Free agency still hasn’t technically begun, and while the Panthers have made a few transactions already with so many players out of contract they are likely far from finished. What is harder to predict, however, is exactly what the roster will look like after the next week or so of moves, and so any mock draft now is likely to be rendered obsolete by the moves the Panthers make in the coming week or so. 

So what exactly are we doing here then you ask? Well, rather than trying to predict what the Panthers might do in the draft with still more than a month to go, what this mock draft aims to do is highlight some players who would make sense for the Panthers, but who haven’t been talked about much regarding what they might do in the draft to this point. So without further delay…

Defensive Back Jeremy Chinn (21) at Practice on Monday, August 17, 2020 (Photo by Brandon Todd via Carolina Panthers)

TRADE: Carolina sends the 8th overall pick to Chicago for picks 20, 52 and 83

The Bears are likely going to be in the market for yet another quarterback this offseason, and while the Russell Wilson rumors shouldn’t be dismissed entirely, they could well end up trying to find their franchise centerpiece in the draft. They are also an organization that has been more than willing to throw caution to the wind and make a big trade, and with Matt Nagy’s seat starting to get at least a little warm, they need to find a quarterback they can build around. That is unlikely to be an option at 20 and so they make a move into the top ten. 

Photo Credit: Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks

For the Panthers, Scott Fitterer has made it clear that they are open to moving back if there is a deal there they like and the board has fallen a certain way, and while it seems more likely that they would look to shuffle back a few spots and hope to still get one of the that top tier of players that Fitterer mentioned in his opening press conference, a bigger move back shouldn’t be eliminated if a team is willing to make them a good enough offer.

While the Bears might end up having to include some 2022 picks to this deal to push it into that tier, it’s unlikely they would give the Panthers more than this in terms of 2021 capital, and any future picks would act as a bonus to what the Panthers would be getting back in compensation in 2021. This is not the most likely of draft day moves for the Panthers this year, but it is a potential avenue that is worth considering. 

20th Overall Pick: Rashod Bateman, WR (Minnesota)

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, receiver is not the Panthers biggest need, but the Panthers have said that in an idea world they would enter the draft being able to select the best player available, and if that is the case then a very good argument can be made for Bateman being the top player on the board at this point, even for a team with DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. 

Bateman has really good vertical speed and is a surprisingly fluid athlete for a player of his size (6’2 210lbs) and shows great hands with an ability to make plays at the catch point and enough ability after the catch to make him a big-play threat even on shorter routes. Most impressively, however, he is an excellent route runner who works off press well and is able to manipulate leverage to create consistent underneath separation against even high-quality man coverage. 

For the Panthers, he would be an especially good fit, as he offers the elite tier of possession receiver that they have lacked. He would be a great compliment to Moore and Anderson, allowing them to focus more on creating big plays down the field, where they are at their best, while he is able to move the chains underneath with the speed to counter vertically if teams look to focus on him underneath. He would also allow Robby Anderson to move to the slot where he was best last year, the impact of which shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Bateman might not be the name that fans want to have called on draft day, but in combination with DJ Moore he would give the Panthers arguably the best young receiving duo in the NFL and be the foundation of an elite skill position group for whoever ends up at quarterback long-term. 

39th Overall Pick: Kyle Trask, QB (Florida)

Dec 30, 2020; Arlington, TX, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask (11) throws a pass against the Oklahoma Sooners in the second quarter at ATT Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of long-term options at quarterback, seemingly pretty much the only quarterback projected to be selected in the top 50 picks who hasn’t been linked to the Panthers is Florida’s Kyle Trask. Some of this is understandable, as he did have a rather poor Bowl Game showing against Oklahoma, and after spending much of the season as the favorite for the Heisman he has been supplanted by newer, hotter names when it comes to first round picks. While he likely isn’t a viable option at 8, however, he still has a lot of talent and could be a real option if the Panthers go elsewhere in the first round. 

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Trask doesn’t have the biggest arm in the draft class, but he should be able to make all the throws at the NFL level and shows good velocity on short and intermediate throws. He is highly accurate and shows the touch to work the ball into vertical windows down the field. While he did play in something of a quarterback’s paradise of an offense at Florida, he was able to make consistently good decisions with the ball on the whole, though he does have a tendency to make occasional brain-scratching decisions that needs to be eliminated from his game. 

While he is not as much of a pure project as somebody like Trey Lance, Trask would certainly benefit from some time to get up to speed with the NFL game, so a situation like the Panthers where he can sit behind Teddy for a year and learn would work well. He is a risk like all QB prospects, but that risk is much more palatable in the second round where, if after a year it is clear he isn’t going to be the long-term option, there is an ability to move on that is rarely there with a top-ten selection. 

