Depth matters in the NFL, so while teams may have certain positions that require the most immediate attention, there’s no such thing as having too much talent.
The Carolina Panthers want to improve their offensive line and pass rush — it’s their priority in this year’s draft. However, head coach Ron Rivera said the team will also look to add playmakers through the draft and free agency. While positions like wide receiver and running back should probably be addressed after offensive and defensive lines, certain players are too good to pass up if they’re available at the right time.
Pull the trigger
N’Keal Harry, 6-foot-4, 228 lbs., WR, Arizona State: Harry is a first-round talent who may fall to the second round depending on how teams value other receivers like D.K. Metcalf and Marquise Brown. But Harry loves to block, he’s effective after the catch and makes contested catches — everything Rivera wants in a receiver. If he’s somehow still around when Carolina picks at No. 47 overall, Marty Hurney should seriously consider the former Sun Devil.
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Parris Campbell, 6-foot, 205 lbs., WR, Ohio State: He should be gone before the Panthers pick at No. 47, but adding Campbell in the second round would give Norv Turner a third explosive receiver to play with on offense. He ran a position-best 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and should be firmly in play for a later Panther pick if Carolina takes an offensive lineman in the first round.
Dexter Lawrence, 6-foot-4, 342 pounds, DT, Clemson: Maybe it’s the positive ostarine test he registered before the College Football Playoff, but Lawrence is slipping down several revered analysts’ mock draft boards. On paper, Lawrence looks like a traditional nose tackle but could be a menace if he proves himself an effective pass rusher. Either way, if he’s on the board in the second round, he makes a lot of sense for the Panthers — even with Dontari Poe on roster.
Might need some convincing
Darrell Henderson, 5-foot-8, 208 lbs., RB, Memphis: Christian McCaffrey’s performance coupled with the position’s diminished draft value means the Panthers don’t need to jump on the first running back they see. But if Henderson is on the board by the time they pick in the third round — especially their compensatory pick at No. 100 overall — Carolina could do worse than adding an explosive back who was one of college football’s biggest home run threats over the past two years.
Irv Smith, 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, TE, Alabama: Following a player like O.J. Howard isn’t easy, but Smith did so with class over his past two seasons at Alabama. The Panthers drafted Ian Thomas in the fourth round in 2018, re-signed Chris Manhertz and expect Greg Olsen to return from a ruptured plantar fascia in 2019. But Manhertz is primarily a blocker while Olsen may not want to keep playing on his surgically-repaired foot for more than another season. Smith is a versatile receiver and blocker and could form an impressive duo with Thomas after a year or two of instruction from Olsen. He’s worth the price if he falls to the the third round.
Juan Thornhill, 6-foot, 205 lbs., S, Virginia: Carolina signed Eric Reid to a three-year deal to solidify its secondary, but after releasing Mike Adams the team needs another starting safety. Mart Hurney spent a third-round pick on Rashaan Gaulden in 2018. But Thornhill’s versatility, strength and speed would allow him to play safety and nickel corner, both of which are areas of need for the Panthers. If he’s still around by the Panthers’ No. 77 overall pick in the third round, the team might have to take him. He won’t last to No. 100.
Don’t get your hopes up
Noah Fant, 6-foot-4, 249 pounds, TE, Iowa: Fant deservedly has a ton of hype surrounding him following a combine in which he ran a position-best 4.5-second 40-yard dash. He may be the draft’s premier pass-catching tight end and isn’t likely to last beyond the late-first or early-second rounds — and therein lies the problem for Carolina. Unlike Smith, who the Panthers could draft in the third round after addressing two or three other needs, they’d have to spend the No. 47 overall pick on Fant, barring a trade or drastic character red flag popping up. He’d give Cam Newton a dangerous target for years to come, but the price would be too high.
D.K. Metcalf, 6-foot-3, 228 lbs., WR, Ole Miss: Metcalf’s inclusion is strictly for the Twitter GMs who took to their favorite medium after his mind-blowing combine performance. A 4.33-second 40-yard dash, 27 reps on the bench press and a 40.5-inch vertical at his size obviously draws comparisons to Julio Jones. But regardless of whether Metcalf can put up Jones’ production, the Panthers can’t afford the price — a first-round pick. That dream can die here and be buried next to any hopes of the team landing Antonio Brown.
Deionte Thompson, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, S, Alabama: There’s plenty to like about Thompson — his Alabama pedigree, his physical nature and athleticism. But there’s concern whether his relatively slender build will hold up in the NFL given his physicality. There’s also the big plays he gave up during the College Football Playoff — specifically two plays against Clemson that resulted in a combined 136 yards and a touchdown. Given Carolina’s propensity for giving up big plays last season, that’s not an appealing trait from a player it would need to spend a second-round pick on.