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 for the first time, I’m making some trades. 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 third mock draft of the offseason...
2021 NFL mock draft 3.0
Round 1 (No. 8 overall): Trade with Jacksonville
Jaguars receive: 2021 No. 8 overall pick
Panthers receive: 2021 pick Nos. 25 & 33, plus 2022 second round pick
All four of the big quarterbacks were taken, so it made sense to trade down and accumulate more darts to throw at the dart board that is the NFL Draft.
Round 1 (No. 25 overall): Trade with New Orleans
Saints receive: 2021 No. 25 overall pick
Panthers receive: 2021 pick Nos. 28 & 99
The Panthers had a chance to trade down three spots and pick up an extra third round pick. I figured it made sense, so I went for it.
Round 1 (No. 28 overall): Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
The Panthers were able to get a high potential left tackle after trading down twice in the first round and adding extra picks in the process. That’s a huge win in my book.
I wrote this in my first mock draft when I selected Leatherwood in the second round. The logic still applies when taking him in the bottom of the first:
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 ... This was a no-brainer pick for me to make, to be completely honest with you.
Round 2 (No. 33 overall): Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
I used the first pick of the second round that I acquired from the trade with Jacksonville to take one of the best cornerbacks in the draft. One of the Panthers’ biggest needs on defense is a shut down corner, and Melfonwu gives them that potential.
Ian Cummings from Pro Football Network believes Melifonwu has a lot of upside at cornerback in the NFL:
Like his brother before him, Ifeatu comes with great upside. Standing at 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, he is a tall, long cornerback with a big radius when making plays. Melifonwu’s length allows him to blanket wide receivers in man coverage. He also has the wingspan to be a dangerous defender in zone. Furthermore, he’s proactive in using his length. He can be disruptive and physical, both in press coverage and at the catch point.
I don’t know if he’ll fall to the second round, but if he’s sitting there at No. 33 in my simulation, it’s a no-brainer to pick him up and add him to the Panthers’ young (and improving) defense.
Round 2 (No. 39 overall): Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
I kept the Panthers’ original second rounder and used it to bolster the interior of the offensive line. I made this same pick in my last mock draft, so I’ll share the same thoughts I shared with you last week:
The one thing that most everyone can agree on is that the Panthers’ biggest needs are quarterback and offensive line. ... 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. ~WalterFootball
Picking up a quality guard with the No. 39 pick seems like a good idea to me, so I did it.
Round 3 (No. 73 overall): Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina
The Panthers need a quality linebacker to pair with Shaq Thompson, and Surratt is WalterFootball’s No. 3 ranked linebacker in this year’s draft class.
1/16/21: Surratt played well in 2020, generating media buzz. For the NFL, Surratt has a good skill set with size, speed, strength and athleticism. He is raw and needs development. Surratt has issues with missed tackles, and his instincts can be streaky. In time, he could be a good pro linebacker, but improving his instincts, tackling, and reading his keys will be imperative to develop into a good NFL player. ~WalterFootball
According to WalterFootball he has some issues with missed tackles and is a raw prospect, but that’s something that can easily be fixed with quality coaching. I trust Matt Rhule and co. to get the most out of him.
Round 3 (No. 99 overall): Trade with Atlanta
Falcons receive: 2021 pick No. 99 & 2022 seventh round pick
Panthers receive: 2021 pick Nos. 102 & 166
Trading down three spots and adding an extra sixth rounder while only giving up next year’s seventh round pick made sense to me, so I made the deal.
Round 4 (No. 102 overall): Brady Christensen, OT, BYU
I made this pick with the Panthers’ original fourth rounder in my last mock, so I’ll just reiterate what I said last week:
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. ~WalterFootball
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.
The Panthers need offsensive tackles, and they should take as many shots at getting good ones as they can.
Round 4 (No. 107 overall): Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
I’m well aware that this is the pick in this simulation that will be the most talked about in the comments section, but I think it makes a lot of sense for Rhule to consider taking one of the quarterbacks he worked with in the Senior Bowl, even if it’s just for depth at the position. The Panthers are going to need a backup quarterback even if they decide to keep Teddy Bridgewater for one more year, so taking Mond here does make some sense from that perspective.
