The 2020 season for the Carolina Panthers certainly didn’t go the way they thought it would. After losing the first three games of the season, the Panthers went on a three-game winning streak, but lost arguably their best player, Christian McCaffrey, because of an ankle injury. The Panthers then lost nine of their last 11 games and finished 5-11 resulting in important decisions regarding what they will do in the upcoming draft.
The Panthers have some big question marks headed to the 2021 season. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel will be an unrestricted free agent along with tackles Taylor Moton and Russell Okung, leaving potential holes on the offensive line. One of the most prominent questions is what they will do at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater has two more years remaining on his contract. His 2020 season wasn't great, but he held his own and produced over 4,000 total yards, 20 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
There are lots of directions the Panthers can go in the draft. Do they stick with Bridgewater for another year and possibly look at quarterbacks in the 2022 draft class? With the possible loss of Samuel, will they pursue another weapon to help the offense? Or will they add to the offensive line? They might be in play for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Nonetheless, whatever they do, it will be a smoke show until draft day.
Round1, Pick 8: Trey Lance, Quarterback, North Dakota State
This pick may be a surprise, but the Panthers can afford to have Lance to sit for a year and learn the ropes of the NFL behind Bridgewater. Lance will help bring a new dynamic for offensive coordinator Joe Brady to experiment with and have the possibility for an explosive offense. Lance is efficient at throwing the ball deep and accurate and can also tuck the ball and run for extra yards.
Round 2, Pick 39: Eric Stokes, Cornerback, Georgia
Cornerback was a huge weak spot once again for the Panthers during the 2020 season. Donte Jackson accounted for all three of the cornerback interceptions. The team had only seven. Stokes can make an immediate impact. He has top-notch speed and can stick to the hips of wide receivers. According to PFF, Stokes allowed a catch on balls thrown his way only 57 percent of the time, snagging four interceptions and allowing only one touchdown during the 2020 season.
Round 3, Pick 73: Jabril Cox, Linebacker, LSU
The Panthers felt the loss of the dynamic Luke Kuechly, who retired after the 2019 season. Shaq Thompson took a significant step forward in his growth, but the rest of the linebacking core failed to show up. Rookie Jeremy Chinn also filled in at linebacker during the season. Cox is a multi-dimensional player, who is excellent in coverage and proved that during Senior Bowl week. Even at 6-foot-4, Cox was able to hang with tight ends and running backs, breaking up passes or bringing down the pass-catcher immediately, preventing big yards after the catch.
Round 4, Pick 104: Spencer Brown, Tackle, Northern Iowa
With the possible loss of Moton and/or Okung, the Panthers need to add another man in the trenches to protect the quarterback and create running lanes. Brown, 6-foot-8 and 314 pounds, has excellent length and mobility for his size. When run blocking, he will move the defensive line and create holes for the running back. He may need a little seasoning time to get acclimated to the NFL, but he can be a starter at the next level when that happens.
Round 5, Pick 135: Tre’ McKitty, Tight End, Georgia
Panthers tight end Ian Thomas hadn’t lived up to the hype he received when he was drafted in 2018. He was expected to replace Greg Olsen but has only 614 receiving yards in three seasons. McKitty could be that x-factor for the Panthers. He has an expanded route tree that was documented while at Florida State. McKitty showed during Senior Bowl week that he could make contested and spectacular catches. His blocking could use some polishing, but he is serviceable and can perform in that category.
Round 6, Pick 169: Cade Johnson, Wide Receiver: South Dakota State
If the Panthers lose Samuel to free agency, Johnson could be a candidate to replace him. Samuel and Johnson are similar players. Both have top-notch speed, play in the slot and can be a factor in the return game. Johnson’s biggest knock will be his short arm measurements from the Senior Bowl, but in the sixth round, a team can take that shot and hope he can pan out.
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