Complete Panthers 7-Round Mock Draft for 2014
Most teams that go 12-4 and win their division the season prior don’t go into the next year’s draft with a ton of holes to fill. But that’s exactly the situation the Carolina Panthers face heading into the 2014 NFL draft.
They are in trouble.
Carolina’ best asset along the offensive line, tackle Jordan Gross, retired. So did guards Jeff Byers and Geoff Hangartner. Guard Travelle Wharton is leaning toward retirement as well, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer:
#Panthers FA guard Travelle Wharton, attending South Carolina pro day, says he is leaning toward retirement. But no final decision yet.— Joe Person (@josephperson) April 2, 2014
As it stands right now, quarterback Cam Newton is in danger of getting mauled on every play.
If he does find the time to throw, his cadre of receivers is gone. Every wide receiver who caught a pass for the Panthers in 2013 is now with some other team, even the face of the franchise, Steve Smith. Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood have been added via free agency, but the depth and skill level at wide receiver are dwindling.
On the defensive side of the football—Carolina’s forte—the secondary lost a lot of talent.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell, the two members of Carolina’s secondary with the most snaps played in 2013, left via free agency. The Panthers did add cornerback Antoine Cason and safety Roman Harper, but there is still work to do to get this defensive backfield back to 2013 levels.
Carolina has a job ahead all-around to return to the playoffs in 2014. Free agency hasn’t gone well for the Panthers, mainly because of a lack of funds. They have to hit paydirt in the draft.
They have seven picks in the draft, one in each round. Here’s how they might use each pick.
Round 1, Pick 28 (28th Overall): Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The sexy pick here in the first round, and a move the fanbase has been demanding for years, is to grab a top-notch wide receiver. While that idea is on the table, selecting a wide receiver at No. 28 would be at the detriment of the franchise's best player, quarterback Cam Newton.
Sure, adding a receiver would help him in the passing game, but if the Panthers can't protect their quarterback, bad things are going to happen to him—very painful things.
One of the ways to keep Newton off the medical table on a weekly basis is to add Morgan Moses to the offensive line.
Bill Voth, who covers the Panthers for SportsXchange, reported a statement from general manager Dave Gettleman at the combine that screams the Panthers will look at fixing the offensive line early:
This is a big man’s game, I don’t care what anybody says. The game’s evolving, the style of play’s evolving, but it’s a big man’s game. Big men win, it’s just the way it is. You look at Seattle and they’ve got heavy bodies up front, their linebackers are a little bit smaller, but that secondary’s monstrous. It’s a big man’s game, don’t let anybody tell you any different, and that’s what we have to do.
At 6’6” and 314 pounds, Moses fits the bill of a big man. He also has long arms, and his massive frame is perfect for pass protection in the NFL. He can play either the right or left side at tackle.
Round 2, Pick 28 (60th Overall): Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Just because the Panthers didn’t get to address the wide receiver position in the first round, that doesn’t mean they won’t go that route early. Former Colorado Buffaloes star Paul Richardson could be a perfect fit for the Panthers in the second round.
He exploded on the scene early in the 2013 season when he pulled in four touchdown passes and 417 yards receiving in his first two games. He finished his junior season with 1,343 yards and 10 touchdown catches and entered the draft early.
At 175 pounds, he has to put on some size. But there’s no doubting his ability to get open, whether by using his quickness and acceleration to get off the line quickly and escape press coverage or by using his speed (he ran a 4.40 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine) to blow by defenders and run deep routes.
Richardson also posted a 38” vertical jump at the combine, which suggests he'll be able to fight for balls in the air in the rare case that his lightning-fast speed doesn’t allow him separation.
Given his speed and athleticism, the Panthers could draft an explosive playmaker in Richardson. No one in college football last year posted more plays of 50-plus yards than his seven. He’s also extremely effective with the football after the catch.
Round 3, Pick 28 (92nd Overall): Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
Losing Captain Munnerlyn is going to hurt the Panthers secondary, and adding cornerback Antoine Cason from the Arizona Cardinals isn’t going to be enough to replace Munnerlyn. General manager Dave Gettleman will need to rebuild his defensive backfield through the draft.
Former Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste could be an awesome addition to Carolina’s secondary in the third round.
He is a converted wide receiver with the cover skills to flourish in either a zone scheme or press coverage. One of his specialties, and this may come from his time as a receiver, is disrupting pass-catchers in their routes.
"I'm physical, I'm fast, I cover a lot of ground, and I can be good with run fits," Jean-Baptiste said at the Senior Bowl, according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. "The advantage for me is I can take them (receivers) out of their game. I've got long arms and I can put it on them."
Another attribute going for him is his size. He’s 6’3” and 218 pounds, which means he fits the part in today’s NFL of big, physical cornerbacks.
At Nebraska, he made the most of his 17 starts. In 2012, he broke up nine passes and picked off two. A year later, he was responsible for 12 pass breakups and four interceptions.
