So, I want to start by saying that this is my only pre-free agency mock draft where I tried to do it from Rhule & Fitterer's perspective. Every move made and player taken was based on a number of principles; not what I or who I personally wanted or liked. These principles were as follows:
- Current team needs/holes, but with a twist. I tried taking this one step further and ordered those needs and wants by all the clues I could gather from Rhule's past moves, attempted moves, and Fitterer's initial press conference and what he perceived as the teams needs.
- Player scheme fit based on the offensive and defensive systems Brady and Snow have employed.
- Player athletic traits, personal traits and size where applicable that I've seen Rhule and Fitterer go after in the past. To go with that, position flexibility was an important trait is analyzing these players where applicable since that is important to Rhule and co.
- I ignored Pro Football Focus' ranking system as it's very flawed just like Pro Football Network's. Instead I only chose from the players available at my pick, but only players who based off of every single bit of online material I could find is projected for that pick. Meaning if a player in the simulator is available in the third, but from every piece of information I can find has them actually projected to go in the first or second, then I considered them not available.
Now with that out of the way let's get on our way with the draft...
Pick No. 3: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Right off the bat I went with a trade up with Miami packaging up Nos. 8, 40 and a 2022 first rounder. This now gives Miami five top 50 picks this year with another two firsts next year. I personally don't see much in the way of competition for trading up with Miami, so as long as they're open to trading down I think this package is enough to do it. For me, Zach Wilson out of Fields, Lance and himself is the best fit for Carolina's offense and also the second best quarterback behind Lawrence in general.
He does have some small things to work on like occasional sloppy footwork that leads to an inaccurate pass or the occasional habit to double clutch when it's not necessary allowing the defender to get into position to make a play, but these aren't glaring issues or hard problems to fix. The guy has a strong arm where I'd classify it between Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. His big plusses are a beautiful deep ball, all field accuracy, a quick release, ability to throw on the run and move around a pocket, ability to throw from different arm angles when needed and ability to throw with touch when needed. This could very easily be Fields here if the Jets go Wilson at No. 2 and even then I would still make the trade.
Pick No. 73: D'Ante Smith, LT, ECU
Giving up the No. 40 pick hurt for sure, but grabbing a guy like Smith at No. 113 is a nice consolation prize. Being a three-year starter at ECU gives him plenty of experience and makes him less of a raw project prospect knowing all the fundamentals at the position already. As good as he looked, he always suffered in ranking due to his low weight. Then comes Senior bowl week and in comes Smith 20 pounds heavier than his listed weight from ECU. Combining his new found strength with his great athleticism at the position made him a force to be reckoned with during practices and drills Senior Bowl week.
Where he fits with Carolina outside of the position of need is being a perfect fit to Carolina's zone blocking scheme on offense and being a versatile multi-position player (he took snaps at left guard during practices Senior Bowl week and looked very good doing so and very comfortable there). Should be able to step in Day 1 and compete at left tackle with what's on the roster and even win the job if he stays healthy.
Pick No. 113: Josh Myers, C, OSU
In the fourth round, I decided to double dip on offensive linemen due to the fact that 4/5 starters for Carolina are free agents along with three backups being free agents as well. The only one currently signed is Matt Paradis, their center, who's been at best league average for them and is most likely gone after this upcoming season. Then you have Greg Little, who's been completely underwhelming and totally injury prone in his two seasons. Then Dennis Daley, who has impressed at left guard and left tackle, but like Little also totally injury prone thus far. Myers has good size and strength to be a strong anchor in the middle with enough athleticism to get the job done.
Where he fits with Carolina to make him a possible pick here is being a position group of need, multi-year starter capable of stepping in Day 1 and starting, fits best in a zone blocking scheme like Carolina's and has the preferred positional flexibility ability (a center who can also play and compete at guard his rookie season before sliding into center when Paradis leaves) and Fitterer seemed pretty adamant about fixing the offensive line.
Pick No. 152: Tre' McKitty, TE, Georgia
I really wanted to go wide receiver here since I think rounds four and five are the sweet spots this year for that position. But taking in all the factors, I can't see Rhule and Fitterer passing on McKitty in this spot. All things considered, it's a much bigger position of need and McKitty definitely has the athletic ability and untapped potential to be a top 10 tight end in the NFL. As the pre-draft process goes on, due to his athletic ability I can definitely see his stock rising to a fourth round selection. He never put up big numbers while at Georgia, but after what he put on display during Senior Bowl week a lot of people are starting to wonder if they completely wasted such a big talent at tight end and underutilized him.
