Can the Panthers build a contender around Deshaun Watson?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I don't need to tell you all about the rumors suggesting that we're going to be "aggressive" in a trade for Deshaun Watson. While the Texans have not yet granted his trade request, it is very likely that eventually they're going to have to give in to his demand. Personally I think we are one of only three teams likely to have Watson as their starter next year (the Texans and the Jets being the other two), so we should at least consider the possibility of us actually pulling off a trade for him.

As we all know, there is much debate over whether a trade for Watson is worth his expensive price tag. Not only are we going to have to take on his costly contract, but we're also going to have to surrender at least three first round picks and a couple talented players to get him. So this is a mock draft meant to see if we can use our early, mid, and late round picks outside the 1st round to build a contender around Watson. I will be basing this mock draft around the following trade that I made as a response to a comment asking what I believe is the absolute most we could give up in a trade for Watson without completely crippling our team:

2021 first round pick
2022 first round pick
2023 first round pick
Teddy Bridgewater
Donte Jackson

Here's how it makes sense for both sides:


Giving away three first round picks will hurt like a bitch, but it's only one first round pick more than it would cost for a trade-up to a top-three pick. Getting rid of Teddy is a bonus. Trading our best cornerback in Jackson sucks but he is going into a contract year, and I don't think he'll be resigned since he's injury prone, wasn't drafted by Rhule or Fitterer, and doesn't have the length that Fitterer likes in his cornerbacks.


The original asking price for Watson was at least three first round picks, and the most recent one is two first round picks, two second round picks, and two young, talented defensive players. This trade is a mix of both of those. The Texans still get three first round picks, which is either exactly what they're asking for, or of equivalent value to two first round picks and two second round picks. Teddy doesn't add anything to the deal for them, but at least he can be a good bridge quarterback to whoever they draft with the No. 8 pick, and can be cut without any financial repercussions after just one year. Jackson is a former second round pick who's talented and still on his rookie deal, and would be a huge boost to their terrible secondary.

The Jets and Dolphins could most certainly outbid that offer, but I think my proposal is the absolute most we could give up without completely crippling our team.

Watson's World mock draft

Round 2 (trade down): Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame

Considering Fitterer's background, we are very likely to trade down at least once in the upcoming draft, and if we're able to pull off a trade for Watson, we'll need to recoup all the picks we can get. After quarterback, arguably the second biggest need on our team is addressing the offensive line, since we have holes all over, and our two best tackles are free agents. Taylor Moton will probably be franchise tagged and hopefully resigned to a long term deal, but outside of him we have questions at every other position. Since his contract was restructured, it's safe to assume that Matt Paradis will be starting again next year, but given his age and lack of quality play after his injury, we'll need to get his replacement sooner rather than later. Our guard situation has been in flux since we let Andrew Norwell leave in free agency, and the Trai Turner trade only made things worse.

But the biggest position of need is at left tackle, since we definitely aren't resigning Russell Okung, and Greg Little seems like he's on his way toward bust status. So needless to say, I would not be surprised to see us use at least a couple of picks on the offensive line, with an early one being used on a left tackle. I picked Eichenberg here, since outside of Penei Sewell, I think he's the safest offensive tackle in this class. He's not the most athletic, but he's a really balanced, well-rounded prospect who excels in run blocking and pass-protection. His lack of athleticism could cause him to have some troubles with speed rushers, but his technique is very good and helps offset his lack of athletic talent. Also, it seems like Notre Dame offensive linemen always end up doing well in the NFL. The only reason he's available this late in the second round is because this is a deep tackle class, and his lack of athleticism compared to others will probably cause him to slide. I wouldn't be surprised to see a team late in the first round get him though, so we would need a bit of luck to have him fall this far.

