Carolina Mock Draft: Instant Contributors the Panthers Can Find in Every Round
The NFL draft is getting closer, and the Carolina Panthers are trying to devise the best draft strategy possible. Carolina has a pick in every round, and the first two or three selections all figure to be a toss up. However, this is Dave Gettleman's team and he likes to be unpredictable, as this offseason has proven.
There are many players this year who have the potential to be quality contributors for the Panthers, but the key will be to find the right ones to meet the needs of the team. Carolina needs help at wide receiver, offensive tackle and cornerback, but it wouldn't be shocking to see them target a position that needs improvement.
The Panthers have a selection in each round, but there will be no compensatory picks this year.
Keep in mind this is not your traditional mock draft but rather a list of potential players who could still be available when the Panthers are on the clock in each round. Feel free to submit your mock drafts in the comment section.
Round 1, 28th Overall
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Carolina is in dire need of receivers, especially one who can become a true number one on the depth chart. Cooks' size and speed could draw comparisons to former Panthers receiver Steve Smith, making him an interesting option as the Panthers' first pick. Cooks impressed at the combine earlier this year and rated tops among the receiver class in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle run and 60-yard shuttle.
Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame: Another position of need, offensive tackle could be addressed in Round 1. Carolina will probably be undecided as to which need it values most but could make its decision based on best player available. Martin figures to be the kind of tackle who can be a great replacement for the retired Jordan Gross. His 6'4", 308-pound frame makes him a formidable obstacle for defensive ends to get around. He had a good showing at the Senior Bowl, and his ability to play either guard or tackle could play into the team's decision if he is still on the board late in the first round.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: The Panthers have a need at cornerback, and while they have a mix of young and seasoned veterans at the position, the team could really use a quality mainstay at the position. Verrett defended 43 passes and intercepted nine of them through three seasons with the Horned Frogs. Verrett should be considered a possibility as Carolina's first pick if the right tackle or receiver is not there at 28th overall.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech: It was almost tempting to put Eric Ebron on this slide, but that would require the Carolina Panthers to trade up for him. Amaro would be a great addition to the offense and, if partnered with Greg Olsen, could give Carolina two quality pass-catching tight ends. This could work given the fact the Panthers field one of the weakest receiving units in the league, and, as proven by New England, having two tight ends who can make plays can make up for the absence of a legitimate top receiver. Amaro is capable of playing slot and can use his size and big hands to grab jump balls. The only knock against him is his size. However, that is nothing a solid training and conditioning program can't fix.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: Benjamin has the size to play at the pro level but could be limited by his average speed when it comes to getting separation. This was on Benjamin's scouting profile at CBSSports.com, as noted by Frank Cooney of the Sports Xchange back in February. Still, he does have the potential to grow into a good receiver in Carolina and could develop into the number one guy at the position. He needs to improve on his pass-catching ability as he has a habit of dropping too many passes. If he can do this and find a way to consistently get separation from defensive backs, he will be a great target deep down field.
Round 2, 60th Overall
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: Some predict that Kouandjio will be the first pick of the Panthers in this year's draft, but the fact that he had a poor showing at the combine and was given a failing grade by many teams still speaks volumes about his stock. Someone who raised this many red flags doesn't appear to be a first-round choice and could drop considerably in the draft. He is more than capable of playing left tackle, but he will need to prove that the concerns about his health were unnecessary. If he can be had in the second round by the Panthers, it could be regarded as a steal.
Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State: Regarded by Bleacher Report as a possible x-factor to replace Steve Smith in Carolina, Adams would be an interesting choice among available wide receivers if the Panthers go with an offensive tackle in the first round. He has great leaping ability, can bring in passes and possesses good field vision. Adams also has the ability to block downfield but could be a bit more physical. He has drawn comparisons to James Jones and, considering that Carolina never made a play for the former Green Bay receiver, it could be possible Adams is the reason why.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: A solid second-round wide receiver, Matthews was part of the reason Vanderbilt saw its football program become respectable. He has great size and speed but could improve on his separation while in coverage. This was the case during the Senior Bowl, where he struggled against cornerbacks and dropped passes. His potential could still appeal to a Carolina team that is lacking at wide receiver.
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee: With great size and impressive strength, Richardson could be a great tackle to plug into the line for the next several years. Regarded as one of better multi-tooled tackles in this year's draft class, Richardson needs to improve his technique against aggressively quicker defensive ends. He was dominated by South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney last year when the teams met. However, he could fill a need that is a glaring weakness for the Panthers and, if he continues to develop, he could have a great career at the pro level.
Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State: While undersized, Joyner plays with aggressiveness and at full speed, making him a solid second-round option for a team seeking a defensive back. He plays at a level that many teams love, but his overaggressive nature can be his undoing at times. Still, he has shown he is able to compete against bigger receivers and could be a nice addition in the Carolina secondary.