WalterFootball ranks him as the No. 8 quarterback prospect in this year’s draft class.
1/26/21: Mond improved in 2020, showing more accuracy. He had mixed outings versus Alabama and Vanderbilt, making some beautiful passes and struggling at other times. He had a huge game against Florida to lead the Aggies to a fourth-quarter comeback win, but the inconsistency makes Mond a challenging evaluation. Some see him as a poor man’s Colin Kaepernick, and others think he is a better version of Josh Dobbs. That could put Mond as a mid-round-backup type for the NFL. Some team sources said they gave Mond a third-round grade, but others have him graded on Day 3.
8/29/20: Evaluators like Mond’s size, arm and athleticism. He needs to continue to improve his accuracy, as that was a big concern for NFL teams heading into his senior year. Mond has shown progress with coaching, but a lot of scouts are skeptical.
I don’t think Mond is going to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but he could be a quality backup. The Panthers could potentially roll with Bridgewater in 2021 and then address the position in 2022, even if that’s not the most popular decision they could make. I wouldn’t rule out them taking a backup quarterback in the draft, and if they’re going to do that I would expect them to go with either Mond or Jamie Newman given Rhule worked with them at the Senior Bowl.
Round 5 (No. 138 overall): Richard LeCounte, S, Georgia
The Panthers need some depth at safety, and it makes sense to try and find some gems in the later rounds of the draft.
WalterFootball ranks LeCounte as the No. 6 safety prospect in this year’s class.
1/9/21: A motorcycle accident knocked LeCounte out for a few games, but he was playing well for the Bulldogs prior to that, producing some splash plays for the tough Georgia defense.
9/5/20: Team sources told me that LeCounte stood out to them at times for being a gifted player with upside. He totaled 61 tackles with four interceptions, three passes defended and two forced fumbles in 2019. For 2018, he had 74 tackles with two forced fumbles, an interception and three passes defended.
Round 6 (No. 166 overall): Drake Jackson, C, Kentucky
The Panthers need offensive line depth, and while they already have a starter in Matt Paradis, it doesn’t hurt to look towards the future.
WalterFootball ranks him as the No. 13 center prospect in this year’s draft class:
1/9/21: Jackson played well for Kentucky in 2020. His run blocking is ahead of his pass protection for the NFL, but he was a reliable quarterback protector for the Wildcats.
8/29/20: Jackson is a tough run blocker at the point of attack. He is strong and plays with solid technique. Jackson broke into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and has locked down the center position for the Wildcats. He is a good college player who would be ranked higher if he had more size for the next level.
Adding Jackson in the sixth round gives them a good look at a potential replacement down the road, and there’s also the chance they could give him some work at guard. He could also be a good prospect to stash on the practice squad for a year as he adjusts to the NFL.
Round 6 (No. 172 overall): JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU
This is pretty much a ‘priority undrafted free agent’ pick, so the Panthers can use it to take a shot at a safety prospect to bolster their depth there. He could work out, but if he doesn’t it’s not too much of a loss since it’s just a pick at the bottom of the sixth round.
I decided to make some trades this time because I didn’t want this to turn into ‘How many times can I take Trey Lance at No. 8 overall?’, and also all four of the big name quarterbacks were gone in the first eight picks. I don’t want to take a linebacker with the No. 8 pick (no, not even Micah Parsons), so I felt that it was time to play the trade down game.
I already know most of you won’t like my selection of Kellen Mond in the fourth round, but it is what it is. That one is more of a ‘what I think the Panthers will do’ than what I want them to do. If it were up to me, we’d trade for Deshaun Watson and not have to worry about taking a quarterback, but we may not be able to pull that off.
I like that this draft addresses needs on the offensive line and in the secondary, and also picks up a linebacker. I feel those are some of the Panthers’ biggest needs. I wish we could find a way to get a quality tight end, but none were on the board when it was time for me to pick so I was unable to grab any this time.
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!