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 think they would do if the options were made available to them.
With that being said, here’s my fifth mock draft of the offseason...
2021 NFL mock draft 5.0
Round 1 (No. 8 overall): Trade with New England
Patriots receive: 2021 pick No. 8
Panthers receive: 2021 pick Nos. 15 & 46, plus 2022 third and fourth round picks
The top three quarterbacks were already taken by the time pick No. 8 was up, and the Patriots came calling with an offer for No. 15 and a 2022 third rounder in exchange for No. 8 overall. I countered with picks 15 and 46 plus a 2022 second and third rounder, but it was rejected. I was able to get the deal done by changing the 2022 second rounder into a 2022 fourth rounder, so I went with it.
I feel like getting the No. 46 pick was the key here, as it gives the Panthers an extra pick in the top 50, which I think is crucial to rebuilding this team into a contender in the shortest amount of time possible.
Round 1 (No. 15 overall): Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
The Panthers need to rebuild their offensive line, so taking a tackle in the first round makes sense if they don’t like any of the quarterbacks left on the board. Darrisaw is a highly-regarded prospect and has good size (6-5, 314), and is ranked as the fourth-best tackle by WalterFootball with a first or second round grade.
2/8/21: Darrisaw played well as a junior, creating a buzz. He has good size for the NFL and will enter the league as a 2-year starter at left tackle. Team sources have a love/hate response to Darrisaw. Some see him as worthy of going early in the first round and think he is legit. Other sources, including a director of college scouting, say Darrisaw is a second-round pick at best. They don’t like his lack of physicality and mean streak. Darrisaw is a good athlete with quickness and agility on the edge. If he pans out in the NFL, he could be a Russell Okung-type tackle.
If the Panthers can trade down from No. 8 to No. 15, add an extra top 50 pick and get a Russell Okung-type tackle in this draft they should consider that a victory.
Round 2 (No. 39 overall): Trade with Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers receive: 2021 pick No. 39, plus two 2022 third round picks (CAR & NE)
Panthers receive: 2011 pick Nos. 47 & 55
I felt that picking up Pick No. 55 was worth trading two future third round picks, especially since one of them originally belonged to New England. Adding an extra second round pick was key for me here because I feel like the Panthers will get more value out of it compared to a 2022 third rounder, and it’s only at the cost of moving down eight spots from 39 to 47.
Round 2 (No. 46 overall): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
I know you hate it, but there are rumblings that Rhule really liked what he saw from Jones at the Senior Bowl. I don’t know how much of it is true versus how much of it is media manufactured drama, but there’s a chance that Rhule likes Jones enough to draft him in the second round. (Of course, there’s also a chance that Jones is taken in the first round but I don’t think that’s going to happen.)
Jones is the fifth-ranked quarterback by WalterFootball and has decent size (6-2, 205). He’s also a product of the Alabama ‘super team’ with talent at every single position around him, so it’s hard to judge how well he’ll fare when he’s not playing on an all-star caliber team in the NFL.
2/16/21: Jones cruised over Florida, Missouri, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State and Notre Dame in 2020. Taking on a good Georgia defense, Jones threw for over 400 yards to get the Crimson Tide a huge win. He was a decisive passer, showing a quality arm, some accuracy, and good decision-making. As is so often the case with players from Alabama, Jones benefited from a great supporting cast and extra media attention. Jones was then the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl practices.
WalterFootball.com sought opinions on Jones from five different teams regarding the 2021 NFL Draft. Three had a fourth-round grade on Jones, one had him on the bubble between Rounds 2 and 3, and one team gave him a second-round grade. An AFC general manager said the second round was too high for Jones, calling him a mid-round talent, so opinions vary on Jones across the league. Some in the media are projecting him to go in the first round, so perhaps there are teams that have a first-round grade on Jones.
“[Jones is] a stronger-armed Jake Fromm,” said one area scout. “He distributes the ball well to all those great weapons. Jones has some ability. His arm is good enough, a little stronger than Jake’s. Mac can anticipate, and sees the field well. I think he could have a career in the NFL similar to Matt Barkley.”
Another team source who graded Jones (6-3, 214) in the fourth round said they felt he was a shorter A.J. McCarron. Similar to McCarron, Jones was surrounded with a phenomenal set of wide receivers, a tough offensive line with future early-round picks, and a dynamic running game. Team sources say Jones generally did a good job of managing the game and getting the ball to his playmakers.
I don’t love the idea of taking Mac Jones, but if it’s in the second round I’ll be more OK with it than if it happens at No. 8 overall. (To be frank, taking Jones at No. 8 will make me question my loyalty to this team, so hopefully it doesn’t come to that.)
Round 2 (No. 47 overall): Deonte Brown, G, Alabama
I made this pick in my first mock draft, and wrote the following:
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 2 (No. 55 overall): Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
I made this pick in my last mock draft, so I’ll just keep what I said about this choice last week.
