Each Sunday, I'll be releasing a new Carolina Panthers seven-round mock draft. From now up until the first Sunday of April, I will not be projecting any trades.
Round 1, Pick 8: QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)
With the 49ers moving up to No. 3, it's got to make you think that they moved up to go get a quarterback. Now, it's just a matter of guessing which quarterback they moved up for. Is it Zach Wilson? Trey Lance? Justin Fields? Or heck, Mac Jones??? It's hard to tell but my gut feeling is that they want Lance. So, if that's the case, I could see Justin Fields falling into the lap of the Panthers at No. 8. The only thing that could derail that theory is another team moving up in front of Carolina or Philadelphia or Detroit take him despite having Jared Goff and Jalen Hurts.
Round 2, Pick 39: TE Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)
Pat Freiermuth of Penn State has the exact makeup of what a tight end should look like in Matt Rhule's offense. He's a tough, physical tight end that seeks contact which makes him arguably the best blocking tight end in this draft. As good of a blocker he is, don't overlook his ability to be a threat over the middle of the field and in the red zone.
Round 3, Pick 73: CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse)
Carolina doesn't have a whole lot of depth or experience at the cornerback position. Rasul Douglas is a free agent and there's no telling as to whether or not they will re-sign him. Melifonwu has great size (6'3", 215 lbs) and can match up with just about any type of receiver. He's physical over the middle of the field and tends to win the majority of the one-on-ones deep down the field.
Round 4, Pick 113: DL Jaylen Twyman (Pittsburgh)
Twyman had a monster sophomore season in 2019 registering 41 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks. He decided to opt-out of the 2020 season to prepare for this year's draft, which may be a concern to some teams. How long will it take him and the others who opted out to get back into game shape and will they be rusty from taking the year off from game action?
As far as what he's put on tape, he's a high-motor, extremely talented inside pass rusher. For anyone to reach double-digit sack totals as an interior defensive lineman is pretty special.
Round 5, Pick 151: FS Caden Sterns (Texas)
Although it may not be a true Matt Rhule connection, Caden Sterns did face Rhule twice during his time at Baylor. Sterns emerged into one of the top safeties in the Big 12 throughout the course of his career, but there are still several areas of his game that he can develop. I'm not sure he would be quite ready to step in and make an impact right away but down the road, Sterns should bring some value to an NFL defense.
Round 6, Pick 192: WR Jaelon Darden (North Texas)
Carolina needs to add to the receiving corps despite the addition of David Moore. Darden brings tremendous value early in the 6th round with his blazing speed. After the show he put on at his Pro Day, I would not be surprised if he sneaks into the 5th round, maybe higher depending on what scouts think of him. This past season, he caught 74 passes for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns while averaging 16.1 yards per catch. He's a home run threat at all times.
Round 6, Pick 220: CB Tre Norwood (Oklahoma)
More familiarity here for Matt Rhule as he coached against Norwood in the Big 12 Conference during his time at Baylor. Aside from that, I think Norwood should be graded much higher than he is. He steadily improved year after year and it still feels like his best football is ahead of him. Norwood has great hands, anticipation, and rarely gets beat in man-to-man matchups down the field.
Round 6, Pick 224: RB Elijah Mitchell (Louisiana)
It appears like the consensus is that Mitchell is going to be a 6th, maybe 7th round guy but I'm not sure why. He's an explosive back that can muscle through defenders for extra yardage and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He rushed for 1,147 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2019 and ran for 878 yards and eight touchdowns in four fewer games this year. The value of Mitchell going this late reminds me a lot of James Robinson who actually went undrafted but had a stellar rookie year for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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