The Carolina Panthers made history at last year’s NFL draft.
In 2020, the Panthers became the first team since the merger in 1970 to use seven picks on the defensive side of the ball. All seven of those players eventually made contributions as the team began the processing of rebuilding its defense.
It is highly unlikely the team will duplicate the 1985 Cleveland Browns, the only team since the merger to select seven offensive players, in next week’s draft. There are still some remaining needs on defense, especially at cornerback and defensive tackle, although it would make for interesting record-setting.
With seven picks in the upcoming draft, the Panthers have an opportunity to add talent to the roster after filling most of the obvious needs, both starters and backups, during free agency. Along the way, the Panthers could set some notable marks and firsts, especially in the first year under general manager Scott Fitterer.
Here are some possibilities some to keep an eye on:
Panthers have not drafted a defensive back in the first round since 2004
It has been close to two decades since Carolina invested a first-round pick on any defensive back — corner or safety. The last time the Panthers drafted a cornerback in the first-round was Chris Gamble in 2004. The team has drafted 38 other defensive backs outside of the first round since 1995, per Pro Football Reference. Since 2005, NFL teams have drafted a total of 93 defensive backs in the first round. During Fitterer’s time with the Seattle Seahawks, the team only drafted two corners in the first-round, but a significant amount of trading out of the first day helped with that.
Why this could be the year: Last year, the Panthers drafted two cornerbacks, Troy Pride Jr. and Stan Thomas-Oliver, and two other defensive backs, hybrid player Jeremy Chinn and safety Kenny Robinson.
Even though the team signed veteran corner A.J. Bouye recently, cornerback remains a position that needs to be addressed. Bouye is not a long-term solution, Donte Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie deal — although an extension could be on the way — and Pride is still developing.
Taking a corner at No. 8 is a possibility for the Panthers and could also be a strong option if the team gets a good offer to trade back.
Players to watch: Patrick Surtain II (Alabama), Jaycee Horn (South Carolina).
A former Clemson player has never been drafted by Panthers
No, it’s not going to be Trevor Lawrence playing in Charlotte, but could this be the year a former Clemson Tiger is drafted by the Panthers?
The reality that the team has never drafted someone from Clemson is one of a list of random facts that can be trotted out each draft weekend, but it stands out because of the proximity of the school to Bank of America Stadium. Currently, there are no former Clemson players on the roster.
A couple of Tigers were coached by the Panthers staff at the Senior Bowl, Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell, and could be potential fits as Carolina works to get younger on offense.
Players to watch: WR Amari Rodgers; WR Cornell Powell; OL Jackson Carman.
Could the 10th quarterback in franchise history be drafted?
The Panthers added a new face to the quarterback room by trading for former New York Jets’ third-overall pick Sam Darnold. The organization has selected nine quarterbacks in the draft, including two in the first-round — Kerry Collins (1995) and Cam Newton (2011). Since 2011, Newton and 2019 third-round pick Will Grier have been the only quarterbacks the team has drafted.
Why this could be the year: Even after trading for Darnold, the Panthers could still draft a quarterback. It is now less likely in the first round, but taking a chance on a player on Day 2 or Day 3 is also a possibility as the team looks to get the quarterback situation straightened out.
Players to watch: Justin Fields (Ohio State), Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), Davis Mills (Stanford).
No tight end drafted in first two rounds
Tight end is not often a position addressed early in the NFL draft. Florida’s Kyle Pitts is the notable name this year, but he is likely to be off the board by the time Carolina picks at No. 8.
The Panthers have only drafted one tight end in the first three rounds of the draft — Mike Seidman 76th overall in 2003. Drafting a tight end early in Seattle was not unheard of, including Nick Vannett in the third-round in 2016.
Why this could be the year: Dan Arnold was added to the tight end room this offseason, but there is still a need at the position for another top pass-catcher. The Panthers’ previous history does not involve addressing the position early, but there is a major need this year for Joe Brady’s offense and it could be something addressed earlier under coach Matt Rhule and Fitterer.
Players to watch: Pat Freiermuth (Penn State), Hunter Long (Boston College), Brevin Jordan (Miami FL).