Carolina Panthers NFL Draft Picks & Grades 2021

The Panthers have done an excellent job building talent for the future but now have a crossroads after the trades of Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater. They have holes on defense but could attack the offense and build around Darnold for the future. How will they handle the 2021 NFL Draft?

Panthers draft picks in 2021

  • 8th Overall Selection (R1-P8): Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
  • 59th Overall Selection (R2-P25, from Cleveland): Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU
  • 70th Overall Selection (R3-P6, from Philadelphia): Brady Christensen, OT, BYU
  • 83rd Overall Selection (R3-P19): Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
  • 126th Overall Selection (R4-P21, from Tennessee): Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
  • 158th Overall Selection (R5-P14, from New England): Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
  • 166th Overall Selection (R5-P22, from Tennessee): Keith Taylor, CB, Washington
  • 193rd Overall Selection (R6-P9): Deonte Brown, OG, Alabama
  • 204th Overall Selection (R6-P20, from Chicago): Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
  • 222nd Overall Selection (R6-P38): Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama
  • 232nd Overall Selection (R7-P4): Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky

Who did the Panthers draft on Day 1?

With the eighth overall pick, the Carolina Panthers select South Carolina Cornerback Jaycee Horn.

Carolina Panthers grades for 2021 NFL Draft

This pick was floated for a while as a rumor if the board fell a certain way, but it finally happened.

Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Horn is a physical, tough cornerback who plays with a feistiness that generates energy for his teammates. He has a knack for getting under his opponents’ skin and making big plays happen. Matt Rhule prides toughness and physicality with his defensive players, and Horn fits that mold.

He fills a massive need the Panthers had to address. The battles between him and Mike Evans will be fantastic. Fun fact: Carolina still has not drafted an offensive player under Matt Rhule.

Grade: A

Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

I like the thought process of reuniting Terrace Marshall Jr. with Joe Brady and upgrading the WR corps for Darnold. With DJ Moore and Robby Anderson on the roster, the WR group in Carolina projects to be one of the best next season. Darnold’s never had as many weapons as he does now. The value of Marshall after medicals flagged him late over an offensive tackle is in question, but if healthy he is an excellent value. 

Grade: B+

Brady Christensen, OT, BYU

Arguably the best pass-protecting offensive tackle left, the Panthers had to trade up to secure his services. Brady Christensen is an older tackle, but he’s a ready-made left tackle from the get-go. He’s an excellent athlete in his own right and kept Zach Wilson clean all season long.

Grade: A

Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame

Tommy Tremble is a solid pick here. There’s better value on the board, but Tremble is a tough blocker who fits the type of player Matt Rhule covets. The Panthers needed to add to the tight end room, and Tremble was the best one available. He’s not been a productive receiver, but the traits are there. It’s an overall solid, not exciting, selection for the Panthers. They continue to build their identity and add character to their culture.

Grade: B

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

The Panthers wanted to add another presence in that running back room next to Christian McCaffrey. Chuba Hubbard is an explosive back, but has questionable vision and goes down frequently on the first hit, a stark contrast to Mike Davis last year. Feels questionable, especially with a much better back in Kenneth Gainwell on the board.

Grade: D

Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa

The Panthers needed to add to their defensive line, and they do so by stopping the slide of Iowa breakout star Daviyon Nixon. There were some off-field questions about Nixon that seemed to be why he fell, but his on-field ability as a pass rusher and upside is undeniable. If the issues stay clean, Matt Rhule gets an explosive interior pass rusher to pair with Derrick Brown in the middle.

Grade: B

Keith Taylor, CB, Washington

Carolina double-dips into the corner room with another physical corner. The team got first-hand experience with Keith Taylor down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, where he shined. Taylor rounds out their corner room — a position they desperately needed to address.

Grade: A-

Deonte Brown, OG, Alabama

Affectionately nicknamed “Cornbread,” Deonte Brown is a mammoth of a human being. His 350-plus-pound frame stands out on film and the power he brings with it is outstanding. He’ll need to keep working on re-shaping his body, which presents some risks. I have him graded much higher than this, so this is a steal for Carolina

Grade: A

Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina

The Panthers continue adding playmakers for Joe Brady to utilize. There’s really no excuse for Darnold this year with the talent the Panthers have put around him. Shi Smith is a steal of a pick this late.

Grade: A

Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama

The Panthers re-signed long-time long snapper J.J. Jansen to a one-year deal, but at 35 years old, it’s likely he’s not sticking around for long. A winner of the Patrick Mannelly award for the best FBS long snapper, Thomas Fletcher clearly impressed the Panthers’ staff down in Mobile.

Grade: C

Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky

Another defensive lineman, Phil Hoskins is a lengthy, developmental defensive tackle prospect. Hoskins boasts an 83 ⅜ wingspan. Adding depth up front has been a Matt Rhule desire, and they accomplished that.

Grade: C+

Carolina Panthers Overall Grade: B+

The Panthers are banking on Darnold being the guy at quarterback, but they added plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Marshall, Smith, and Tremble are a fun group of skill-position players to build around. Horn and Taylor add size and physicality to that corner room which was a smart investment. Christensen and Brown on the offensive line is an A-plus haul as well. They have to hope Nixon develops into more substance and is clear off the field. This will be haunted by the spectre of Fields, which knocks their grade down.

Team needs for Carolina coming into the NFL Draft

The Panthers traded for their signal-caller, but where else do they need help?

Left tackle

Taylor Moton is the team’s right tackle of the future, but left tackle is wide open. That can’t stay that way if they are trying to get the most out of Darnold. The Panthers have started 14 different left tackles since Jordan Gross in 2013. It’s an incredibly valuable position, one that Carolina should address early in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Cornerback

The Panthers signed AJ Bouye in free agency, but I would still expect corner to be addressed fairly early for Carolina. The team has to continue to build talent in a division that features Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Michael Thomas.

Defensive Tackle

The Panthers released Kawann Short. While they do have stud Derrick Brown, their interior defensive line needs more depth and talent. An interior pass rusher would be a wise addition to add.

Interior Offensive Line

The Panthers interior is pretty thin. I personally thought Pat Elflein had solid tape with the Jets last season, but with a quarterback like Darnold, adding more protection upfront would be smart. Matt Paradis and John Miller are both 2022 free agents as well, furthering this need.

Safety

Jeremy Chinn posted a great rookie season, but the safety room around him isn’t great. Juston Burris is a solid insurance plan, but Carolina should fill out this room in the 2021 NFL Draft. Matt Rhule had excellent safety play at Baylor and I would expect him to try and replicate that in Carolina.

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