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Carolina Panthers mock draft 2.0: Sam Darnold trade has some impact on picks

Alaina Getzenberg
·7 min read

If the Carolina Panthers’ trade for Sam Darnold this week did anything, it opened up the possibilities for the 2021 NFL draft.

No longer is there as much of an urgency to get a quarterback in the first round with the No. 8 pick. Everything is on the table, and the Panthers can address the many holes on the roster with the remaining seven picks in this year’s draft.

The key to this draft should be doing what the New York Jets did not do for Darnold: Making sure he is protected and has plenty of weapons. The Panthers’ roster already has some talented receivers and a guy named Christian McCaffrey, but the offensive line needs some help and a pass-catching tight end is needed.

Both sides of the line will likely be addressed, and general manager Scott Fitterer said that all options are on the table for the draft.

“This doesn’t take us out of anything in the draft. (It) doesn’t take us out of taking a quarterback, doesn’t take us out of taking any position. What we wanted to do going into this draft ... is to just get rid of all the needs that we have,” Fitterer said earlier this week. “We just wanted to get to a place where our roster was in a good spot, where we can take the best available player at number eight, and we can always move up there, and, like I said, we can always move back, but this just puts us in a position to make the right football move for this team going forward.”

There’s no doubt that the Panthers are likely to trade up or down at some point in the draft, but we’ll keep the selections where they are currently located for this mock draft. Let’s get into the picks.

Mock draft 1.0

FIRST ROUND, PICK NO. 8: RASHAWN SLATER

Position: Offensive tackle

School: Northwestern

Class: Senior

Whether or not Oregon tackle Penei Sewell is off the board, this pick is certainly an option. If at least one of them is still available, the Panthers should have a hard time passing up the opportunity.

One of the many reasons attributed to Darnold’s issues in New York was the team’s lack of investment in a line to protect him and in offensive weapons. With Florida tight end Kyle Pitts likely gone by No. 8, the other choice here would be a cornerback, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II would be an intriguing option, but it’s time for the Panthers to get that tackle position taken care of. Slater presents the opportunity to do just that. I don’t think the right quarterback will drop to the Panthers in the first round, but despite the Darnold trade, it’s still a possibility to take one here.

Slater also has the ability to play guard/center and both tackle positions, which should appeal to the Panthers after putting a priority on versatile offensive linemen in free agency. But that’s not why Slater should be picked. As a left tackle in 2019, Slater gave up just five pressures and zero sacks, per Pro Football Focus. At 6-foot-4, 304-pounds, Slater offers three years of starting experience at Northwestern and is consistently ranked as one of the two best tackles in this year’s draft.

The Panthers still have work to do on the offensive line. This is a good first step.

Georgia defensive back Tyson Campbell (3) covers a play against Florida during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Georgia defensive back Tyson Campbell (3) covers a play against Florida during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

SECOND ROUND, PICK NO. 39: Tyson Campbell

Position: Cornerback

School: Georgia

Class: Junior

The Panthers began to fill the holes at corner by signing A.J. Bouye this week. The 29-year old, however, is not a long-term answer and is suspended the first two games of the year.

Corner remains an area to be addressed, especially with Donte Jackson entering the last year of his rookie deal, although an extension is a possibility this offseason. The other options on the roster are second-year corner Troy Pride, who is continuing to develop, and veteran Rashaan Melvin, signed in free agency.

I wanted to take Florida State corner Asante Samuel Jr. here, but his size scared me away. The Seattle Seahawks, the team that Fitterer spent the majority of his NFL career with, are known for only selecting corners that have arms longer than about 32 inches. Samuel came in at 30 1/8. Maybe Fitterer won’t bring that philosophy with him to Carolina, but I do think it’s a point of reference worth keeping in mind. Bouye’s arms measured 31 3/4 at the UCF pro day in 2013.

Campbell comes in at 6-1 and 193-pounds with 32-inch arms. He was a three-year starter at Georgia and is described by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein as having “undeniable physical traits and athletic tools.” In 2020 he started 10 games and had 29 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one interception. Campbell is likely to improve with time and could be a starter for years to come.

Southern California defensive tackle Jay Tufele participates in the school’s pro day football workout for NFL scouts Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Southern California defensive tackle Jay Tufele participates in the school’s pro day football workout for NFL scouts Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

THIRD ROUND, PICK NO. 73: JAY TUFELE

Position: Defensive tackle

School: USC

Class: Redshirt junior

The Panthers are supposed to be addressing the offensive side of the ball in the draft, but there are a couple of defensive positions that need to be taken care of early.

After moving on from Zach Kerr and Kawann Short in the offseason, a three-technique defensive tackle is high on the list of areas to address. Fitterer has also noted how he believes in building from the lines.

Tufele is a three-technique defensive tackle and described by Zierlein as having “ high energy with explosive brute strength to make his mark on the game.” His speed is one of his strengths, Zierlein notes, but he needs to work on his pass-rushing ability. He could fit well into coordinator Phil Snow’s defensive line rotation.

FOURTH ROUND, PICK NO. 113: HUNTER LONG

Position: Tight end

School: Boston College

Class: Redshirt Junior

Teams that have coached in the Senior Bowl have been increasingly likely to pick players who they got an opportunity to coach. In this case, Long played on the other team coached by the Miami Dolphins, but the Panthers had increased exposure to him.

The Panthers need a pass-catching tight end. Long can be that guy. Dan Arnold was signed in free agency, but that can’t be the only way the position is addressed. It’s too much of a hole.

There’s a chance Long isn’t still there in the fourth round, but he would be a great fit. He was a high-volume reception tight end at Boston College. Sixty percent of his catches in 2020 were converted to first downs. That’s exactly what Darnold needs.

FIFTH ROUND, PICK NO. 151: DRAKE JACKSON

Position: Center

School: Kentucky

Class: Redshirt Senior

Jackson was coached by the Panthers staff at the Senior Bowl. With veteran Matt Paradis entering the final year of his contract, the offensive line could do with a true center on the roster. Pat Elflein, signed in free agency, can also slide over to that center spot, but some young talent is needed there as well.

SIXTH ROUND, PICK NO. 193: SADARIUS HUTCHERSON

Position: Guard

School: South Carolina

Class: Redshirt Senior

The Panthers can’t add too many offensive linemen in this year’s draft. There was a different general manager and head coach, but it certainly worked out the last time this team took an offensive lineman out of South Carolina in the sixth-round (Dennis Daley). Hutcherson played right guard, left tackle and left guard, his most natural position, with the Gamecocks and made 36 consecutive starts.

Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (8) runs past Abilene Christian players on his way to an 88-yard touchdown pass reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (8) runs past Abilene Christian players on his way to an 88-yard touchdown pass reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

SIXTH ROUND, PICK NO. 222: KYLIN HILL

Position: Running back

School: Mississippi State

Class: Senior

Adding to the running back rotation is important after moving on from Mike Davis in the offseason. Hill could be a developmental rotational player.

With more picks: Ideally the Panthers will trade back to add a couple more draft picks. I would have liked to have taken a quarterback late in the draft and a linebacker, but ran out picks to do so.