Full 7-round 2017 NFL mock draft for the Carolina Panthers late in their disappointing season.
Entering the 2016 NFL season, the Carolina Panthers most likely envisioned another trip to the Super Bowl. Sure, they suffered a tough defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos in the big game, but Cam Newton was still in-tow, which always makes a team threatening. Yet, this team is out of postseason contention (essentially) well before Week 17 and, if you’ve watched them, has been for quite some time. Instead of a Super Bowl, the Panthers now have more hope for the 2017 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Carolina Panthers could potentially do through April’s draft. There are glaring holes on both sides of the ball, problems amplified by some of their pending free agents potentially leaving. Lucky for them, their 2016 struggles have them in a solid position to land a game-changer.
This mock draft was compiled using the Fanspeak On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator, so don’t get angry about where players went. If they were available, it’s my duty to take them. With that in mind, the Panthers are on the clock in the first round with the seventh-overall pick.
Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) is brought down by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) during the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Florida 54-16. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Round 1, Pick 7: Jonathan Allen, DL — Alabama
In the majority of mock drafts for the Carolina Panthers, Leonard Fournette is available at No. 7. And actually, that was the case here as well. However, also available was the player I consider to be the second best prospect in the draft: Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. Though having a superstar running back would be nice, Allen is too enticing to pass up while also meeting a need.
Allen’s versatility in the front-four is the first thing that jumps out when talking about his NFL prospects. The big man for the Crimson Tide lined up both on the edge and at defensive tackle depending on down and situation throughout his career. That’s hugely valuable for an NFL team as he showed the ability to have his way and succeed in both areas. He can generate a pass-rush from anywhere and is also an effective run-stopper when called upon in that regard.
For the Panthers, this winds up being a perfect fit. Mario Addison, Charles Johnson, and Kawann Short are all set to hit free agency this offseason. Though they may bring back Short, there are definite holes and depth issues across the line in Carolina that’ll be coming up. Allen’s ability and versatility allows him to not only plug in where the Panthers need him, but to potentially become a star wherever that ultimately may be.
Nov 19, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Budda Baker (32) sacks Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Round 2, Pick 7: Budda Baker, S — Washington
If I’m the Panthers, I’m starting from scratch when it comes to safety. Tre Boston has been unable to eliminate the mental lapses when he’s on the field at free safety. Moreover, Kurt Coleman’s move to strong safety has been less than successful, while you could also argue that his breakout at free safety may have been an aberration as well. Subsequently, Carolina shouldn’t be in the business of passing up value like they’d get with Budda Baker out of Washington in the second round.
When it comes to playmaking and ball-skills on the back-end, there might not be a player in the draft that holds a candle to Baker. He boast tremendous speed and the ability to reach top gear quickly. But on top of that, the Huskies defensive anchor also is able to adjust to plays with great hip fluidity and footwork on the back-end. What’s more, Baker also has shown tremendous play recognition as the last line of defense, able to remain aware and use his physical gifts to make plays.
There is a noticeable downside to Baker, which is his size. He weighs in well under 200 pounds, fluctuating in the 185-190-pound range. Moreover, he had to gain weight once he got to Seattle to get to that weight. However, the value of size at free safety has diminished a bit when playmaking ability is so pivotal against modern NFL offenses. Subsequently, I don’t see that limiting Baker and the Panthers would ultimately get a great building block on the back end of the secondary.
Nov 12, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Riley McCarron (83) catches a pass in front of Michigan Wolverines cornerback Jourdan Lewis (26) during the first half at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3, Pick 7: Jourdan Lewis, CB — Michigan
How Jourdan Lewis was available here, I’m not entirely sure. From the tape I’ve watched on the Michigan Wolverines cornerback, he grades as a legitimate first-rounder, though the depth of the position may ultimately cause him to fall to the second. However, he was still sitting there in the third round and the value was simply too great to pass up for the Panthers here.
I’m a huge proponent of the notion that the Panthers current crop of cornerbacks isn’t necessarily as dire as their lack of effectiveness in 2016 would have you believe. James Bradberry is a rookie who has improved as the year has gone on while Daryl Worley also fits the same bill, though his progression has been less substantial than Bradberry’s. Many of their shortcomings this season can be attributed to youth. However, there is a need for depth at the position and potentially to move one of the two current rookies inside. Lewis would afford them that opportunity.
