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 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 fourth mock draft of the offseason...
2021 NFL mock draft 4.0
Round 1 (No. 8 overall): Trade with Miami
Dolphins receive: 2021 pick Nos. 8 & 39, plus 2022 first round pick
Panthers receive: 2021 pick Nos. 3 & 81
There are four quarterbacks worth taking in the first round, and there are several teams who are candidates to take one of them ahead of the Panthers in the draft order. If the Panthers want one of the big four (aside from Trevor Lawrence, since he’s going No. 1 overall and the Jaguars are not expected to trade down), they’re going to have to either hope enough teams pass on a quarterback or use their assets and move up in the draft order. We all know which one of those options will be more useful, so I traded with Miami to jump up to No. 3 overall to have a chance at one of the top three quarterbacks.
I tried two different offers to move up, and the Dolphins accepted the second one. The first offer was for Miami’s second rounder (No. 50) instead of their third rounder (No. 81). After the first offer was rejected, I amended it to include No. 81 instead of No. 50 and it was accepted. I didn’t expect the first one to go through, but it was worth a shot.
Round 1 (No. 3 overall): Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Panthers need a quarterback, and they have been very open with everyone acknowledging this. Teddy Bridgewater is not the guy to lead the Panthers to the promised land, but he’s a decent enough option to be a one-year veteran leader while a rookie quarterback learns the ropes. (Note: This is assuming they can’t find a trade partner for him, which would be the preferred option).
Wilson has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is worth trading up for.
Zach Wilson plays the game with good athleticism overall, as evidenced by his ability to escape and evade pressure both in and out of the pocket. This athleticism makes him a viable threat in the zone-read, giving opponents another thing to defend. In the passing game, he has made tremendous strides since the 2019 season. Some of these feats are “rare.” In fact, his ability to throw the ball with timing and anticipation is elite. His production in the clutch has been money in several instances in 2020. He plays with the poise and moxie reminiscent of a high NFL draft pick.
If this deal works out, the Panthers are set at quarterback for at least the next five years, and potentially longer than that. Giving up the No. 39 pick and next year’s first rounder is a steep price to pay, but if you want a franchise quarterback you have to pay for one, which the Panthers should be more than willing to do.
Round 3 (No. 73 overall): Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
Outside of quarterback, the Panthers’ biggest need is unquestionably offensive linemen and they should throw as many picks at tackles and guards as they possibly can. I went with Radunz here because I think he has a lot of upside and there’s a chance he’ll be available in the third round.
Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network had this to say about Radunz after he impressed at the Senior Bowl:
Radunz had a bit of a shaky start to the Senior Bowl on Day 1, but he improved drastically throughout the week. By Thursday, he was one of the best linemen there. His athleticism-length combination clearly gave him an advantage against many linemen, and he also maintained a strong base and smooth footwork to supplement those traits. From an optics standpoint, Radunz weighed in over 300 pounds, and also showcased an ability to play at guard. Those factors combined should strengthen his status as a Day 2 prospect.
There’s a strong possibility that Radunz played too well at the Senior Bowl to last until pick No. 73, but if he does happen to make it that far the Panthers should jump at the chance to add him. His ability to play both tackle and guard would make him a valuable depth piece for the Panthers, who need help at pretty much every place on the offensive line.
Round 3 (No. 81 overall): Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (FL)
If we were to rank the Panthers needs, I’d say that tight end would at least make the top five, so it makes sense to try and improve the depth there. I don’t know what to make of Ian Thomas yet, and time is running out for him to make an impression, so if the Panthers have an opportunity to take a tight end in the first four rounds they should probably do it.
Jordan has good size (6-4, 245) and is WalterFootball’s No. 2 ranked tight end prospect with a projected second-third round grade. There’s a good chance he’s not even on the board at No. 113, but if he is I wouldn’t be mad if the Panthers took him.
Round 4 (No. 113 overall): Adrian Ealy, OT, Oklahoma
Ealy is a massive human being (6-6, 326) and could potentially play either tackle or guard in the NFL. WalterFootball has him ranked as the 28th tackle prospect, with a projection of being selected between the fourth and sixth rounds.
