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. 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 second mock draft of the offseason...
2021 NFL mock draft 2.0
Round 1 (No. 8 overall): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
I’m making the same pick again for the same reason, so I’m just going to copy and paste what I wrote last week.
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): Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
The one thing that most everyone can agree on is that the Panthers’ biggest needs are quarterback and offensive line. This week, left tackle Alex Leatherwood — who I picked here in my last draft — was already gone, so I went with Davis because unless they bring Taylor Moton back, the Panthers need depth and/or starters at every position on the offensive line except for center (and to be honest, the Panthers could part ways with Matt Paradis this offseason and save either $4.9 million or $8.5 million against the 2021 cap, depending on whether they released him before or after June 1). The cupboard is bare, and the Panthers can use the draft to fill it like they did with defense last year.
Davis is the No. 3 ranked guard according to WalterFootball, and at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds he provides a massive roadblock for opposing defenders.
1/9/21: Davis has been a bull in the ground game this season, but he also allowed sacks in each of the first two games of the season. His pass protection needs improvement. He can react late to blitzes and games up front while also having some issues with speed rushers. However, he has a good skill set and upside to get better. If Davis gets good NFL coaching, he could be an excellent pro guard.
Round 3 (No. 73 overall): Deonte Brown, G, Alabama
This is another pick from my previous mock draft, so again I’ll copy and paste what I wrote last week.
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. 106 overall): Brady Christensen, OT, BYU
Our resident BYU homer MickSmiley has said he’d like for the Panthers to draft Christensen this year, and he was available in the fourth round so I decided to take him. (You’re welcome, Mick.)
As a BYU alum I’ve watched left tackle Brady Christensen keep Zach Wilson clean for the last three seasons. In Christensen’s 2019 redshirt sophomore season Pro Football Focus graded him as the 12th best offensive lineman in the country. As a junior in 2020 he earned Consensus All-American honors and PFF graded him as the No. 8 player in the entire country, regardless of position. Walter Football projects him going in Rounds 3-5 where he could be a steal for the Panthers.
While PFF ranks him at No. 12, he’s ranked a bit lower by WalterFooball, who has him listed at No. 21 among offensive tackles. I think it’s fair to say WalterFootball has him ranked so low because he didn’t really compete against the best of the best in college football, as noted below:
1/9/21: Christensen played well in 2020. He was a good pass protector for Zach Wilson and a contributor in the ground game, but Christensen also was not tested by elite defensive linemen.
There’s certainly some debate on who’s right and who’s wrong, but it’s also a fourth round pick for a position of clear need for the Panthers, and in my simulation there weren’t any other options that could be considered a better choice. I think the Panthers have a coaching staff capable of getting the best out of players’ raw talents, so to me it doesn’t hurt to throw as many darts at the offensive line as we can to see how many stick.
Round 5 (No. 137 overall): Caden Sterns, S, Texas
The Panthers need depth at safety and there was a good value pick in the fifth round for them in Sterns. WalterFootball ranks him as the No. 8 safety in the draft and projects him to be drafted between the second and fourth rounds, so if he’s still on the board at No. 137 overall the Panthers should at least consider him a viable option.
Sterns is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, which is a good size for a safety. WalterFootball believes he needs to improve his pass coverage skills, and I think the Panthers have a coaching staff capable of helping him do that. He could be a special teams or practice squad player for the majority of his rookie season since the Panthers still have Juston Burris and Tre Boston on the roster for 2021, but then he could be inserted into the lineup in 2022 after a year of learning.
Round 6 (No. 171 overall): Tommy Doyle, OT, Miami (OH)
This is another ‘throwing darts at the board to see what sticks’ choice, but the Panthers need all the depth they can get on the offensive line so they should spend the majority of their draft capital there. Doyle is ranked No. 43 among offensive tackles by WalterFootball, and is projected to be drafted in the sixth-seventh rounds if he’s drafted at all.
8/29/20: Doyle looks like a potential right tackle competitor for the NFL. He is a tall edge blocker with length, but taking on faster speed rushers could be an issue for him. Impressing at an all-star game would help Doyle’s case to be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Regardless of whether or not the Panthers are able to keep Taylor Moton, they should invest in a potential right tackle to replace him. They can place the franchise tag on Moton to keep him in Carolina next season if they want to try and work out a long-term deal, or they can choose to simply let him walk (they really should not do this), but no matter what happens with Moton they’re going to need depth at the very minimum. Doyle probably won’t be the next All Pro tackle, but he could potentially give the Panthers something they desperately need: a capable, warm body at left or right tackle.
tl;dr - It’s a sixth round pick that’s not guaranteed to hit no matter who they take, so they may as well take an offensive tackle and see what happens.
As I mentioned last week, 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 106, 137 and 171. 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!