Things are changing in Carolina. The immediate future may look dim, but Matt Rhule, an exciting new coaching staff and revamped organization offer bright hope for the long-term. This Carolina Panthers 7-round mock draft aims to successfully begin the rebuild and start to the Rhule era in Charlotte.
It’s no secret that much of the Panthers’ roster is at or near rebuild mode. The biggest question remaining before the draft is the future of Cam Newton. There have been rumors going both ways about the future of the Panthers with Newton. Given what Cam Newton has accomplished for this franchise, especially with mostly underwhelming offensive supporting casts, I would certainly bring him back for the final year of his contract. However, you can’t dismiss the possibility of this new organization wanting to change directions, especially if given a good offer for Newton.
Regardless of what Rhule, who was given executive-level power over the roster, chooses to do with Newton, the Panthers have a lot of work to do in the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s break down the state of the current roster by team needs before delving into a full Panthers 7-round mock draft.
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The Panthers only have two cornerbacks under contract in 2020 in Donte Jackson and Corn Elder, and only Jackson is of starting caliber. James Bradberry is set to hit the free agency market and is seeking top-level money for a cornerback. The Panthers made the right decision in turning down Josh Norman’s $16 million price tag when he hit the free agency market in 2016, and if Bradberry is close to that range, I believe the Panthers should do the same.
Ross Cockrell should be a cheaper option to bring back as a fringe starter. Cockrell, believe it or not, ranked top 5 in yards per target allowed (NFL NextGen Stats) and can defend across multiple positions in the slot, on the perimeter, and even at safety.
While the decision to let Norman walk in 2016 was a good one, the Panthers failed to replace Norman’s void for the following season. In an increasingly pass-heavy league and division, the Panthers cannot afford to do the same if they let Bradberry walk.
The 2015 Carolina Panthers were built front-to-back. That was a staple of Ron Rivera’s philosophy, and for a team in rebuild mode, it should certainly be the mold to follow.
The Panthers ranked 31st in run defense in 2019. The absence of Kawann Short did not help the cause, but the Panthers need a major overhaul in the interior of the line, especially with the likely or possible departures of Gerald McCoy, Vernon Butler, and Dontari Poe thinning out the depth chart. The departure of Luke Kuechly at linebacker makes the need for a strong front even greater, as the Panthers will head into 2020 with a less experienced linebacking unit.
The entirety of the defensive line was listed, not just the interior, for a reason. The Panthers’ outlook for defensive ends and pass rushers is not promising. Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin are aging veterans set to become free agents. Efe Obada is only a rotational piece, and Christian Miller is still unproven, leaving Brian Burns as the only bright spot on the outside. The Panthers could certainly use another early draft pick on edge rushers.
The Panthers failed to solidify an offensive line for their franchise quarterback for the majority of his career. A new coaching staff offers the chance to get serious in addressing the offensive line needs and give either Newton or the next QB in Carolina some desperately needed protection. The Panthers need to think long-term with the offensive line. Sure, at full health and playing up to their potential, the current line could work out. But this unit simply needs stronger, more reliable players for the long haul.
25-year-old Taylor Moton is promising at right tackle, and Trai Turner has two more seasons left on his contract. Outside of that, I would not be afraid to tear down and totally overhaul the rest of this unit.
Regardless of the scheme new defensive coordinator Phil Snow brings to the Carolina defense, the loss of Kuechly and the consequential thin depth of the linebacker group cannot be ignored. Athletic linebackers are an increasingly valuable position in the NFL, and a defense looking to rebuild could benefit wildly from a strong presence in the middle, just like what Kuechly brought to Carolina in 2012.
Other needs – Wide receiver, Tight End, and Quarterback
DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel are quality NFL receivers. I really believe that Samuel would have had a 1,000-yard season if given better QB play as he constantly beat his man on deep routes seemingly every game. However, the unit could certainly use a new addition, preferably a larger-framed target to help in short-yardage and red-zone situations.
Whether or not you prefer the Panthers bring Newton back or not, QB is still a need in some capacity. Kyle Allen’s is a backup at best, while Will Grier, though thrust into a horrible situation, did not inspire at all in 2019.
While the Panthers have many holes and needs on the roster, my selections in this Panthers 7-round mock draft will be based on who I believe fit both Rhule’s vision and the roster.
Carolina Panthers 7-round mock draft
Round 1, Pick 7: Javon Kinlaw, DT South Carolina
Javon Kinlaw’s insane explosiveness and athleticism for his position will win over Rhule. I believe Rhule also values building his defense from front to back, which is exactly what the Panthers need. Most mock drafts and draft boards don’t have Kinlaw quite this high, but following a tremendous Senior Bowl performance, and ahead of the NFL Combine, I believe Kinlaw is destined to be a top 10 pick.
The Panthers could also be given a good offer to trade down from the 7th overall pick, given the rising stock of quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Jordan Love, who could be on the board here.
Other picks considered: OT Tristan Wirfs, DT Derrick Brown, OT Andrew Thomas
Round 2, Pick 38: Denzel Mims, WR Baylor
Denzel Mims is the real deal. Sure, you have probably seen him further down mocks and draft boards thus far, but at the end of the day, you draft players who can be stars in the NFL. Mims can be one, and his draft stock is only going up.
This pick doesn’t make sense just because of the Baylor connection with Rhule, but more so because of the traits Mims offers with his athleticism, ball skills, large catch radius, and maturity. Mims is the much-needed larger-framed receiver to complement Moore and Samuel. As a perimeter receiver, he opens up the playbook for Joe Brady to use Moore and/or Samuel inside.
The Panthers could also opt to trade down here if they believe Mims or other prospects they are high on may be available towards the middle of the second round.
Other picks considered: OT Austin Jackson, DE Julian Okwara, CB Jeff Gladney, CB Bryce Hall
Round 3, Pick 69: Matt Peart, OT UConn
Matt Peart has an impressive combination of size and mobility at 6-foot-7. He also offers positional flexibility with experience at guard and left and right tackle. Peart seems to have the traits of athleticism, size, and coachability that are attractive to Rhule, and is a much-needed addition to the Panthers’ offensive line.
Round 4, Pick 103: Troy Pride Jr., CB Notre Dame
Rhule loves athleticism in his players, and Troy Pride Jr., also a track star, brings that to the cornerback position. Pride Jr. has a solid frame to back up his speed and quickness and will give Jackson much-needed competition in the secondary, as the two compete to potentially replace Bradberry.
Round 5, Pick 134: Amik Robertson, CB Louisiana Tech
I like drafting players that dominated at the college level. I think Rhule will as well. Amik Robertson was a second-team AP All-American this past season and amassed 14 interceptions in his three years at LA Tech. The downside to Robertson is his 5-foot-9 height, effectively limiting him to defending the slot. However, Robertson has all of the tools to be an elite slot cornerback in the NFL from day one.
Round 6, Pick 165: Francis Bernard, LB Utah
Francis Bernard was at the center of the elite Utah Utes’ defense. He is an athletic and highly productive linebacker that was the emotional leader of the Utah defense. Bernard would be a nice late-round pick to start to the post-Kuechly era on defense.
Round 7, Pick 199: James Lynch, DE Baylor
James Lynch was a first-team All-American this past season at Baylor. The Baylor connection would obviously attract Rhule to Lynch. The success and accolades of Lynch, along with his coachability with Rhule, makes this a great fit in the 7th round.
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