The Panthers had an eventful second day of the draft, trading down three times, trading up one and selecting three players in Terrace Marshall, Brady Christensen and Tommy Tremble. However, while those three players will go a long way to determining the success or failure of this draft class for the Panthers, one other result of all these trades is that the Panthers go into the third day of the draft with five picks, highlighted by the 109th overall selection early in the fourth round.
So, while day three is always known for its chaos, who are some prospects who might be targets for the Panthers on the final day of the draft?
Kary Vincent Jr, S (LSU)
Having passed on the likes of Trevon Moehrig, Andre Cisco and Richie Grant on day two, the Panthers could well look to find a long-term partner for Jeremy Chinn on the final day of the draft. Vincent Jr, who played both safety and nickel at LSU in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season, has great speed and quickness with the range to cover sideline-to-sideline as a deep cover player and flashes the instincts and ball skills to make plays on the ball on the back end.
He does need to tighten up some of his footwork if he is to play in the slot against receivers and he doesn’t have the ideal size to match up against tight ends in man coverage, but if the Panthers are looking for somebody who can offer elite upside as a centerfield safety with the versatility to also drop into the slot and act as an extra nickel corner then he is going to attract attention.
James Hudson, OT (Cincinnati)
In Brady Christensen, the Panthers got a technically sound pass protector who might lack the foot speed to stay at tackle in the NFL, and while he will likely get a chance to compete for the left tackle spot this offseason, he is probably not the long-term answer at the position. While there are no polished pass protectors left on day three, at least not at tackle, what the Panthers might do is target a developmental player like James Hudson.
Hudson shows a lot of good things on tape, he has quick feet, good balance and lower body flexibility but technically he is very raw and will likely need to have his stance completely rebuilt at the NFL level. While he will turn 22 this offseason, he is still young enough to pay-off the investment and if the Panthers think he is coachable then he would be a good option as somebody they can draft, develop for a year and then expect to compete for a starting role in 2022.
Daviyon Nixon, DT (Iowa)
It is surprising that Nixon is still on the board at this point and, while the Panthers did sign Daquan Jones before the draft, they have a distinct lack of interior pass rush and while still something of a developmental option, Nixon could certainly add that. He currently shows a reasonably developed power-based rush, and while he is unlikely to ever win consistently with quickness at the NFL level, he has the potential to become as impactful as any defensive tackle in the class.
He does, however, need to improve his pad level, and the consistency of this will be the biggest determinant in how much impact he is able to make early on, and if he is then able to continue to add to his pass rushing repertoire over time then he can be a high-quality starter. As a run defender, he again needs to work on his pad level, but he shows good hand placement and arm extension and is able to use this to work off blocks effectively.
Michal Menet, iOL (Penn State)
How important it is for the Panthers to add interior offensive line hope really depends on what they think of both Pat Elflein and Brady Chirstensen. If they expect both to be viable starters on the OL in 2020 then this is less of a pressing concern, but even if that is the case this is still an area where the Panthers have to add depth. Menet is another who is not the youngest of prospects, but he is a technically highly proficient player who would excel in a directional blocking scheme.
Like all offensive linemen, there is room for his pad level to improve yet further, but he locates his hands well, shows the footwork to create rushing lanes laterally and is really impressive when working to the second level. While he doesn’t have eye-popping athleticism, he should still be able to cover laterally in pass protection with enough strength to hold up against bull rushers. He might never be a star, but he could compete to start right away across the interior and would offer long-term security with Matt Paradis entering the final year of his contract.
Cam McGrone, LB (Michigan)
One other theme from the Panthers’ day two picks is an affinity for young, athletic players who they can continue to mold at the NFL level. McGrone certainly fits that description as he won’t turn 21 until the summer and has easy fluidity and range on tape. He isn’t a thumper by any means but is the athletic prototype of what teams look for in the modern NFL and would be a great fit to develop behind the current starters while being able to contribute on special teams.
As well as being a fluid and flashy athlete, McGrone shows good gaps discipline and pursuit in the run game while being a good technical tackler, though he does need to improve at working off blocks at the point of attack. In coverage, he needs to continue to develop his reading of the game in zone and refine his footwork in man coverage but does an awful lot of good things and could be a very good player with time.
