Needs: The Panthers took a massive step back from their near undefeated, NFC championship season, finishing in last place in the NFC South at 6-10. The needs are obvious: protect Cam Newton better — the Panthers need at least one tackle and an interior offensive linemen in this class, improve the pass rush and try to replace Kony Ealy, who was traded to the Patriots, and get offensive weapons for Newton, specifically a versatile running back and a solid wide receiver.
Picks: First round (8), second round (40, 64), third round (98), fourth round (115), fifth round (152), sixth round (192), seventh round (233).
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Many are enamored with the notion of Leonard Fournette and Cam Newton in the backfield together in Carolina, but the Panthers already have a powerful running back — Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers need someone more dynamic — someone who can open up their offense a bit, as it became stale in 2016. McCaffrey is that running back. While the No. 8 pick is a prime trade-down spot, should Carolina use it, the Stanford running back, who is just as adept at splitting out wide as a receiver as he is running between the tackles (and he’s good at that), should be the pick.
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Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Lawson didn’t see the field much at Auburn because of injuries, but when he was on it he displayed top-15 talent. He’ll likely go in the second round, which could be Carolina’s gain. Per ProFootballFocus, Lawson averaged a hit or hurry every 5.4 pass rushing attempts last year. He’s a demon off the edge, and the Panthers can stand him up if they want (again, let’s mix things up a bit, Carolina.) If Lawson stays healthy, he’s going to be a dynamic pass rusher, exactly what Carolina needs.
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Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell
Davenport is a project lineman who has the perfect frame and length to be a dominant left tackle. The Panthers have a need at offensive tackle, but it’s not an immediate one — they don’t need a ready-made starter. They do need someone who can take over for Michael Oher next year (or halfway through this season, if need be) at right tackle, though. In a draft that isn’t particularly strong or deep at tackle, getting a player with the highest ceiling and trusting your coaching staff to get him ready for the NFL game over a few months is worth the risk.
Sutton showed at the Senior Bowl that he can play any of the three cornerback spots and free safety. The Panthers might need him to hit every one of those spots. Cornerback is still a concern for the Panthers, particularly in the wide-receiver rich NFC South, and free safety is a big issue — the team took calls on Tre Boston last year. Sutton’s Swiss-army-knife skills might not be a long-term solution at any of the needs, but he will patch holes and buy Carolina a year or more to properly address its needs. Every roster needs players like that.
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Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
Westbrook has the ability to go over-the-top with the best of them and is a smooth and clean route runner with strong hands. There are concerns whether he’s going to be big enough to withstand the beating the NFL can inflict, but the Panthers’ offense has plenty of short slants that can give Westbrook space to work and bait a defense into encroaching their safeties. Westbrook’s off-the-field issues could see him fall to the third day, where, morality aside, he’d be a steal for a team that needs a receiver of his talent.