They say that the time between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft seems like it lasts a lifetime – but this year, the world has literally changed in the last 81 days. Instead of unveiling a grand stage over the fountains of the Bellagio with hundreds of thousands of screaming fans Thursday night, Roger Goodell will be reading the picks and getting booed across America from his basement in Bronxville, New York.
Instead of flash bulbs and the chance at a ‘draft moment’ in front of a horde of adoring fans, the top 58 picks in the draft have been given explicit instructions on what to wear, what not to drink – no energy drinks and certainly no alcohol – and will be surrounded by no more than 10 people in their homes as the NFL tries to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic that has turned the past two months into an offseason like never before – no teams have been allowed at their facilities this month and some coaches are telling their players there will be no offseason programs at all.
Instead of Matt Rhule getting a couple of extra weeks to work with his new team, he will be going into his first NFL draft having had four days of meetings via teleconference with his new team after the NFL allowed the Panthers to begin their ‘virtual offseason’ on Monday. This change in the past two months has not only affected scouts and coaching staffs – Pro Days and Top 30 visits were abruptly canceled as the severity of the coronavirus became clear in what felt like an instant – it’s affected the folks who cover the draft as well.
Instead of the normal landscape of visits that are reported, the Panthers had less than 30 visits reported, most of which likely were self-reported from an agent to a reporter trying to drum up interest in his client. The Rams apparently had less than 10.
Whatever charts I post [and there’s a LOT] there’s always someone who thinks it’s super unfair and misleading of me to post it because they like the data in a different visualisation.
Cost of doing business on Twitter.
Here’s the same data but also showing total visit numbers. pic.twitter.com/Qcm1gCf2A4
— Tom Kislingbury (@TomKislingbury) April 14, 2020
Obviously, these numbers don’t tell the full story – NFL scouting programs are among the most diligent across any industry – but it illustrates the larger point. Without the opportunity to be in the building, without the opportunity to casually interact with sources and even other reporters, without the unfettered access of the Annual League Meeting in Florida – changed to a teleconference – it has been increasingly impossible for most pundits to correctly predict the draft, even moreso than usual.
“I believe we’ll see less groupthink in the draft this year. At pro days, coaches & scouts (from diff teams) spend so much time around each other & they end up forming a consensus on players,” tweeted Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network. “Not the case this year. Some will be shocked at how high/low these guys go.”
With a brand new coaching staff but a familiar general manager, it’s unclear who will have the final say in the Panthers war room – in this mock draft, I’ll have the final say….but i’ll give some other options at each pick just in case. So with that in mind, and with the idea that mock drafts are ripe for being mocked, here’s my best guess at which way the Panthers will draft.
Let’s rock and roll.
Round 1 – TRADE!
The Panthers trade Picks #7 & #148 to the New York Jets for #11, #68, #211 and a 2021 Third-Round Pick
Yes, that’s right – the rumors are true. With an eye towards the future and a large second tier of players along with a quarterback and multiple tackles still available at the seventh pick, the Panthers have multiple offers to move back from the seventh pick.
Which they’re more than happy to take advantage of – while Matt Rhule would love to go to the Super Bowl this season and Hurney, who’s contract is up this year, doesn’t want to bottom out, they don’t need to make the playoffs to have a successful 2020. Therefore, instead of staying at the seventh pick and taking Derrick Brown – that’s who I think they’d go with if they don’t move back – they’ll happily trade only four spots back and with the Jets desperate to pick up a tackle, they get a sweetener in next year’s draft. And they still get to draft the guy they wanted originally.
Round 1, Pick #11 – CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
The Panthers need a cornerback to replace James Bradberry and Henderson is surprisingly similar to the corner that just left; he’s excellent in coverage, needs to improve his tackling if he wants to be a premier corner – he’s not unwilling to mix it up, but he does miss a lot of tackles – and his natural athletic ability and movement skills will immediately allow him to match up with Mike Evans, Julio Jones and the rest of the terrifying lineup the Panthers have to deal with in the NFC South.
Also Considered: Ceedee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma – Yes, it seems inane after the Panthers signed multiple free agent wide receivers, but there’s something to be said for the Panthers ‘throwing their fastball’ and going all-in on offense with the guy who they view as the #1 wide receiver in the draft. If you can’t stop the opposing offenses of the NFC South, you’ll have to keep up with ’em. There’s also the chance that the Panthers trade back and both Brown and Henderson are gone – if that’s the case, I’d bet on a wide receiver coming off the board. And Matt Rhule got a first-hand look at what Lamb can do when he went up against Baylor in the Big XII Championship and did…..this.
Pick #38 – Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
After getting a corner, the Panthers take advantage of the deepest wide receiver class in recent memory by pulling the trigger on a dynamic prospect in Reagor. With Joe Brady’s ability to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally, he’ll need as many passcatchers as possible – and let’s not forget that Curtis Samuel’s contract is up at the end of 2020. Reagor has both explosive burst and the ability to change directions quickly with terrific control – he can play at all the receiver positions and when paired with DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and Christian McCaffrey, would absolutely terrify opposing defensive coordinators.
Also Considered: Antoine Winfield, Jr., S, Minnesota – I’ll defer to Vincent Richardson here, who loves the versatility of Winfield — “Phil Snow – who wants players who can be versatile and play multiple different roles – would find himself with two players in Winfield and [new safety Juston] Burris who are able to play everywhere from the slot to the deep middle, and who in combination with Tre Boston could lead to completely different defenses without having to change personnel.”