Round 3, 92nd Overall
Keith McGill, CB, Utah: Possesses size, speed and alertness to play the cornerback position. He stands to be a front-runner candidate to be taken by Carolina in the third round, and, if the Panthers find solid picks in the first two rounds, the team's third selection could prove to be just as good. He doesn't have the kind of hands associated with a ball hawk and has a tendency to drop the easy ones, but if he can break them up and not miss tackles, his shortcomings shouldn't factor into his stock in this particular round.
Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia: Assuming the Carolina Panthers cannot agree to terms with Greg Hardy on a new contract, drafting Clarke could be an option. Part of the team's offseason strategy has been looking ahead to the future, and there is a chance Clarke could be an insurance policy if Hardy is lost following the 2014 season. He is rangy and athletic, which allows him to create gaps in the blitzing game. He may not be the greatest pass-rusher, but he makes up for it in stopping the run. It would be wise to keep an eye on him on Day 2 of the draft.
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida: He was a playmaker for the Gators' defense last year as he picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and forced two fumbles. He has the ability to blitz the quarterback as he recorded two sacks in 2013 and figures to do well in Sean McDermott's defense. Purifoy even shined on special teams as he had a blocked punt. If Carolina goes shopping for a defensive back in Round 3, there will be options aplenty.
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford: Assuming Carolina wants to move Byron Bell to left tackle, drafting Fleming could make sense. He is a capable right tackle who has started at the position for the past three years. Fleming is a great drive-blocker and can use his size and strength to move defenders away from the ball carrier. He could benefit from having a bit of a mean streak but could still be a good option for a team in need of rebuilding the edge of its offensive line.
Mike Davis, WR, Texas: Size, speed, long arms and big hands are all great attributes for a quality wide receiver to have in their skill set. Davis possesses these traits, which makes him a great deep-threat option and the type of receiver Cam Newton needs on the field. If he can improve his route running and reduce his number of dropped passes, he could be a valuable asset to the Carolina offense.
Round 4, 128th Overall
Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia: The same argument that was made for Jace Amaro in the first round can be made for Lynch in in the fourth. The only difference is Lynch is not as athletic as Amaro. However, Lynch can still be a viable option in the passing game and what he lacks in speed, he makes up for in being able to get open and reaching the first-down marker. Carolina may entertain the option of taking a tight end in this round if they are looking to add weapons on offense.
Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama: Described as fundamentally and technically solid in pass protection, Steen could be a nice mid-round addition who can improve the interior of the offensive line. He missed his team's appearance in the Sugar Bowl because of surgery performed on a partially torn labrum but should be good to go when camp opens. The Panthers are young at offensive guard, but drafting Steen could help stimulate competition in camp later this summer.
Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor: Considered the top strong safety prospect last November per his scouting report on CBSSports.com, Dixon offers a lot of upside for a mid-round pick. Carolina may be set at both safety positions, but bringing in a player with Dixon's potential could make the future of the team's secondary easier to transition from old to young going into next season or after it. Dixon is a great run stopper, and if he can work on improving his coverage and tackling techniques, he could be a reliable option in the interior of the secondary.
Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma: The need to plug more receivers into the roster could prompt the Panthers to draft another one in the fourth round. Saunders is as good of a choice as any. He is small at 5'9", but he ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and recorded a 34-inch vertical jump during the combine. Saunders has the tools to be quick, elusive and go up for balls. Oh, and he is capable of returning punts and kicks. This bodes well for a team who could use another returner on special teams.
Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice: Assuming the Carolina Panthers focus their attention on the offense during the first three rounds, Gaines would be a nice player to have in the secondary if taken in the fourth. He was a top performer in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle run during the combine, so the athletic potential is there. On the field, he was named first-team All-Conference USA twice and possesses a strong work ethic. There are issues surrounding his health and ability to stay on the field, but he could develop into a cornerback who can compete with the current defensive backs on the Carolina roster.
Round 5, 168th Overall
Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke: Considered a third-round selection of the Panthers in Dan Hope's latest mock draft, it appears more likely Cockrell is taken in the fifth round by Carolina. He is physical in coverage and plays well in zone. He does have a tendency to bite on play action and miss on tackles. However, he could still be a great depth-chart contributor if taken by the Panthers in this round.
Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami (Fla.): The good news about Henderson is he compares favorably to DJ Fluker of the San Diego Chargers. Henderson has shown great ability in the running game, which would benefit a Carolina team that has not seen a 1,000-yard rusher since 2009. He would be an asset to Cam Newton if the mobile quarterback were to take off running from the outside. The only things that Carolina scouts should be concerned about are his history with injuries and off-field issues. If he proves to have overcome both obstacles, he could merit a strong look in this round.
Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State: Janis dominated Division II football and set a lot of records along the way. Despite his poor performance during the Senior Bowl, he still has enough favorable tools that could justify taking him late in the fifth round. His 40-yard dash time of 4.42 was good, but not good enough to be a top performer. However, he did earn that distinction in the bench press (20 reps) and 3-cone drill (6.64 seconds). His size, speed and work ethic are all positive tools the Carolina front office should consider. He does have small hands, which can create dropped passes. Aside from a few other drawbacks like route running and picking up yards after the catch, the biggest concern about him will be whether or not he can compete at the professional level after facing Division II competition on a consistent basis.
Russell Bodine, C/OG, North Carolina: It's possible the Panthers could look to add depth at offensive guard in the fifth round. Bodine could be an ideal candidate as he can play both guard and center. He has a tendency to be beaten off the snap but has the ability to recover at times, and when he is on his game, he is a solid interior lineman. He earned an honorable mention for ACC All-Conference this past season.
Marqueston Huff, FS, Wyoming: He's a bit undersized for a safety at 5'11" and 196 pounds, but he showed impressive ability at the position during the Senior Bowl. Depending on what the Panthers decide to do with Charles Godfrey, addressing the safety position could be an issue late in the draft. If anything, he will provide adequate competition during camp.
Round 6, 204th Overall
Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida: If he can overcome his character and performance concerns, Lynch could be another quality pass-rushing defensive end to don the black and blue of Carolina. He has been described as a freakish athlete who possesses a rare combination of size, speed and length. The potential upside he has makes him appealing late in the draft, and, much like Will Clarke earlier in this presentation, Lynch could be up for consideration as an insurance plan if Greg Hardy departs after next season.
Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty: Another player who impressed at the Senior Bowl, Aikens could be another small-school athlete who lands on Carolina's radar. Aikens is capable of handling any kind of coverage and has the ability to play defensive back effectively. He has to keep receivers in front of him as his lack of top-end speed is limited. The biggest concern about Aikens is a theft charge to which he pleaded guilty in 2010. If he has proven that the mistakes of the past are behind him, he should be in good shape as a late-round pick. Otherwise, he could be off many teams' draft boards.
Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest: Regarded as a quarterback's best friend on his scouting profile, Campanaro is the type of receiver who could develop into a late-round steal. He is small in stature but is solid and strong. He may find it difficult to find separation at the next level, but the important question will be whether or not he has fully recovered from the broken collarbone from last year.
Justin Britt, OT, Missouri: The Panthers should be favoring the tackle position heavily this year and taking one late in the draft should be expected. Britt has the size to play offensive tackle in the NFL at 6'6" and 325 pounds. He is an excellent run blocker and is very physical in the trenches. Unless the draft strategy has Carolina looking in another direction, he would be an excellent choice to help shore up the outside of the offensive line.
Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: Another defensive back for the Panthers to consider late in the draft, Colvin could be hindered by his torn ACL which he sustained during a Senior Bowl practice back in January. However, when healthy, he is a physical corner who will challenge in the running game and in coverage. Aside from bouncing back from his injury, Colvin needs to work on his awareness and reduce the number of pass-interference penalties called against him.
Round 7, 225th Overall
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: If available this late, it would make sense. Carolina could be holding auditions for the future backup to Cam Newton this year in camp, and while they signed Joe Webb, bringing in another quarterback with Newton's skill set should raise the bar in competition. The goal of the team is to keep the playbook intact as much as possible regardless of who is under center. He has the ability to improvise and can put some velocity on his passes. His accuracy needs work, and despite his desire to be a starter in the NFL, he will have to prove his worth against NFL competition before earning the starting role anywhere.
Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt: A smart offensive tackle, Johnson could be in line as the Panthers' last pick if the team elects not to address the position in the middle rounds. He is a very durable player as he holds the school record for starts with 51. He has the tools to be a decent tackle at the next level, and if he can learn to keep his head up and not lose sight of the defenders, he could have a productive career.
L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri: If he can improve on his physicality and fight for more jump balls, Washington could be a nice addition to the outside. He has the height (6'4") and speed to be a reliable pro receiver but needs to be able to rely on his hands more and become more fluid in his route running. However, he still provides that big target that could be useful in the red zone.
Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State: Despite the fact he was placed on academic suspension, this should not prevent Carolina from taking a look at Franklin. The team was able to simplify the playbook for Newton, so it stands to reason the same can be done for the receiving prospect. Franklin possesses good acceleration and times his leaps well on jump balls. He could be a great fit as a slot receiver in the Carolina offense.
Derrell Johnson, OLB, East Carolina: Linebacker isn't exactly a pressing need for the Panthers this year, but anything can happen on draft day. Johnson is a physical tackler who would fit in well with the Carolina defensive scheme. He has a great burst coming off the edge with a pass rush. He may not be great falling back into coverage, but if he is called upon to stop the run or blitz the quarterback, he could provide an effective rotation of outside linebackers for the defense.