Jaelon Darden, WR (North Texas)
While the Panthers have already selected a receiver, they could stand to add further depth to the position and with Marshall likely going to play outside most of the time he’s on the field, finding somebody who can rotate into the slot and replicate some of what Curtis Samuel was able to do would be ideal. Darden is certainly on the smaller size, and doesn’t have the deep speed of a Samuel, but is very twitchy and a nightmare to tackle after the catch.
He also has good hands, and while he didn’t run the fullest route tree at North Texas and is unlikely to ever be the most impressive vertical route runner, his agility and quickness allow him to create separation well underneath and his ability to offer a security blanket from the slot with YAC upside would be a good stylistic compliment to what Terrace Marshall is able to bring to the table.
Cameron Sample, DL (Tulane)
Sample is an interesting prospect, which may be part of why he is on the board at this point, as having spent much of his college career as an edge rush, often from a two-point stance, he now looks primed to move to 3-tech at the NFL. While he isn’t the biggest player, he has good quickness and really impressive strength for the position, combine this with good pad level and hand usage and he has a chance to excel as an interior pass rusher from a three man front especially.
As a run defender, he can struggle to anchor against double teams, but he is able to make up for his lack of bulk by getting under the pads of blockers with good arm extension which allows him to then work off effectively. As a pass rusher, he is still something of a work in progress but flashes a very promising and diverse rush at the Senior Bowl under the gaze of the Panthers’ coaches and could be an extremely valuable piece from the interior with a little time to develop.
Michael Carter, RB (North Carolina)
Yes, running back is far from the Panthers’ most pressing need, but with Mike Davis departing in free agency and Reggie Bonnafon a similar stylistic player to McCaffrey, the Panthers may well look to add a more downhill rusher to compliment them. Carter isn’t a thumper, but he has the strength and power to run through contact inside while also having the speed to break plays to the house. He did struggle for agility at times rushing laterally, but in a scheme that asks him to get downhill and bounce between lanes his vision should allow him to be highly effective.
In the passing game, he did have some drops on more difficult receptions, but he has pretty good hands on the whole and while he didn’t run the fullest route tree at North Carolina there were still some encouraging signs to believe he can be at least decent in this regard. While he will be challenged more from a mental standpoint in pass protection in the NFL, he is a very good technical pass protector for a college running back and could potentially play that role for the Panthers well. Not a massive need, but a good player and a stylistic fit.
Shaun Wade, CB (Ohio State)
Yes, the Panthers have already drafted three corners over the past two seasons as well as signing AJ Bouye in free agency and finding nickel Myles Hartsfield as a UDFA, but with Donte Jackson entering the final year of his contract and neither Troy Pride or Stanley Thomas-Oliver showing much as rookies, the Panthers could look to add further to the position, especially if the value is there. Wade has slipped from a potential first round pick to a day three selection, and there are issues on tape, but he has the upside to be a high-quality starter.
He is a good athlete, with good quickness and vertical speed with the movement skills to play a high quality of man coverage. He does a good job in press on the whole but needs to make sure he doesn’t get as flat footed at times, especially in off coverage, as this makes it hard for him to break on the ball effectively. In zone, he has good ball skills and the athleticism to drive on routes well but needs to continue to work on his route recognition to make the most out of his physical tools.
Noah Gray, TE (Duke)
Yes, the Panthers have already drafted a tight end, and with Dan Arnold signed in free agency there is not an obvious need at the position but depending on how the Panthers feel about Ian Thomas and Colin Thompson there is still room to add further to the group, and Gray would add another dimension to their passing attack. He might not have the athleticism of Tremble, or the vertical speed of Arnold, but he can offer a high-quality underneath route runner to offer a security blanket for Sam Darnold.
As a blocker, he does need to continue to improve technically, as while he doesn’t lack enthusiasm, he sets quite a narrow base at times and needs to play with more consistent hand location. As a receiver, however, he is a quick and agile route runner with the footwork to create separation at the route head with good hands and enough ability in the air to offer another threat in the endzone. While he would be another luxury selection, when it comes to day three you can afford to make picks of this sort.
While the Panthers do have a range of needs on both sides of the ball, at this point in the draft it is about finding players who have the quality to help your team rather than looking to hunt for particular positions. With that said, there are still a number of interesting options at some positions where the Panthers have needs, especially interior defensive line and safety. It is rare to find star players on day three, but if the Panthers can come away from today with a few contributors then that should be seen as success.
(Top photo via Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)