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. 73 overall): Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
I made this pick in my first mock draft, and wrote the following:
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 4 (No. 113 overall): Trade with Indianapolis
Colts receive: 2021 pick No. 113, plus 2022 seventh round pick
Panthers receive: 2021 pick Nos. 127, 166, 207
Trading down 14 spots in the fourth round to add two late round picks was worth the trade for me, and the 2022 seventh round pick is inconsequential enough to include without a second thought.
Round 4 (No. 127 overall): Tre McKitty, TE, Georgia
The Panthers need to find some depth — and potentially a starter — at tight end, and McKitty is worth the gamble here.
McKitty has good size (6-5, 245) and is ranked by WalterFootball as the fifth-best tight end in this year’s class with a projected draft grade between the third and fifth rounds.
1/30/21: McKitty made only six receptions during the regular season, but he still earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl. He had better receiving production in 2019 and 2018 with Jake Fromm at quarterback. McKitty contributed as a blocker for the tough Georgia ground attack over the past few seasons. Team sources say McKitty impressed in Mobile with a good week of practice at the Senior Bowl.
There’s a chance Rhule liked what he saw from McKitty at the Senior Bowl and is willing to throw a Day 3 pick at him to see if he can transition to the next level.
Round 5 (No. 152 overall): Richard LeCounte, S, Georgia
I made this pick in my third mock draft, and wrote the following:
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 5 (No. 166 overall): Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest
WalterFootball ranks Surratt as the No. 11 wide receiver in this year’s class. Surratt has good size (6-3, 215) and is expected to be a solid receiver in the NFL.
1/30/21: Surratt decided to sit out the 2020 season because of COVID-19. Team sources say Surratt looked good at the Senior Bowl in terms of his hands, size, and body control. They believe he will be a solid pro.
8/29/20: Surratt is a big receiver who uses his size to make some big catches over defensive backs. He is a good red-zone weapon, but he really struggles to separate from college cornerbacks, and that issue will only be worse in the NFL.
There’s a good chance the Panthers will lose Curtis Samuel to free agency, and will need to replace him on the depth chart. I’m not sure if Surratt can provide the production that Samuel did in 2020, but the Panthers need to try and find some depth in the draft and the fifth round is as good of a place as any to do that. There’s a chance that Surratt’s not available in the fifth round, but he was in this simulation so I went with it.
Round 5 (No. 185 overall): Nick Eubanks, TE, Michigan
Using the same reasoning as the McKitty selection in the fourth round, the Panthers need to add some depth at tight end. Eubanks has good size (6-5, 256) and is ranked as the No. 11 tight end by WalterFootball. He is projected to be drafted between the fourth and sixth rounds.
1/30/21: In 2020, Eubanks mainly contributed as a blocker and had limited receiving opportunities. 8/29/20: Eubanks has some upside to develop and put up decent receiving production despite Michigan struggling with consistency at quarterback. More production would help Eubanks get drafted.
It’s potentially worth a Day 3 pick to get two tight ends to compete against each other and keep the best one on the 53-man roster and stash the other one on the practice squad.
Round 6 (No. 195 overall): Alaric Jackson, OT, Iowa
I made this pick in my last mock draft, so here’s what I said last week:
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. 207 overall): Tre Brown, CB, Oklahoma
Brown is listed at No. 15 in WalterFootball’s cornerback rankings and is projected to be a late Day 2 or Day 3 pick.
2/6/21: Oklahoma’s defense struggled in the early going of 2020, but Brown played well for the Sooners. Brown needed to improve his production in 2020, and he did. After a solid season, team sources say Brown helped himself with a good week of practice at the Senior Bowl.
We need depth at cornerback, so trying to find a contributor in the sixth round doesn’t hurt.
Round 6 (No. 223 overall) Lorenzo Neal, DT, Purdue
Neal is a big dude (6-3, 315) and could be a gamble that pays off if he can stay healthy. WalterFootball ranks him at No. 21 in their prospect rankings and projects him as a seventh round pick or an undrafted free agent.
2/13/21: Neal is a solid run defender who doesn’t offer much in the pass rush.
9/5/20: Neal was a decent defender for three years prior to missing the 2019 season with an ACL injury. Neal needs to stay healthy and having the opportunity to show some pass-rush ability as a senior in order would help have helped him get drafted.
The Panthers could use some depth at defensive tackle, and taking Neal at No. 223 overall (i.e. - the last pick the Panthers have in this year’s draft) makes sense if he’s a prospect they like and don’t want to risk losing him to another team in the seventh round or as a UDFA.
I decided to make a few trades down this week to pick up some extra draft capital and see how much depth the Panthers could build using the ‘Trade Down Island’ model that’s promoted by my colleague Mick Smiley. New Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer comes from an organization (Seahawks) who love to take this approach in the draft, so depending in how much say he will have in the draft room it’s a strategy that we could see play out this year.
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!