Carolina Panthers

Three potential Panther targets helped their stock at the Combine. One did not. See who they are

Ron Rivera is pleased with quarterback Cam Newton’s progress and doesn’t anticipate looking for a quarterback in free agency

Ron Rivera, Panthers head coach shares an update on Cam Newton's progress after shoulder surgery.
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Ron Rivera, Panthers head coach shares an update on Cam Newton's progress after shoulder surgery.

The NFL Scouting Combine isn’t a competition — it’s an opportunity for teams to get a closer look at some of the draft’s top prospects, during which, off-field interviews are just as important as the on-field drills.

So while it’s not possible to “win” or “lose” the Combine, it’s very possible for prospects to help or hurt their draft stock among NFL teams. These five players who fit a need for the Carolina Panthers influenced that perception on either end of the spectrum last week.

Stock up

During a strong NFL combine, Georgia’s Mecole Hardman displayed the traits the Panthers say they want in their wide receivers. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) Michael Conroy AP

Mecole Hardman: 5-foot-10/187 pounds, WR, Georgia (Rounds 4-7)

Hardman was a potential late-round option for Carolina entering the Combine. But his skill set falls in line with what Ron Rivera said the team looks for in a wide receiver, and his numbers stood out among wideouts. Despite his size, he put up 17 reps on the bench press — tied for 12th-most of all receivers. His 4.33 40-yard dash was fifth-fastest regardless of position, confirming he’s the burner he appears to be on film. Rivera said he wants his receivers to be effective with the ball in their hands and as blockers; Hardman’s Combine results show he’s fast and strong enough to do both. The converted defensive back won’t be taken until late Day 2 at the earliest, giving the Panthers ample time to address other needs before considering him.

Garrett Bradbury: 6-foot-3/306 pounds, C, North Carolina State (Round 1)

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NC State offensive lineman Garrett Bradbury solidified his place in the first round of the NFL Draft after his strong Combine. Michael Conroy AP

If the whispers of Bradbury being a 1st-round pick come April became chatter after a strong Senior Bowl performance, they’re now full-blown shouts after a standout Combine. The Charlotte native and N.C. State product put up 34 reps on the bench press before showcasing his speed and agility with the third-fastest 40-yard dash time and fastest three-cone drill time among offensive lineman. His film checks out and now, so does his athleticism — he’s a virtual lock for the 1st round and one of the three most-realistic candidates for the Panthers to pick at No. 16.

Mark Fields: 5-foot-10/192 pounds, CB, Clemson (Rounds 3-5)

An AFC scout said he had Fields as a undrafted free agent after the season, and that grade rose to 7th round after the NFLPA game and the Senior Bowl. Now, after the Combine, the Charlotte native looks like a solid mid-round pick. Clemson listed Fields at 180 pounds, and he weighed in at 186 pounds at the Senior Bowl in January — which means he added about 12 pounds from his playing weight He still ran a 4.37 40-yard dash. People knew Fields was fast, which makes his 18 reps on the bench press perhaps more impressive. He’ll likely be drafted as a nickel back, although he told The Observer he can play outside corner, too. His father played for the Panthers from 2002-04, and the younger Fields could compete for Carolina’s open starting nickel job as a rookie.

Clemson defensive back Mark Fields runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) Michael Conroy AP

Stock Down

Jachai Polite: 6-foot-3/258 pounds, EDGE, Florida (Rounds 1-3)

This is one of those rare instances where the public is made aware of what happens in the interview room — which reportedly didn’t go well for Polite. The crazy thing is, this information wasn’t leaked. Polite essentially told the world his interviews didn’t go well during his podium session, when he called out teams for picking apart his game film. Couple that with a previously unannounced hamstring injury that kept him out of most drills, and Polite suddenly needs an exemplary Pro Day to get back into the 1st round. Furthermore, if his supposed character concerns are valid, he isn’t likely to join a carefully curated Panthers locker room.

One to watch

Juan Thornhill: 6-foot/205 pounds, S, Virginia (Rounds 2-3)

At 205 pounds, we know Thornhill is big, his 4.43 40-yard dash tells us he’s fast, and his 21 bench press reps and 44-inch vertical tell us he is strong and athletic. The converted cornerback looks good on film and should add a versatile skill set to any defense that drafts him.

Virginia defensive back Juan Thornhill is a name Panthers fans should pay attention to following a standout Combine performance. Michael Conroy AP

With two of the draft’s top safeties — Alabama’s Deionte Thompson and Delaware’s Nasir Adderley — not particiating in the drills, Thornhill took advantage of the added attention and did not disappoint. Specifically for the Carolina Panthers, who own two 3rd round picks, the Virginia product could be an option to play alongside Eric Reid.

Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.