Jean-Baptiste is exactly the big, physical, ball-hawking cornerback that the Panthers need to find in the third round.
Round 4, Pick 28 (128th Overall): Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
With the mass exodus of talent along Carolina’s offensive line, there’s no way the Panthers can stop after just one lineman in this draft. In fact, if the Panthers had more than seven picks and fewer needs, they would probably draft an entire line in May.
Since they only have seven picks this year, quality will have to trump quantity, and former Stanford tackle Cameron Fleming shines in the fourth round.
He was a three-year starter at Stanford, and used his hulking 6’5”, 323-pound frame last year to help the Cardinal set a single-season, team-rushing record. Stanford’s offensive line also ranked 15th nationally after only giving up 16 sacks.
Not only is he an all-around gifted and versatile lineman, he’s incredibly intelligent. His versatility and football IQ should allow him to be a swing tackle in the NFL or possibly move to the inside.
His upside is rather high at a number of positions along the line, which makes him even more valuable to a team like the Panthers, who have a dire need for help all across the offensive line of scrimmage.
Round 5, Pick 28 (168th Overall): Dontae Johnson, FS/CB, N.C. State
The first thing to like about former N.C. State defensive back Dontae Johnson is his size. He’s 6’2” and 200 pounds and ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. So, size is No. 1, and speed is No. 2.
Add in his versatility in the defensive backfield, and he sounds like a great fit for the Panthers in the fifth round.
In 2011, he played the nickel position and even started two games at linebacker. He moved to cornerback in 2012 and stayed there last season until he switched to free safety. He started five games at corner in 2013 and seven at free safety.
If you’re keeping track, Johnson can boast size, speed and versatility.
There are some negatives; otherwise, he’d be a much higher-rated draft commodity. He needs to learn to react faster to run plays and has to fix some aspects of his footwork while in coverage.
After he’s given some time to clean that up, Johnson is going to bring a huge frame to the NFL, and he uses his speed well. He can tangle with both wide receivers and tight ends in the middle of the field and drew high praise for his efforts at the Senior Bowl.
NFL Network analyst Charles Davis spoke with Reid Ferrin of Chiefs Insider at the Senior Bowl about Johnson: "I think Dontae Johnson (North team), the cornerback safety from North Carolina State, he’s exactly what we just saw in the NFC championship game in Seattle, those long corners, big guys with the long arms that can get on top of you."
In the fifth round, he seems like a steal.
Round 6, Pick 28 (204th Overall): Chris Watt, OG, Notre Dame
It’s necessary to add another piece to the offensive line in Carolina with the pick in the sixth round. With the picks of Morgan Moses and Cameron Fleming earlier in the draft, the team addressed needs at tackle.
Carolina could still use a run-blocking guard, and former Notre Dame star Chris Watt can provide fulfill that role.
He was a three-year starter at left guard and is known to have a bit of a mean streak on the field, where he plays with a constant motor.
At 6’3” and 310 pounds, he is suited to anchor down and help protect the passer, but he’s also adept at opening holes in the run game. In fact, the run game is where he could make a difference. Watt engages well and isn’t afraid of contact in the least.
Watt won’t come in and start immediately for the Panthers. But he’s very coachable and has a lot of the “can’t stop, won’t stop” mentality. If he keeps that attitude in the NFL and learns to get out and block in space (remember, he’s going to be helping Cam Newton if he’s drafted by the Panthers), he can turn into a quality starter in the NFL.
Round 7, Pick 10 (225th Overall): Mike Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
If you live outside the ACC’s reach, you may never have heard of former Wake Forest wide receiver Mike Campanaro.
He broke his collarbone during his senior season and only played in eight games, but he caught 67 passes for 803 yards and six touchdowns. He was projected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick after his junior season with the Demon Deacons but decided to return for his senior season after posting 763 yards on 79 catches in 2012.
He was cleared to participate in the Senior Bowl just weeks prior to the event and raised eyebrows, according to Fox Sports analyst Coy Wire:
He ran sharp, crisp routes and looked incredibly quick coming out of his breaks on the first day in Mobile. He's the type of receiver who will present a big challenge for nickel backs in the NFL and will make most safeties who have to cover him in the slot look silly.
I was talking with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney as we watched 1-on-1 drills, and he said he was so glad his Tigers would not have to see him anymore. Chad Morris, Clemson’s offensive coordinator, smiled in agreement and exhaustedly proclaimed, “He’s everywhere.”
Campanaro then ran a 4.46 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and pushed up 225 pounds 20 times on the bench press.
At 5’9” and 192 pounds, he isn’t going to wow anyone in shorts, but the Panthers have never shied away from smaller receivers. Campanaro has a unique blend of strength and speed and always seems to be open.
Cam Newton would love an always-open slot receiver.
Note: Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.