Carolina Panthers Mock Draft: 7-Round Predictions Post Week 1 of Free Agency
This free-agency period hasn't been a particularly fruitful one for the Carolina Panthers. They've lost a lot more talent than they've gained, and they are left with several big holes to fill as we look toward May's draft. They opted to release Steve Smith, which now leaves a gaping hole at the wide receiver position.
The draft will be a great chance for them to remedy some of the ailments from which their roster is suffering, and they will need to be aggressive—unlike how they've been during free agency so far.
While getting a talented receiver is of massive importance, it won't do the Panthers any good if they don't have their quarterback standing up and protected, meaning they must target a tackle in the first round. This is a pretty deep class of receivers, and they can definitely find someone worth taking in the second round who will fit the bill.
This draft should be a mix of offensive and defensive players for the Panthers, with offensive line, wide receiver and defensive back being the areas of most importance.
Round 1: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
With Jordan Gross gone, the Panthers must find someone who can step in right away and solidify the offensive line. Of the prospects who will likely be available for them at 28th overall, Notre Dame's Zack Martin would be a great fit.
Martin has tremendous size and has solidified himself as a legitimate tackle prospect with his showings at the combine and the Senior Bowl. Given the fact that Carolina has yet to find Gross' replacement in free agency, it makes targeting Martin at the bottom of the first round very important.
He proved himself as a prominent blocker in pass protection and when running the ball, making him an ideal fit for the Panthers O-line.
Martin could easily come in and start right away on the right side, but he may even be able to find a level of comfort on the left side of the line. Surely he would be the ultimate successor to Gross' position on the left side, but he may be better suited as a right tackle at first while he gets his bearings in the NFL.
The Panthers have a very weak offensive line as of right now, but Martin would certainly provide a boost.
Round 2: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
When the Panthers made the decision to cut Smith, they set themselves even further back. Wide receiver was already a position of need after losing Brandon LaFell to the New England Patriots in free agency, via Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, but letting go of Smith leaves the team extremely thin at a position they already had issues at.
Bringing in a new receiver who can contribute right away is a clear aim of the Panthers, and Jordan Matthews fits the mold of what they should be looking for. Matthews is a big-bodied receiver who could make an impact right away.
He totaled 112 receptions for 1,477 and seven touchdowns in 2013, which capped off one of the most prolific receiving careers in Commodores history. Matthews would revitalize a receiving corps that has been left barren due to free agency and front-office decisions, a service that will be instrumental to the continued success of this team.
They could decide to go with a wide receiver in the first round and a lineman here instead, but if not, expect Matthews' name to be associated with the team.
Round 3: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
Carolina was already in need of some help in its secondary, but it will need even more help now that Captain Munnerlyn has left in free agency. It's no secret that offensive line and wide receiver are 1-A and 1-B when it comes to needs for the Panthers, but cornerback is definitely a close second.
Of the prospects that Carolina will have its chance to grab in the third round, Jaylen Watkins from Florida looks like he'd be a nice pickup. The former Gator has good size for a corner and is a physical defender. Watkins played all over the field for Florida and could translate to a slot corner, nickel or even a safety at the next level.
His versatility is certainly an intriguing trait for Carolina as it could use more army knife-type players like Watkins in its secondary.
He's a cover man more than anything and likely projects as a solid No. 3 corner in the NFL. Watkins is not the savior to Carolina's secondary, but he will provide some much-needed depth right away and could potentially develop into something more.
Round 4: Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
The Panthers will actively look to fill out their receiving corps after missing out on the majority of talented wideouts in free agency. I already slotted them Matthews in the second, but picking up another receiver in the later rounds would be a smart move for the Panthers.
Brandon Coleman is surely someone who should be on their radar, largely for his size and what he could bring to Carolina as a red-zone target. Coleman has extremely reliable hands and great body control. He's good at posturing above smaller corners and grabbing the ball at its highest point.
He put on a great performance at the combine yet is still flying under the radar of some teams, making him an ideal target for the Panthers. Coleman has been tagged by many to go between the third round and the fourth, giving Carolina the opportunity to firm up its receiving corps in the middle rounds and add a big target for Cam Newton along the way.
Round 5: Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
The Panthers need more than just one defensive back to truly make a difference in their secondary, and the fifth round would be a good place to nab a solid, potential-filled safety like Tre Boston.
I put Boston here in my last post-combine mock for the Panthers, and I still believe he'd be a good fit for them.
Boston defends well against the run in addition to playing well in coverage. He's a quicker-than-fast guy but does have the ability to keep up with speedier receivers.
He made a name for himself as a fierce competitor in college and was a feisty defender for the Tar Heels. Boston's smashmouth approach does get him in trouble sometimes when he goes for a big hit instead of properly wrapping up, but the ability is there, and he should be worth a flier in the fifth.
Boston is no star defender, but his fiery attitude and the fact that he's void of fear when it comes to contact are what should attract the Panthers to him.
Round 6: Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt
The Panthers need to fill out their offensive line and get back some of the depth they've lost this offseason, and they should double-up on tackles in this May's draft. Martin will obviously be the sexier pick of the two, but don't count out Vandy's Wesley Johnson just yet.
He's a very fluid lineman, meaning he has smooth lateral movement and nifty footwork. Johnson played at both tackle spots as well as center and guard during his years with the Commodores, and he displayed much promise as a lineman at the next level.
Given his leaner build, it's unlikely he'll stay at tackle once he reaches the NFL, but Johnson could project nicely as an interior lineman for the Panthers.
He only allowed two sacks in his final two years of college and could turn out to be quite a steal, especially if he ends up in a starting role his rookie year.
Round 7: Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State
The Panthers are set at tight end with Greg Olsen being their top guy at the position but could certainly benefit from picking up a complementing blocker. Crockett Gillmore, the 6'6", 260-pound tight end from Colorado State, has shown his value as a blocker during his collegiate career and as a late addition to the Senior Bowl.
He's shown flashes of being a good receiver, but at the very least, he's a reliable blocker who could really help out the Panthers.
There's no guarantee that they'll find a winning formula for their offensive line in the draft and free agency, making a tight end who can block like Gillmore a pretty valuable option.
We saw Newton take some positive strides in 2013, but that growth will be stunted if his protection crumbles in front of him. They won't be able to find a good enough lineman to fix their troubles this late in the draft, but someone like Gillmore could turn out to be a solid and beneficial pickup.