52nd Overall Pick: Jabril Cox, LB (LSU)

Photo Credit: HILARY SCHEINUK/The Advocate

Cox is another player who really isn’t ready to see the field right away, as while he showed a lot of nice things during his time at both North Dakota State and LSU, he also needs quite a lot of development from a technical perspective and could potentially stand to add a little bulk to deal with playing in the box on a more consistent basis. In terms of need, however, he would be a logical replacement to bring on board if the Panthers plan to move Chinn to safety long-term, with the ability to be a plus coverage linebacker who is able to make a real impact in zone. 

On tape, he shows the instincts, ball skills and athleticism to be one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL but needs to work on his footwork in both man and zone coverage. His run defense, while not without promise, is also in need of a lot of work as he can be far too passive when working against blocks and his tackling technique, while not awful, could also do with some refinement. For the Panthers, he would make sense as somebody who would likely be asked to contribute on special teams early on before being slowly worked into the defense as the season goes on. 

TRADE: Panthers send the 73rd and 113th overall picks to Buffalo for picks 61 and 211

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

The advantage of trading down is that it allows you to accumulate picks and provides the draft capital to then make moves upwards later on. Here, the Panthers are able to move up a dozen places from the top of the third to the back of the 2nd round (similar to what they did last year with Chinn) while flipping a 4th for a 6th. For the Bills, this allows them to get another mid-round pick to add contributing depth as they look to continue to make strides towards being a genuine contender. 

61st Overall Pick: Jaylen Twyman, DL (Pitt)

Photo Credit: Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Even before the Panthers released KK Short they needed to add more interior pass rushers, as their lack of depth at the position got exposed last year when Short was lost for the season. While there is still a chance that they could look to bring Short back in free agency as they did with Charles Johnson a few years ago, even if they do, they have to find their long-term partner for Derrick Brown in the interior. While Twyman has gone a bit under the radar thus far, in part due to sitting out the 2020 season, he projects to be a quality starter on the interior.

Twyman’s not quite as explosive as former Pitt DL Aaron Donald, but he’s certainly a plus athlete and shows the explosion to create real issues for interior offensive linesmen both as a pass rusher and as a penetrator against the run. He also shows some really encouraging hand usage to generate leverage with technique though he could stand to continue to work on his pad level to both improve his effective power and to make it harder for blockers to get hands to his frame. 

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Twyman has areas to develop at and would likely benefit from being able to learn from a veteran like Short early on, but has a ton of talent and would be a great stylistic fit alongside Brown on the interior. 

83rd Overall Pick: Dillon Radunz, OL (North Dakota State)

North Dakota State tackle Dillon Radunz (75) blocks against Central Arkansas defensive lineman Caden Brown (97) and defensive end J.W. Jones (50) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota State won 39-28. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

From what they said last week during their pre-FA press conferences, it seems as though Matt Rhule and Scott Fitterer like the depth in this OL class, and while the Panthers could well look to address the offensive line before this point, there is a potential to add developmental depth at this stage in the draft. Radunz in particular offers a degree of positional flexibility which will not only help in terms of adding depth at multiple positions, but also should give him the best chance to see the field as the Panthers look to rebuild their offensive line once again. 

Whether Radunz can stay at tackle in the NFL is hard to tell, and while teams will likely want to try him there initially, he certainly has the athletic traits to fare well if he does end up moving inside at the next level. From a technique perspective, he shows good hand placement and uses his feet well to generate leverage in the run game while showing pretty good lateral movement in pass protection. His pad level and balance would benefit from moving inside, but if he does stay at tackle then his footwork is going to have to tighten up. 

For the Panthers, he would add another name into the mix at tackle but is probably best placed to compete for one of the starting guard roles. He probably isn’t the piece that changes an offensive line but a passable starter in the third round is definitely an avenue the Panthers could end up going down. 

151st Overall: Darren Hall, CB (San Diego State)

Photo Credit: SDSU Athletics

The cornerback position has been mentioned a lot already this season, and it seems as though this is one of the Panthers’ main priorities this offseason. While it seems very likely that the Panthers will at least attempt to sign somebody to start alongside Donte Jackson in free agency, the fact that the coaching staff don’t appear to be ready to hand the reigns over to either Troy Pride or Stanley Thomas-Oliver suggests that they could look to bring in competition for depth places at the position as well. 

At 6’0 190lbs Hall has the length that the Panthers look for in cornerbacks, and while he’s unlikely to be breaking any 40-yard dash records he has the speed to run vertically with receivers and the ball skills to turn chances into interceptions. He will need to continue to develop in the NFL, both in terms of his footwork, his tackling and adjusting to the speed and complexity of the NFL game, but certainly should be able to compete with the likes of Pride and Thomas-Oliver for a roster spot.

