The Carolina Panthers head into this week’s NFL Draft with the hope of adding an influx of talent to its roster.
Changes have already been made since last season as the Panthers made waves by trading for quarterback Sam Darnold. With a quarterback now in place, here are the areas I hope they address in this year’s college draft.
General manager Scott Fitterer gave up a substantial amount of draft capital to secure Darnold, the former No. 3 overall pick. I think it was a good move and a chance worth taking. Carolina sent a 2021 sixth-round pick and 2022 second and fourth-round picks to New York for Darnold in the deal but the Panthers picked up the 23-year-old with two years left on his rookie contract after picking up his fifth-year option.
This comes to a cap price of just under $24 million over two years, a reasonable figure for a player they view as a top 15 quarterback in the league over the coming seasons.
A problem in recent years has been protection up front. This was also a major issue with Darnold back in his Jets days. Carolina went 5-11 last season while being competitive in most games. Time and time again, when a big play was needed to keep a drive alive, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked. The Panthers’ offense gave up 31 sacks last season while Bridgwater seemed to always be under duress in the pocket.
There appears to be four offensive linemen evaluated as top 20 players. Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater should be instant successes at tackle in the NFL. Alijah Vera-Tucker is a threat at either side of the line and Christian Darrisaw had one of the highest-graded seasons in college.
Another major need is at the cornerback position. In crucial moments the Panthers were let down on the defensive side of the ball by inconsistent coverage and an inability to shut down opposing teams’ star receivers. I remember close losses to quality opponents like Kansas City and Minnesota where a few plays by the Carolina secondary could have led to victories.
This year’s draft is strong at the cornerback position. If the Panthers choose to stay local, Jaycee Horn out of South Carolina has the stature and physical size to cover in the NFL right now. Patrick Surtain II seems to be a consensus CB1 in the 2021 draft. I like that he starred at Alabama and was the leader of their defense. Surtain II is a physical player who loves to tackle.
The draft is loaded at the receiver position and I would like to see the Panthers get Darnold one more weapon at that position. The team lost Curtis Samuel to the Washington Football Team this offseason. His 851 yards of production will need replacing from somewhere, whether that is from within the organization’s current roster or from a new player.
They still have D.J. Moore who has emerged as a star in the league, going for 1,193 yards and 18.2 yards per reception last year. With the No. 8 pick in the draft, excellent players such as Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle or Ja’Marr Chase may well still be on the board if Carolina chooses to go this route.