While playing at Michigan, Lewis was absolutely tremendous in coverage. Under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines ask a lot of their cornerbacks when it comes to man-coverage. More often than not, they are left to their own devices on the outside and expected to get the job done. Time and again, that’s what Lewis did, showing tremendous awareness and coverage skills in that regard. As the Panthers desperately need to add depth to the position in the wake of letting Josh Norman go, Lewis is the potential star that offers them that chance. Getting him in the third round is just an added bonus for value.
Oct 29, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes offensive lineman Garett Bolles (72) celebrates a touchdown by Utah Utes tight end Evan Moeai (not pictured) during the second half against the Washington Huskies at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Washington won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3, Pick 35: Garett Bolles, OT — Utah
Despite not taking one until the end of the third round, beefing up the offensive line should be the chief concern of the Panthers in the 2017 NFL Draft. Though injuries haven’t helped, this unit has been shaky even when at 100 percent. No position has been less stable than offensive tackle. And with Mike Remmers set to hit free agency this offseason, they need to start adding players to help build a line for the future and, subsequently, keep Cam Newton cleaner.
However, the not-so-secret truth about the 2017 draft class is that it’s incredibly shallow at offensive tackle. Subsequently, I don’t see much value in reaching for someone like Cam Robinson in the first round when, as you look at the film, the difference between what he does overall versus what a player like Utah’s Garett Bolles does isn’t that substantial. That’s why I have Carolina waiting and taking Bolles here.
At 6-5, 296 pounds, Bolles’ greatest strength is in pass-blocking. His length affords him the ability to engage quickly and keep edge rushers at bay right off the snap. However, Utah has also been effective running the ball this season, which is in large part due to Bolles opening up lanes on the edge of the line. Bolles has shown enough ability in the college ranks to step in and fill the hole left by the likely departing Remmers at right tackle—or even usurp Michael Oher at left tackle given what he shows at camp.
Like we talked about with Allen, the Panthers are going to have glaring holes along their defensive line thanks to free agency. However, it’s also worth noting that their edge rush in the 2016 season has been lackluster, to put it kindly. Subsequently, we’ll again look to Alabama for the answer with Allen’s teammate in Da’Shawn Hand.
At 6-4, 280 pounds, it’s not hard to decipher what Hand’s game is as an edge-rusher. He uses his strong frame to bully opposing tackles and has a solid array of power moves to help him do so. Sure, the production that other Crimson Tide prospects have put up this season isn’t there for Hand. However, that’s why he’s going in the fourth round and not sooner. Hand has still shown enough effectiveness as a power edge-rusher to be worthy of consideration.
There’s no denying the fact that Hand is a bit one-dimensional as a defensive end as he’s not particularly great against the run and isn’t a tremendous athlete—at least at the level of some other defensive ends in this draft class. With that being said, he’s the type of player who could play situationally for the Panthers and be effective in doing so. If Carolina is able to add another solid edge-rusher in free agency at a good price, the combination of that signing, Hand, Allen, and potentially Short (if they re-sign) him could put the fear in opposing quarterbacks.
Nov 21, 2015; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal guard Johnny Caspers (57) reacts after a touchdown by running back Remound Wright (22) against the California Golden Bears during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. Stanford defeated California 35-22. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5, Pick 7: Johnny Caspers, OG — Stanford
We once again turn our attention to the Panthers offensive line, this time on the interior. While the tackles have been the most glaring problem for the Carolina offense, the likes of Andrew Norwell at guard aren’t going to be making any Panthers fans (or Cam Newton, for that matter) sleep any better at night. Therefore, adding a high-caliber guard to the equation is also on the docket and they get just that in Johnny Caspers out of Stanford.
Comparing Caspers to other guard prospects to recently come out of the Cardinal program, he doesn’t boast the same overwhelming size as his former teammates. But what Caspers does have is tremendous functional strength and quickness that’s uncanny on the interior of an offensive line. Though there were struggles early in 2016, Christian McCaffrey wasn’t running behind tackling dummies all season. Caspers is a big reason why he was able to have that type of success, especially with Caspers’ mobility that allows him to be effective as a pull-guard.
