It is still a very long way to go until the 2020 NFL draft – but with the regular season and the Combine now well behind us, a new coaching staff in place and attention turning to the post-Super Bowl NFL reality, let’s take a look at who the Panthers might be looking at, and how they could look to get their rebuild started with a bang. Please note that these are approximate draft positions for the later rounds due to comp picks yet to be officially announced.
7th Overall: Derrick Brown, iDL (Auburn)
This far out from the draft, it’s hard to know who will still be there on the board at seven – but what is likely is that if they are rebuilding, the Panthers will be firmly in the mindset of taking the best player available and looking to collect talent to build around. Brown benefitted from going back to school and while he is still somewhat inconsistent on tape and his performance at the Combine was worrying, there are still flashes of all the technique needed to be an effective pro to go with his outstanding power and surprising quickness. The 6-5, 318 pound lineman is somebody who will need to continue to develop in order to make the most of his NFL career, but the fact that he is a better prospect now than a year ago is encouraging and the Panthers are going to need to get younger on the defensive interior moving forward.
And then there’s this:
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) March 6, 2020
38th Overall: Josh Jones, OL (Houston)
The projections for Jones are a little all-over-the-place at this point, and this is probably about as far as the Panthers could expect him to fall, but if he is still on the board, I would expect them to have a serious interest in him, even if they might have to play a few games to get all of their offensive line talent on the field at the same time should he join the Panthers.
Jones moves really well for a player of his size and has really nice power to go with some fairly well-developed technical elements. There are some lingering concerns about how well he might be able to handle the upper tiers of NFL speed rushers, but he has a ton of upside and could well be another useful building block for a Panthers’ offensive line that is going through quite a lot of change. In terms of how he would fit in with the Panthers’ other offensive linemen, there is a chance that he would be tried at guard early on, which would partly help to make the most of his power and good hand usage but also because that is where he would have the easiest path to the field. However, with both Okung and Moton hitting free agency after this season, Jones would almost certainly be given a chance to try his hand at tackle on one side or the other – and the Panthers would likely be keen to see a starting tackle pairing of Little and Jones when the 2021 season rolls around.
69th Overall: Jeremy Chinn, DB (Southern Illinois)
This is maybe a little late for Chinn, whom might be more likely to be selected in the back half of the second round, but he is certainly somebody who cemented his case to go in the first two days of the draft at the Combine and would be a hugely interesting piece for a Phil Snow defense going forward if he lasts as long as the 69th pick.
It’s hard to deny that Chinn has a ton of upside, and was allowed a fairly significant amount of free reign schematically at Southern Illinois, but he shows the range and ball skills to play the deep middle as a free safety as well as the foot quickness, balance, speed and agility to drop down into the slot and cover tight ends, running backs and even most receivers in man. He’s a pretty good tackler as well. Chinn is going to take some time coming out of a smaller school to get used to the higher speed of the game and the more complex defensive scheme, but he comes across as a highly intelligent player and person, is surprisingly technically proficient for a small school guy and has athleticism which jumps off the screen.
113th Overall: Bryan Edwards, WR (South Carolina)
Bryan Edwards would arguably have been the best receiver prospect in the 2019 draft class had he declared, but in a stacked 2020 class, he isn’t getting as much attention as he might otherwise and could offer excellent value in the mid rounds. Not only that, his combination of size, ball skills and underneath route running would work as a perfect complement to Samuel and Moore, allowing them to work deeper downfield while he offered a consistent safety blanket who could cause nightmares against teams in man coverage unless they direct attention his way. He would also give the Panthers some much needed red zone help, with the ability to win the ball at the catch point as well as the footwork to consistently beat press.
He’s also surprisingly quick for a receiver who might get mistaken for a tight end on first glance.
153th Overall: Logan Wilson, LB (Wyoming)
The Panthers can’t afford to be lured into trying to find direct replacements for all the people who they are liable to lose this offseason – and they shouldn’t draft Wilson just because Luke Kuechly is gone. That being said, Wilson is really good and at this point in the draft is also good value. Wilson shows a really nice read of the game, moves well in space and has the range and ball skills to be a real factor as an underneath and intermediate coverage player. He might not be the biggest linebacker who has ever lived, but he is more than capable of taking on blockers at the point of attack and is a technically very good tackler. His Combine numbers aren’t going to jump off the page, but his testing puts him in the upper tiers of athleticism for an NFL linebacker, and with some time to adjust to the faster pace of the NFL game, he could be a really useful piece to pair with Shaq Thompson in the middle of the defense.
184th Overall: Dane Jackson, CB (Pittsburgh)
The Panthers are likely going to be in the CB market whatever happens and when Bradberry officially leaves in free agency, that is only likely to increase that need, but if they go elsewhere at seven (some mocks have Okudah available), they may well be better suited to waiting and taking a chance on somebody later on. It may not be worth risking a higher pick; cornerbacks are far from the most reliable position to draft once you get past the elite prospects. With that said, Jackson does a lot of nice things on tape, shows really nice movement skills and offers some value as a run defender and in terms of ball production. He probably isn’t the guy to replace Bradberry if it comes to that, but he could well be a starting corner down the road or at least add some much needed depth.
222nd Overall: Cole McDonald, QB (Hawaii)
This is how you do a developmental quarterback.
Cole McDonald has quite a lot of flaws, his throwing motion needs reworking, he has only played in a simple college spread offense and he holds onto the ball too long at times. However, this is the seventh round, and he also has a ton of things on tape to like, as well as the fact that coming from Hawaii there might be reason to hope at a chance his issues are coachable rather than just innate flaws. First of all, his arm is huge – not just that, but despite his unusual throwing motion, he shows good accuracy and has excellent touch. He did an excellent job of running the Hawaii offense for the most part and while he’s not the second coming of Michael Vick, he’s pretty good as a rushing option with the ball in his hand. McDonald is a massive long shot, but it seems like Will Grier might not be the player the Panthers hoped he was and at this point in the draft, the value of hitting on a QB is easier to rationalize away the risk with.
As always, a mock draft at this stage is near complete guesswork in terms of who goes where – at least after the first round, but these are at least seven players currently expected to go in the general range selected and who would make a lot of sense for the Panthers at those spots.
This won’t fill all the Panthers’ needs following what is likely to be something of an exodus in free agency, but it is at least a good start.