With the draft now just a day away, and with GM Scott Fitterer having set the scene with his pre-draft press conference yesterday, we now have a fairly clear picture of what the Panthers’ plans and preferences might be as they head into the first round. Though they have been very tight-lipped about specific comments, based on what has been said in generalities and the consensus view of some of the top prospects in this year’s draft, fans should now have a fairly good idea of who they could be interested in with the 6th pick.
With that in mind, we’ve broken down the five directions the Panthers could feasibly take with their pick, ranked from least likely/desirable to most.
5. Trade Up
This has to be mentioned for completeness, but it seems as though the odds of the Panthers moving up from the 6th spot are very, very slim indeed. In a different year with different draft assets outside the first round the Panthers may have been tempted to try and move up a spot or to try and secure one of the top tackles in case of a run, but with no picks between the 6th and 137th overall picks there is no way that the Panthers could make any move up from six without involving future draft assets, something that Scott Fitterer made very clear they are hesitant to do.
Trading up isn’t always a bad thing, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Panthers made some moves on day three if they think a prospect has fallen well past where they have them on their board, and with five picks on the final day they have more ammunition to make such a move, but a trade up in the first round seems to be both very unlikely and an undesirable outcome.
4. Edge Rusher
This could easily be listed as ‘Best Player Available’ but, as the Panthers would likely struggle to justify taking either a receiver or a cornerback with their top pick, even if edge rusher isn’t at the top of the Panthers board before they account for team need, it seems like the only position outside of the two big needs that the Panthers could, and should, consider with the sixth pick.
If the Panthers do see a run on offensive tackles and possibly quarterbacks ahead of them tomorrow night, then that likely means that only one or two edge rushers have been taken by the time they pick. Though in a draft class as unpredictable as this it is hard to know what order the top edge rushers will come off the board, if any of Travon Walker, Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux and George Karlaftis are on the board when the Panthers pick then they have a chance of being the pick.
This might not be the position group that Panthers fans will necessarily go into the draft daydreaming about, but it seems like it is a genuine possibility with the sixth pick.
One notable thing from Scott Fitterer’s press conference on Tuesday was that they have at least one quarterback graded high enough to take with the 6th pick. Though this could well be a smokescreen to try and convince other teams that, if they are targeting one of the top quarterbacks, that they will need to do so before the Panthers get on the clock with the 6th pick, it could also be a genuine sign that this is something on the card for the Panthers.
Whether the Panthers, or any team for that matter, should take a quarterback early in this draft comes with a sizeable asterisk as, with no consensus elite quarterback prospects, any team that is looking at taking a quarterback is going to have to have bought into the developmental potential of the prospect in question. If this is the case, and that player falls to the Panthers at 6, then this should shoot up to #1 on the to-do list as, if a team genuinely believes in a quarterback prospect, it is hard to justify not having that player at the top of your board.
If the Panthers don’t have such a player on their board, however, then they need to avoid shopping hungry and go in a different direction.
2. Offensive Tackle
By all accounts there are three offensive tackle prospect who most pundits have as their top three at the position, though the order of the three varies significantly. Outside of the quarterback scenario described above, if one of these three prospects makes it to six then it seems fairly likely that this will be the pick for the Panthers. Though the Panthers have made it clear they are willing to keep Brady Christensen at tackle in the short term in order to avoid having to reach for a tackle early on, this is clearly an area they feel a need to address.
Of the three prospects; Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu and Charles Cross; who most expect to be the top three tackles off the board, it is hard to know which, if any, will make it to the 6th pick, and there has been growing noise about Charles Cross being higher on some teams’ boards than the media noise over the past month or so might indicate, but with teams knowing that the Panthers are looking at the tackles there is a real chance that the Jets and Giants, who have picks either side of the Panthers and potential needs at tackle, will be keen to take tackles before the Panthers get on the clock.
1. Trade Down
While Scott Fitterer was very clear that there is no point trading down for the sake of trading down, with no picks on day two and a lot of needs outside of headline ones it is going to be very hard to ignore any meaningful offer that comes their way. This is, of course, dependent on what other teams are willing to give up to move up, but if somebody in the late teens or even early twenties is willing to offer multiple day two picks and possibly 2023 assets for the sixth spot then that’s going to be hard to pass on.
Essentially, everything has its price and, though the Panthers aren’t able to control their trade-down options, whoever falls to them with the sixth pick they should, and likely would, have a price to be willing to pass on that player and, almost by definition, a team making an offer that is too good to pass on would be the best outcome.
However, aside from this more philosophical view, in a draft class that is short of consensus elite prospects the appeal of getting multiple shots at players in the 25-50 pick region that Scott Fitterer mentioned as the strength of this draft class would almost certainly outweigh the value of any individual prospect.
With so much uncertainty surrounding what the five teams picking ahead of the Panthers tomorrow night will do, it is hard to know which of these paths the Panthers will be able to take. In an ideal world. at least one receiver or cornerback will go in the top five picks, with the worst-case scenario being all three of the top tackles being gone by the sixth pick and no teams calling to move up.
Only time will tell.