2/8/21: Ealy held his own at left tackle in 2020 and had a respectable year for the Sooners. He is sleeper who has upside to develop in the NFL.
8/29/20: Ealy was Oklahoma’s starting right tackle in 2019 and was a solid blocker. For the NFL, he might be better off moving inside to guard.
The Panthers need some depth at both tackle and guard, so it makes sense to try and find some gems in the later rounds of the draft.
Round 5 (No. 152 overall): Cornell Powell, WR, Clemson
Matt Rhule worked with Powell during the Senior Bowl so he was able to get an up close look at him to see if he could be a potential fit. Powell (6-0, 210) has a similar build to Curtis Samuel (5-11, 194) and could be a potential replacement should Samuel leave via free agency.
WalterFootball ranks Powell as the 30th wide receiver prospect and gives him a Day 3 grade.
1/30/21: Powell produced some huge plays for Clemson during the 2020 season, including huge performances against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Powell has a strong build and is a competitor. He possesses somewhat deceptive speed and an ability to run through some tackles.
The Panthers have decent depth at wide receiver so I’m not sure I’m in love with this pick, but Powell was one of the better options available so I decided to go with it.
Round 5 (No. 185 overall): Alaric Jackson, OT, Iowa
Throw as many darts at the offensive lineman dartboard that you can, and hope some of them pan out. That’s my strategy and I’m sticking to it.
Jackson lands at No. 20 in WalterFootball’s tackle prospects, and WF projects that he could play either right tackle or guard at the next level.
2/8/21: Jackson was solid, but unimpressive, for Iowa in 2020.
8/29/20: Even though they had a better athlete in Tristan Wirfs, Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes coaching staff trusted Jackson to be the starting left tackle and let Wirfs man the right side. As a junior, Jackson was steady in protection, only allowing a few sacks. He may not have the quickness, feet and athleticism to be a left tackle in the NFL, so he could be better off moving to right tackle or guard.
I like the idea of taking chances on late round gems on the offensive line, and Jackson fits that profile. Even if he has to move to guard it’s still a win for the Panthers, because they need depth there almost as much as they need it at tackle.
Round 6 (No. 195 overall): Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina
Mukuamu has good size (6-4, 205) and is the 13th cornerback in WalterFootball’s rankings.
2/6/21: Mukuamu made an interception against Florida, but he also struggled in coverage against the Gators’ receivers and dealt with injuries. He is a giant corner, but he has issues running with speed and preventing separation. Mukuamu is limited to being a press-man or zone corner at the next level.
Yeah, I’m being a homer here, but we need depth at cornerback and the last time we took a cornerback from South Carolina on Day 3 it worked out pretty well for us.
Round 6 (No. 223 overall): Tommy Kraemer, G, Notre Dame
2/8/21: In 2020, Kraemer blocked well for the Fighting Irish at right guard in 2020. He could be a solid backup who evolves from that role.
Kraemer has good size (6-5, 319) and could be a solid depth piece for Carolina. The Panthers need depth at both tackle and guard, so it doesn’t hurt to try and find a hidden gem at guard in the bottom of the sixth round. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, it’s not too big of a loss.
I decided to trade up for a quarterback this time because I feel like that’s something the Panthers are willing to do in order to get their guy. They were willing to trade the No. 8 pick to the Lions for Matthew Stafford, and they have been reported to be in the mix for a potential Deshaun Watson trade, so they’re not exactly hiding the fact that they want to upgrade the quarterback position.
The ‘which quarterback should they take’ debate is going to be the biggest discussion we have here on CSR until the draft actually happens, so I figured I’d throw my preference into the conversation with the trade up to draft Wilson. I think he has the potential to be the best quarterback in this draft class (yes, even better than Trevor Lawrence) and I would be ecstatic if the Panthers were able to actually draft him.
I like that this draft addresses needs on the offensive line and also picks up a tight end. I feel those are some of the Panthers’ biggest needs. I wish we could find a way to get a quality linebacker or safety, 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!