Almost a year ago to the day, The Charlotte Observer published a mock draft, selecting Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown with the seventh overall pick.
It wasn’t a controversial selection. Brown was a known natural fit with the Panthers, filled a need and was highly likely to be available based on the teams picking ahead of No. 7.
This year, it’s not quite as simple. There are multiple reasons for that. First, there are many needs the team could logically address in the first round — on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest factor, however, is that there is uncertainty regarding what the teams ahead of and behind the Panthers will do. After the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets pick, there are a variety of ways that the top of the draft could go.
As there is every year, rumors about teams trading up, trading down or staying put are running rampant. Depending on how the top of the draft goes, it would make sense for the Panthers to potentially move back, if an attractive offer makes itself available.
Despite fewer players than usual entering this year’s draft after the NCAA extended eligibility rules due to the COVID pandemic, the Panthers felt it was important to have a high number of picks in this year’s draft and are likely to trade back to acquire even more.
“I think we drafted well last year, and, to be quite honest, we need another really strong draft,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said this month. “At the eighth position, we’ll be flexible, we’ll look to take the best player available. We’ll continue to look at quarterbacks. I’ve been impressed, going around and watching some of these guys throw. We’ll look at anything and everything.”
In this edition of the Panthers’ mock draft, we’re taking a look at an alternative option, as well if the team trades back in the first round. Reminder: There are many places in the draft the team could look to acquire more picks, but we’ll stick to just the first day here.
FIRST ROUND, PICK NO. 8
▪ Name: Penei Sewell
▪ Year/Age: Junior/20
Am I optimistic that Sewell is going to be sitting there at No. 8, just waiting for the Panthers to select him? No, the Cincinnati Bengals should absolutely take him with the fifth pick. The reason I am still taking him here in this mock draft is because it is still a viable possibility, and if Sewell is there, he is the type of player who Carolina cannot pass over if he is available.
Many scouts have Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater projected as a guard in the NFL. And some draft analysts, such as NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, have Slater ranked ahead of Sewell. It’s not impossible that Slater comes off before Sewell, just less likely.
The Panthers have such a need at left tackle that taking Sewell, who allowed one sack during his entire career at Oregon, would be a tremendous improvement to the line.
If the quarterbacks go quickly, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts gets picked early, as expected, and the Bengals pick a wide receiver, it’s not impossible for Sewell to be available, and if he is, the Panthers can’t pass on him. This is a deep tackle class. Teams like Cincinnati could see value in addressing other needs in the first round.
Other players considered at No. 8: OL Rashawn Slater, CB Patrick Surtain II, QB Justin Fields.
Trade option: Panthers trade No. 8 to New England Patriots for No. 15, next year’s first-round pick.
If the Panthers move back into the first, South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn would make a lot of sense. Horn averaged 27.4 converge snaps per catch allowed in seven games last year, best in the country, and gave up just eight catches for 116 yards on 24 targets, per PFF. The son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn, this pick would fill a need at corner for the Panthers and add an aggressive player to the secondary.
SECOND ROUND, PICK NO. 38
▪ Name: Landon Dickerson
▪ Position: C/OG
▪ School: Alabama
▪ Year/Age: Redshirt senior/22
Dickerson, who grew up in Hickory, has a bad injury history, and his health will be a legitimate concern for NFL teams. This pick works in either first-round scenario. The Panthers have enough needs on the offensive line that taking linemen back-to-back would be a positive for rebuilding the line for the future.
With Matt Paradis entering the final year of his deal, the Panthers could use a center of the future, and free agent Pat Elflein isn’t necessarily that guy. There is also long-term uncertainty at the two guard positions. His versatility is an upside, and while he didn’t play in the Senior Bowl game, the Panthers coaching staff was able to spend plenty of time around him during the week in Mobile.
The Panthers are putting a priority on getting younger on offense. That could be seen early in this draft.
Other players considered at No. 38: TE Pat Freiermuth, S Richie Grant, CB Asante Samuel Jr. (in non-trade scenario).
