The team has two picks tonight and a draft whose depth matches their needs fairly well. Go check out our draft tracker to see exactly where every pick is and keep track of the team’s needs as they select players.
The needs entering tonight are fairly straight forward: the Panthers are in the market for more talent in the defense’s front seven, another pass catcher of some variety, and some help in the defense’s secondary as well.
This draft is deep with good, if not exactly elite talent, at wide receiver, tight end, and cornerback, while also having some intriguing prospects for the defensive line and new-look linebacking corps near the top of the talent pool. All of the names on this list are going to be shown as ranked on Mark Schofield’s big board here. The Panthers may view these guys completely differently, so I’m not going to immediately call, say, Drew Sanders a reach if they take him at 39 even though he’s sitting as the 58th overall prospect on Mark’s board. The guys on this list fit what we think the Panthers might be looking for, regardless of where their theoretical value may currently sit.
Let’s break it down by position:
28. BJ Ojulari
45. Derrick Hall
Neither of these guys was polished or freakish enough to be considered a top edge rusher in this class, but both are gifted athletes with a history of college production whose size and skills project them towards rushing the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The Panthers have little depth behind Brian Burns and Frankie Luvu and are definitely in the market for more.
86. Yaya Daiby
Diaby is more of a third round guy, but has the above average athleticism that used to be a hall mark of a Scott Fitterer draft. We still don’t know if prioritizing athletic testing is going to be a part of Frank Reich’s team building strategy, but Diaby is an intriguing, high-upside prospect either way. He’d by a good pick if the Panthers feel they have the time to bring him along slowly.
39. Keanu Benton
70. Siaki Ika
Shy Tuttle was the Panthers big free agency addition to the center of the defensive line. At 6’3”, 300 lbs, a lot of fans are worried that he won’t be big enough to fill the traditional 3-4 nose tackle role.
Enter Benton. He’s a little bigger, has the frame to put on more weight, and tested as a significantly better athlete. Nose tackles aren’t typically disruptors so much as anchors, but they are still athletes. Benton is stronger and more explosive than Tuttle and would be an exciting pick for this Panthers defense.
Ika is less the athletic pick and more the “Where’s the beef?” pick. At 6’3”, 335 lbs, he has the size that most teams usually associate with a nose tackle in a three man front. He’s also likelier to be a third round selection by this team whereas Benton is expected to go in the second round.
55. Daiyan Henley
58. Drew Sanders
59. Trenton Simpson
Any of these guys would instantly improve the Panthers defense over the middle of the field, but none quite line up with value in the second round. Either team really loves one of them or they trade back to pick up an extra fourth round pick and these guys get selected after 39.
Henley and Sanders would bring a more traditional and reliable presence next to Shaq Thompson, while Simpson’s rare speed at his position would help him bring the thunder in pursuit of Jeremy Chinn’s instincts in the box.
17. Joey Porter Jr.
26. Cam Smith
These guys are borderline first round talent available in the second. In Porter’s case, he was once considered the top corner in the draft. They’ll be strong considerations if they are still on the board at 39.
31. Josh Downs
52. Cedric Tillman
56. Jalin Hyatt
What do you do when you draft a cornerback first overall and you’re not Marty Hurney? You draft him new toys. The Panthers receiving group right now is a Frankensteinian construct that is almost more suture than flesh at this point. Letting this staff pick a young guy that they like and want to develop surely can’t hurt.
The run on receivers in the first round will likely depress the stock of each of these guys, at least a bit. They are also in that awkward position of not great value at 39 but may not make it to 90. They could be other targets in a trade back scenario tonight.
Downs has the experience to see eye-to-eye with Young, Tillman has an injury tainted resume, and Hyatt might just be a poor man’s Terrace Marshall Jr. In other words, none of them perfect prospects, but they also all have enough upside to grow into number two receivers and the athleticism to maybe (a one in a million shot kind of maybe) grow into number ones.
16. Michael Mayer
17. Darnell Washington
There’s a good chance both of these guys are gone by the time the Panthers pick at 39, but if they do want a TE then I expect them to take one early and these are the two guys worth that pick—if they make it that far.