On top of being very athletic, his height and excellent hands can really make him a mismatch machine in the middle and red zone, which is something Carolina severely lacked last year due to Ian Thomas just not improving past his rookie season. One thing about his game that I love is he's not a liability in the run game as a blocker. He may not be a world beater at his weight, but he displayed a tenacity and willingness to block in the run game and wasn't bad at it. Something like that allows Carolina to be a bit more flexible at the position. Where he fits with Carolina is being a huge position of need, an athletic pass catching tight end that Brady can finally take advantage of in his offensive system and most importantly was coached by Rhule during Senior Bowl week, who got a first hand look at his game.
Pick No. 185: Mustafa Johnson, DT, Colorado
This is where things get a bit dicey. Both PFF and PFN on their draft simulators have this guy ranked in the 220-240 pick range, meanwhile everywhere else I can find online have him ranked as a fifth/sixth rounder. I decided to go off of the other rankings as I've found both sites to have some ridiculously low ratings on some guys who will be drafted high come draft day. Johnson is a short, but with a very quick first step explosively strong defensive lineman who has a non-stop motor and drive. Being a three-year starter helps his case and gives him a ton of experience. But like most defensive tackles his size he's ranked a bit lower in the draft. What I find that makes him so valuable is even with his size, he's not a liability in the run game given that he's a pass rushing defensive tackle. That kind of talent gives him potential as a three-down 3-tech defensive tackle.
Where he fits with Carolina is his position of need, with Carolina more than likely parting ways with Kawann Short and in need of a new 3-tech tackle who can rush the passer and play the run. His positional flexibility (able to move outside as a pass rusher in a three-man front or inside defensive tackle in a four-man front having played defensive end for Colorado and every where else along the line throughout his tenure), being a very high character guy who's known as a hard worker on and off the field and considered a leader by his coaches and pears. (All qualities I've noticed Rhule covets in his players.) But Fitterer also mentioned the defensive line as a positional group high on his list of needs for improvement on the team. All in all, Johnson holds the athletic ability and potential to end up being one of the best defensive tackles in this draft with some luck, good coaching and hard work on his part.
Pick No. 195 (comp. pick): Keith Taylor, CB, Washington
Like Johnson before him, Taylor is another guy rated in the 220-250 pick range by both draft simulators but everywhere else considered a sixth/seventh rounder. I really wanted to go cornerback earlier in the draft, but after losing the second round pick to trade up I just never saw the value at the previous picks over what's listed. Carolina as a whole does have a packed cornerback with three second-year players, and Donte Jackson who really balled out towards the end of the season when healthy is finally looking like a legit No. 2 corner. Taylor brings a lot of size and strength with him to match up with the bigger outside wide receivers in the NFL, along with a ton of game smarts and instincts to pair with his excellent tackling. On a side note, he may be one of the top tackling corners in the draft.
Where he lacks unfortunately is his speed, athleticism and college numbers (never was one to put up box numbers in interceptions and pass deflections which does worry some people, but did a good job shutting down his receivers overall). What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in size, strength, and instincts. What is helping his draft stock is having outplayed far more athletic cornerbacks during the Senior Bowl week, being one of the better defensive backs on the field consistently. Where he fits with Carolina is his positional flexibility (Outside cornerback who has experience playing inside as a big slot corner who can cover up big receiving threats at tight end and can move back to safety using his instincts on the back end as a deep high or up in the box with his size, strength and tackling prowess), comes from a school known for developing NFL talent at the defensive back position and fits Carolina's zone scheme on defense, as that is his strength as is being up and playing press man at the line of scrimmage.
Pick No. 223 (comp. pick): Trevon Grimes, WR, Florida
Grimes is someone projected anywhere from the sixth round to undrafted. It will ultimately depend on interviews and combine numbers if any of that gets done. If he really impresses then he might be pushed into the fifth/sixth round conversation. In any other year he would easily make a fourth/fifth rounder as is, but this class is just stupid deep at the position. While I'm a personal fan of the smaller receivers like Amari Rogers, Shi Smith, etc., I recognize that the team already has three relatively quick and shifty playmakers and lacks in the size department. Grimes never put up big numbers during all his time at Florida which certainly hurts his draft stock, hence being ranked so low. But with his sheer size and strength he's an excellent jump ball and contested catch receiver, which Carolina desperately needs in the red zone.
He also displays excellent strong hands and somewhat deceptive top end speed with the ability to get over the top sometimes for some big plays. The areas he needs to improve upon are his route running/route tree and his footwork, which can look so smooth and crisp at times while other times is sloppy as hell and unathletic) Where he fits with Carolina is a position and skillset of need in the offense, positional flexibility (Plays as an outside wide receiver with the ability to move in as a big slot and create mismatches) and familiarity with Rhule due to being coached at the Senior Bowl where he had a very successful week of drills and practices.
Alright guys, I hope you enjoyed the read and article with this being my first fanpost ever. I know it's a bit long, but I really wanted to be as in depth as possible. Feel free to critique away and tell me what you think. I'll probably do another, especially if people liked this one post free agency when we get a better picture of the teams needs going into the draft.