Carolina Panthers: Analyzing Each Possible First-Round Pick
The Panthers now firmly stand at the ninth drafting position in the first round, but their options remain wide open.
The team has a variety of needs and the talent at the top of this class includes nearly every position, making their first pick difficult to predict.
The teams ahead of the Panthers are also hard to get a read on, so let's take a step back and look at all of the potential situations the Panthers could find themselves in on draft day.
The following are every possible prospect I can see Carolina drafting with the ninth overall pick.
Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle, LSU
Brockers is likely to last to this spot unless the Redskins are tempted to take him at the sixth spot. Carolina is in dire need of a big-time defensive tackle to build their defensive line around, and he fits the mold.
Brockers is a dominant run stuffer and has added weight to his frame during the offseason, weighing in at 322 pounds at the combine. He came on late at LSU, but in his one year as a full-time starter, he showed great instincts and upside to be a potential blue-chip player.
The LSU product needs to refine his pass-rushing moves, but the base of natural strength, power, and athleticism could make him an elite player in the NFL.
David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford
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DeCastro is almost certainly going to be available here; it's a matter of who won't be available that will dictate whether the Panthers take a chance on the young Stanford guard.
DeCastro showed the natural football skills and smarts during his time at college and his technique was perfect at the combine. He was also one of the quickest guards there and may have elevated his stock enough to make this pick tougher on Carolina.
If LSU's Brockers and Morris Claiborne are off the board, this would likely be the pick. The Panthers may part ways with Travelle Wharton, and Geoff Hangartner is a free agent.
Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU
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Speaking of Morris Claiborne...here's a player who has quietly maintained his spot as a top five prospect as many of the prospects around him have fluctuated up and down. He's a prototypical cornerback who has all the skills to be a starter immediately at the next level.
Claiborne is an elite athlete who is versatile enough to play man or zone; a trait that makes him especially attractive to a hybrid team like the Panthers. He brings great ball skills to the position and often elevates over receivers to make a play on the ball.
The downside is that there is a low chance that he'll last all the way to this pick. The Buccaneers are interested in Claiborne's services, and Washington is another possible suitor if Tampa Bay passes.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama
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Dre Kirkpatrick has been up and down draft boards since the end of the season, but he's been entrenched as the top cornerback on my board because of his physical play and versatility within the defensive backfield.
Kirkpatrick would play extremely well in Carolina's scheme because of his ability to jump in and play man coverage and then step into a zone and become a big-hitter and a playmaker.
He steps up to play the run so well that the team could consider moving him to free safety if he doesn't pan out at cornerback.
Kirkpatrick's off-the-field issues seem to be minor enough that if he does well in the interviews, he could very well go off the board ninth to the Panthers. He's very unlikely to go off the board before the ninth pick.
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
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Blackmon is the least likely player to be available for the Panthers at the ninth pick. The Rams, Vikings, and Browns could all use help at receiver and he has to pass all three teams to make it to Carolina.
However, we've seen equally talented receivers slip on draft boards before, so let's evaluate this possibility if it does present itself.
Blackmon is extremely athletic and plays well above his 6'1" height. He also looks like a running back once the ball is in his hands and has great speed to separate in the open field.
He also has hands as good as any receiver coming into the NFL in recent years.
Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina
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Quinton Coples is a player with all of the talent in the world, but without the proven work ethic and production to be a top pick in my mind. He'll likely go anywhere from the sixth pick to the 10th.
His 6'6", 284-pound frame allows him the versatility to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4. Given that size and his elite athleticism, you'd think he'd be more productive in college, but he was often taken out of games when facing better linemen.
Coples problem has been a lack of pass-rushing moves and sub-par technique. He needs to show better body control and consistency to make him worth a top 10 pick.
Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
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Reiff would be a worst-case scenario for the Panthers. That's not to say he isn't a great player, but he's less talented than the other players on this list and tackle simply isn't their biggest position of need—especially if Jeff Otah can get his head straight.
Reiff is a technician and displayed great footwork at the combine. He's a converted defensive lineman from his early days at Iowa, so it's great to see how quickly he's progressed and also encouraging about his future prospects.
Reiff could potentially go off the board as early as the third pick if the Rams select USC's Matt Kalil, but he's likely to go off the board to Miami unless they like Stanford's Jonathan Martin more.