won’t be released until the playoffs are over, so I went with the picks given to me in the PFN simulator.
Also, the Panthers only have six draft picks unless they make trades. They don’t have a seventh round pick because they traded it to the Bills in exchange for offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse in 2018.
What do you think, Panthers fans? Does this mock seem like a good idea to you? Why or why not? Let’s hear your thoughts!