Round 3 (from trade): Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State

This is the pick we gained from the trade down in Round 2. After using all of our picks last year on defense, I would not be surprised to see us go offense early and often in the upcoming draft. The next biggest need for the offense is obviously tight end, since none of our tight ends have the talent of a true No. 1 tight end, and considering we're likely to lose Curtis Samuel to free agency, it would make sense to get another weapon to use on third down and when in the red zone. I could see us signing a free agent like Gerald Everett to help with the position, but if we do resign Moton and trade for Watson, I don't know if we'd be able to afford him. Either way, drafting a talented tight end like Freiermuth here is the better option anyway. Freiermuth has the size, speed, and athleticism of a true No. 1 tight end, and because of his talent in blocking and receiving, he has earned the nickname "Baby Gronk". He was originally seen as a first or second round pick, and he still could end up going in that range, but due to a lack of production this year as well as a bad injury, he is now seen as more of a late second-early third round pick.

Round 3: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford

Considering we already needed a new No. 1 corner since we foolishly let James Bradberry leave in free agency last year, and in this scenario just traded our best cornerback in Jackson, I would not be surprised to see us use an early round pick on the position. As stated previously, Fitterer likes his cornerbacks to be tall and lengthy, so Adebo makes sense here. Adebo was originally seen to be a first round talent a few years ago, but since then he's dealt with injuries, inconsistencies in his technique against double moves, and a COVID-19 opt-out last year, so he could very realistically fall this far. However, with all that being said, he is still a very talented cornerback with the length to match-up with the big, physical NFC South wide receivers, as well as the versatility to play in a variety of schemes.

Round 4 (trade down): Osa Odighizuwa, DT, UCLA

Like I said, we need all the picks we can get, so we're going to be trading down early and often. Since we recently released Kawann Short, we could use another pass rushing defensive tackle to pair with Brown. Odighizuwa has the speed and athleticism to be an effective pass-rusher, but he falls this far because of his size and weight. Until he can bulk up, he'll probably just be a designated pass rusher, which is fine since that's all we need him for anyway.

Round 5 (comp pick): Joe Sculthorpe, C/G, N.C. State

This is the compensatory pick that we're projected to gain from losing Vernon Butler in free agency last year. As previously stated, our offensive line lacks talent and quality depth, so we could use this position to address both. Considering we need two starting guards and an eventual replacement for our center, Sculthorpe's versatility makes him the pick here.

Round 5 (from trade): Jahad Woods, ILB, Washington State

This is the pick we gained from the trade down in Round 4. We were never going to fully replace the greatness and talent of Luke Kuechly, but Tahir Whitehead was the worst possible replacement we could have found. I could see us using an earlier pick on the position since it's arguably our weakest and least talented position on the team, but we have so many other needs that we have to address first, and I could see us signing a solid inside linebacker in free agency.

Round 5: Demetric Felton, WR/RB, UCLA

Considering we don't have a lot of money to work with this offseason, have to deal with a reduced cap, and have to find a way to resign Moton, it really seems like we're going to let Samuel walk (my money is on the Giants getting him). While we have plenty of wide receiver talent to offset his loss, we could use some more depth at the position. Felton makes sense since he's a short, fast, versatile weapon who can play as a slot wide receiver and running back, so he should be able to effectively fill Samuel's former roles.

Round 6 (trade down): Mark Webb, S/CB, Georgia

Since there probably won't be that many amazing talents available in the draft here, and since we don't have a seventh round pick, I could see us trading down to get one. Considering we just cut our starting free safety, could possibly cut our starting strong safety, and in this scenario just traded away our best cornerback, I could see us using multiple picks on the secondary. Honestly the only reason why I didn't have us using an earlier pick on a safety is because this is such a deep class, and because I think we can sign a solid starter in free agency. Webb isn't anything great, but at least he has the versatility to play at safety or corner.

Round 6 (comp pick): John Lovett, RB, Baylor

This is the compensatory pick that we're projected to gain from losing Daryl Williams in free agency last year. Since Mike Davis had a good season filling in for Christian McCaffrey and probably priced himself out of our range, we could use a new No. 2 running back. Lovett isn't anything special, but it wouldn't be a Rhule draft if he didn't pick at least one player from Baylor.

Round 7 (from trade): Riley Patterson, K, Memphis

This is the pick we gained from the trade down in Round 6. Slye has been solid for us, but inconsistent at times, so he could use some more competition. Patterson had a down year so he's not the top kicker in the class, which is why he's available this late. But in all his other years he displayed tremendous accuracy and range.

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