192nd Overall Pick: Riley Patterson, K (Memphis)

Photo Credit: University of Memphis Athletics

Joey Slye hasn’t been a bad kicker so far in his NFL career, but he hasn’t been notably better than a replacement level player either, and while the Panthers shouldn’t be major players for a kicker in free agency, adding yet more competition in the draft doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Projecting kickers to the NFL is notoriously extremely difficult, and it’s hard to make a strong case for any one prospect based on college numbers, but Patterson is widely viewed as one of the better prospects at the position this year and that seems as good a reason to mock a kicker to the Panthers as any. 

211th Overall Pick: Tre McKitty, TE (Georgia)

Georgia tight end Tre McKitty (87) during the Bulldogs’ game with Tennessee in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker)

The lack of production the Panthers have got out of the tight end position in 2020 has hardly been a secret, and while this is definitely an area they could look to add talent at through free agency, addressing it through the draft is also a very real possibility. While this draft class has a very large gap between the top prospect (Kyle Pitts) and everybody else, there is then a sizeable group of prospects in the second and third tiers, and the Panthers would be smart to wait and see which of them falls later on day three. Here, that happens to be Georgia’s Tre McKitty. 

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McKitty is something of a project, as he was almost exclusively used as a blocker during his time in college but showed some real flashes as a receiver during the Senior Bowl, and could be a real asset for a team that is willing to be patient. As a blocker, he needs to work on his footwork as he can set quite a narrow base at times but uses his hands well and has the power to hold his own against NFL linebackers and even some defensive ends. 

As a receiver, he isn’t the most explosive player but is a smooth athlete with great hands and flashes enough as a route runner to think that he can develop into a solid player in this regard, though this is probably the area where the biggest improvement is needed in terms of his transition from college to the NFL. For the Panthers, he could compete for a roster spot early with the likes of Colin Thompson, with the potential to contribute more meaningfully as a receiver as time goes by. 

220th Overall Pick: Damar Hamlin, DB (Pitt.)

Photo Credit: Pitt Panthers

If I had to guess, I would say that the Panthers probably aren’t going to be super active in trying to replace Tre Boston unless they think they have a chance to get an excellent deal, be that in the draft or free agency, and will instead look to the likes of Kenny Robinson, Sam Franklin and Myles Hartsfield to replace him. With Justin Burris entering the final year of his contract, however, by the time it comes to the final stages of the draft they could look to add depth who can play special teams before perhaps stepping into a larger role in 2022. Hamlin at this point in the draft would be a great fit for such a role.

There’s a lot to like about Hamlin, as he is a good athlete with some of the best movement skills in the class at the position and should be able to make an immediate contribution on special teams with his pursuit speed and good tackling technique. In terms of his ceiling, his shows the traits to be a natural replacement for Burris as the nickel safety who is able to drop down to the slot and play some man coverage, and while Hamlin needs to continue to work on his footwork, this is where he was most impressive on tape. 

While the Panthers don’t play a ton of man coverage, they do it enough for that to be a valuable trait in man coverage and, combined with the fact that he looks to be a solid if unspectacular zone defender, then his value late in the draft is excellent, and could potentially even push to be included in the mix to replace Boston in the short term. 

224th Overall: Nick Niemann, LB (Iowa)

Nov 21, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Nick Niemann (49) tackles Penn State Nittany Lions running back Caziah Holmes (26) during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of players who would be able to offer depth and special teams in the short term while also having the talent to develop into starters with time, Iowa’s Nick Niemann could be the latest day three linebacker to take that particular pathway for the Panthers. For the Panthers, while Jermaine Carter and Shaq Thompson should be expected to be the starters for 2021, Carter is out of contract at the end of the year and with Jeremy Chinn potentially moving back to a more conventional safety role at some point, they could do to add depth players that have a chance to grow into larger roles.

On tape, Niemann shows good athleticism and is an excellent tackler, with flashes of the hand usage to work off blocks in the box, the footwork to play a high quality of man coverage in the slot and the instincts to generate turnovers in zone coverage. He will need to continue to work on his footwork at the head of routes and maybe add a little more bulk given that he will likely spend more time in the box at the NFL level than he did in college, but certainly looks to be good value at this stage in the draft. 

Photo Credit: @Panthers

What the Panthers do end up doing in the draft is likely going to be impacted heavily by what they are able to achieve over the next week or so of free agency. Right now, there are pressing needs at 3-tech and cornerback, and it seems likely that they will need to address at least one of them in some way in free agency, but exactly what they can get done still remains to be seen. This mock draft will likely not accurately represent what the Panthers end up doing come draft day, but hopefully it has introduced you to some new prospects to consider as well as some new potential trade scenarios. 

(Top photo via Chris King | The Independent Florida Alligator)

 

Vincent Richardson on Twitter
Vincent Richardson
Managing Editor at Riot Report
Fan of zone coverage, knee bend and running backs running routes. Twitter: @vrichardson444