The Senior Bowl, should he get an invite, will be huge for Caspers. He needs to prove that his lack of size—both in girth and length—won’t be a limiting factor for him as he makes the transition to the NFL. However, he has been effective enough and is versatile enough at the position to where the Panthers would be wise to nab him to address their issues on the interior.
Nov 5, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back De’Veon Smith (4) receives congratulations from tight end Devin Asiasi (2) and offensive lineman Erik Magnuson (78) after scoring a touchdown in the second half against the Maryland Terrapins at Michigan Stadium. Michigan 59-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Round 6, Pick 7: Erik Magnuson, OT — Michigan
There’s no need to re-hash the issues that the Panthers have endured at offensive tackle this season. They need depth and quality in the worst kind of way moving forward. That’s why they should again look to the position in the later rounds where they would be getting a steal in Michigan Wolverines tackle, Erik Magnuson.
The 6-5, 305-pound Magnuson replaced another standout at Michigan in Taylor Lewan. While Magnuson may not ultimately develop into the same elite tackle that Lewan has become, he’s given every reason to believe that he can be a high-quality starter at the NFL level. Obviously his size stands as one of his biggest strengths. He has a great frame and great length to really hold off his man off the snap. While his mobility and quickness aren’t his greatest assets, they are far from detractions in terms of his value as well.
Magnuson has been the heart of the Michigan offensive line all through the 2016 season, allowing their rushing attack to get loose on the edge and keeping Wilson Speight clean long enough to go through his progressions effectively. When you consider that, his size, and the fact that he faced a slew of elite edge rushers and competition in the Big Ten throughout his career, getting a player like Magnuson in the sixth round would be tremendous for Carolina.
Oct 1, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina Tarheels wide receiver Ryan Switzer (3) before the game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7, Pick 13: Ryan Switzer, WR — North Carolina
Perhaps one of the biggest flaws in the offense that isn’t talked about often enough is the lack of a possession receiver. There’s no question that Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess are big-bodied playmaking threats. Meanwhile, Ted Ginn Jr. is a burner—albeit an aging one—and Greg Olsen can functionally serve as a possession pass-catcher. However, the true slot receiver type that so many offenses use effective is absent from the Carolina offense. Ryan Switzer could be that guy, hands down.
In stark contrast to Funchess and Benjamin, Switzer is quite diminutive in his stature at 5-10, 185 pounds. However, don’t associate size with effectiveness as Switzer proved to productive throughout his entire career with the North Carolina Tar Heels. A tremendous competitor, Switzer doesn’t shy away from hits over the middle and is always willing to fight for yards after the catch.
What’s more, Switzer also brings the added benefit of being an effective returner in college. Given that the Panthers roll out Fozzy Whittaker as a returner often, Switzer would be a massive upgrade in that regard as well. When you couple that with what the presence of a true slot receiving threat could bring to the Carolina offense, taking Switzer in the final round seems like too great of value and far too sensible for the Panthers to pass up.
Oct 29, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls running back Jahad Thomas (5) runs with the ball as Cincinnati Bearcats safety Malik Clements (24) defends during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple defeated Cincinnati 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7, Pick 33: Jahad Thomas, RB — Temple
Considering that I mentioned the possibility of taking Leonard Fournette in the first round, you might be surprised to see the Panthers waiting until their final pick to address that position in this mock. However, the Fournette pick has more to do with value than the direness of the need at running back. Though my faith in Jonathan Stewart has never been strong and won’t be as he gets another year older, there is a committee in Carolina to effectively move the ball on the ground.
That said, there is a need to put a potential replacement behind Stewart and the answer isn’t Cameron Artis-Payne or the aforementioned Whittaker. Instead, they should look for value in the draft and Jahad Thomas offers that in bunches. The Temple Owls product may not come from a big-name college football program and may have not even been the solo lead-back for his team. However, he’s shown enough to indicate he can be effective in the NFL.
At 5-10, 188 pounds, there’s rightfully a knock on Thomas because of his size. However, he proved to be a shifty, quick, and explosive runner with the ball in his hands at Temple. What’s more, he also proved to be a player capable of being a quality pass-catcher out of the backfield. For Newton to hold up with a young offensive line, having that quick outlet could be hugely valuable. While he may not be a potential superstar, Thomas could well be an effective cog in the Panthers offense moving forward.