THIRD ROUND, PICK NO. 73
▪ Name: Brevin Jordan
▪ Position: Tight end
▪ School: Miami
▪ Year/Age: Junior/20
The need for a pass-catching tight end is obvious. There is a bit of a gap between Pitts and everyone else in this year’s draft class, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still players with potential for the Panthers later in the draft.
Jordan finished his final college season with 38 receptions, 576 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games played. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein describes him as being best at “creating looks for his quarterbacks on simple outs, crossers and slants.” For a team that is trying to help newly acquired quarterback Sam Darnold succeed, Jordan could be a big boost to that, however, he needs to work on his run blocking.
Other players considered at No. 73: DT Daviyon Nixon, WR Amari Rodgers.
FOURTH ROUND, PICK NO. 113
▪ Name: Shakur Brown
▪ Position: Cornerback
▪ School: Michigan State
▪ Year: Redshirt Junior/22
At this point, in the non-trade-back scenario,the Panthers need to grab a corner. If the trade with the Patriots did take place, instead the team would take DT Osa Odighizuwa to bring in a three-technique defensive tackle.
Brown was a two-year starter at Michigan State, playing both outside corner and nickel. During the 2020 season, he intercepted five passes in seven starts, ending the year leading the FBS with 0.7 interceptions per game. Zierlein describes him as playing “like an angry hornet with a relentless, edgy play demeanor.” Seems like a Rhule kind of guy.
On the next level, he could play inside or outside, which could be a huge perk for the Panthers’ defense.
Other players considered at No. 113: DT Osa Odighizuwa, WR Shi Smith, TE Hunter Long.
FIFTH ROUND, PICK NO. 151
▪ Name: Rhamondre Stevenson
▪Position: Running back
It’s not a need that’s talked about enough, but Carolina would be wise to add a durable backup running back to Christian McCaffrey. Stevenson could fit the role.
Panthers running back coach Jeff Nixon said that one of the major qualities he is looking for in a backup to McCaffrey is someone who can play all three downs. During his time at Oklahoma, Stevenson proved he could be capable of that at the NFL level. At 6-foot and 231 pounds, he is a bigger back who has had success as a downhill runner.
One note: Stevenson was suspended for the Sooners’ playoff game against LSU in 2019 after allegedly failing a drug test. That suspension carried over to the first five games of the 2020 season
During the 2020 season, he had 101 carries, finishing with 665 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Zierlein describes him as “a change-of-pace bully or a quality three-down backup. He’s not a prominent pass-catcher like McCaffrey, but he could play a meaningful, change-of-pace role in the Panthers offense when the All-Pro isn’t on the field.
Other players considered at No. 151: C Drake Jackson, LB Tony Fields II, G David Moore.
SIXTH ROUND, PICK NO. 193
▪Name: Sadarius Hutcherson
▪School: South Carolina
▪Year/Age: Redshirt Senior/23
No such thing as too many offensive linemen for the Panthers.
I took Hutcherson in my last mock, too, but I like the fit here. There was a different general manager and head coach, but it certainly worked out the last time this team took an offensive lineman out of South Carolina in the sixth round (Dennis Daley). Hutcherson played right guard, left tackle and left guard, his most natural position, with the Gamecocks and made 36 consecutive starts.
Other players considered at No. 193: WR Mike Strachan, LB Isaiah McDuffie, WR Demetric Felton.
SIXTH ROUND, PICK NO. 222
▪Name: Sage Surratt
▪Position: Wide receiver
▪ School: Wake Forest
▪ Year/Age: Redshirt junior/23
We couldn’t do mock drafts without sending one of the Surratt brothers to the Panthers, could we? Carolina would be wise to address wide receiver at some point in the draft with the departure of Curtis Samuel. It’s a deep class and taking a chance on a player or two on Day 3 would make sense. In 2019, Surratt had 66 receptions for 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns before opting out of the 2020 season. He also returned punts.
Surratt’s upside is as a slot receiver, and he could be worth a flier on.
Other players considered at No. 222: QB Jamie Newman, S Jamien Sherwood, WR Whop Philyor.