Carolina Panthers

5 NFL Draft options for the Carolina Panthers in the 1st round. Hint: Think linemen.

He said, she said: Panthers draft possibilities

Charlotte Observer Panthers beat reporters Jourdan Rodrigue and Joe Person discuss the various draft options available to the Carolina Panthers with their number 24 NFL draft pick on Thursday, April 26, 2018.
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Charlotte Observer Panthers beat reporters Jourdan Rodrigue and Joe Person discuss the various draft options available to the Carolina Panthers with their number 24 NFL draft pick on Thursday, April 26, 2018.

After months of anticipation and analysis, the NFL Draft is finally just hours away.

So, who will the Carolina Panthers select with their first-round selection?

The Observer’s Panthers beat writers, Jourdan Rodrigue and Marcel Louis-Jacques, have both stepped into general manager Marty Hurney’s shoes and made their respective picks. Both chose defensive edge players from ACC schools: Rodrigue went with Florida State’s Brian Burns, while Louis-Jacques took Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell.

Both would be welcome additions to the Panthers’ defensive front, but there’s also no guarantee either player will be available by the time Carolina picks at No. 16. If that’s the case, here are five alternatives the Panthers should consider.

(Hint: Make yourself well-acquainted with this year’s lineman, both offensive and defensive.)


Height: 6-4. Weight: 329.

Position: Offensive tackle/guard.

College: Oklahoma.

Cody Ford.jpg
Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford has the positional versatility the Carolina Panthers love. Darron Cummings AP

What he offers: Coach Ron Rivera loves players with positional versatility, and Ford certainly does — he could play either tackle or guard at the next level, having started at both positions in college. He’s still somewhat raw technically for a tackle, but his incredible size and athleticism make him a high-upside selection. Give Ford a few months with reknowned offensive line coach John Matsko, and he could very well slide into the starting unit at left guard.

Worth mentioning: The Panthers haven’t selected an offensive lineman in the first round since taking Jeff Otah in 2008. But given the retirement of Ryan Kalil and the release of Matt Kalil over the offseason, not to mention Cam Newton’s shoulder surgery, the need is as pertinent as ever.

Bet you didn’t know: Ford graduated in December 2018 with a degree in criminology.

What they’re saying: “I think this guy’s going to go in the middle of the first round and be a 10-year player at right tackle. You’ll love him if you get him.” - Former NFL general manager and current analyst Charley Casserly.


Height: 6-5. Weight: 315.

Position: Offensive tackle.

College: Washington State.

Andre Dillard.jpg
Washington State offensive lineman Andre Dillard has the experience to step into Carolina’s starting unit from day one. Michael Conroy AP

What he offers: As a three-year starter on some prolific Washington State offenses, Dillard is one of the draft’s more experienced offensive linemen. The Cougars’ pass-heavy offense means he should be more comfortable in pass protection than run blocking out of the gate, but he’s athletic and polished enough to play immediately. It’s possible, if Taylor Moton and Daryl Williams slot into Carolina’s starting lineup at left guard and right tackle, there would be an opening at left tackle for Dillard.

Worth mentioning: Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported this week that he’s heard Carolina may be interested in moving up in the draft to secure an offensive lineman like Dillard. The Panthers haven’t traded up in the first round since 2008, when they traded their second-round pick and a subsequent first in exchange for a second first-rounder. That pick became Otah, who lasted just four years in Charlotte.

Bet you didn’t know: Dillard’s father, Mitch, also played offensive line for the Cougars back in the 1980s.

What they’re saying: “He has the athletic ability to make all the blocks and the protection talent to become a good, early starter on the left side.” - NFL analyst Lance Zierlein.


Height: 6-4. Weight: 302.

Position: Offensive line.

College: Alabama.

Jonah Willams.jpg
Alabama offensive lineman Jonah Williams is one of the safer picks in this year’s draft. Michael Conroy AP
What he offers:

Williams started every game at Alabama the past three years, where he developed from one of the nation’s top recruits into a premier NFL prospect. He doesn’t have the elite size or length of other prospects, but he’s one of the more intelligent linemen in this year’s draft. He played left tackle in college but could play anywhere along the offensive line for the Panthers, who place a real premium on positional versatility.

Worth mentioning: The Panthers have expressed that their two biggest needs are among the defensive and offensive line, so they are likely to tackle both position groups with their first two picks. Which player they draft in the first round will be as much about their own preferences as positional runs during the early stages of the first round. Williams is almost certain to be part of an inevitable run on offensive linemen.

Bet you didn’t know: Enrolled early at Alabama in hopes of winning a starting job as a freshman... which he did.

What they’re saying: “Williams is one of the safest picks in the 2019 draft and should have a high-level pro career.” - Bleacher Report lead NFL draft analyst Matt Miller.


Height: 6-3. Weight: 315.

Position: Defensive tackle.

College: Clemson.

Christian Wilkins.jpg
Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins would give the Panthers the disruptive interior presence they need on the defensive line. Darron Cummings AP
What he offers:

Wilkins has one of the best personalities in the draft, both for his upbeat, playful demeanor and work giving back to the community. On the field, he’s a physical marvel in the middle of a defensive line with a propensity for rushing the passer and stuffing the run. His instincts are sublime, and the reason he was able to make an impact from the moment he stepped on campus.

Worth mentioning: The other three quarterbacks in the Panthers’ division — Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Jameis Winston — are lightning quick getting the ball out of their hands, and the best way to counter that is with interior pressure. Wilkins might not come off the edge like the recently-retired Julius Peppers, but he’s plenty capable of pressuring opposing signal callers.

Bet you didn’t know: He became the first scholarship player at Clemson to graduate in 2 1/2 years. Also, the Panthers have never drafted a player from Clemson.

What they’re saying: “Wilkins is the type of player every team wants—highly intelligent, a great leader and exceptional worker.” - Miller.


Height: 6-6. Weight: 260.

Position: Defensive end.

College: Mississippi State.

montez Sweat.jpg
Mississippi State defensive lineman Montez Sweat is one of the draft’s most athletic prospects, but may fall to the Panthers because of a heart condition. Darron Cummings AP
What he offers:

Sweat absolutely exploded at the draft combine, most notably with his 4.41-second 40-yard dash time, and is as athletic a prospect as exists in this year’s draft. He had 22 sacks in two years with the Bulldogs, utilizing his speed and length to get to the quarterback. He’d be a welcome addition off the edge in Carolina, where he could alternate with Bruce Irvin across from starter Mario Addison.

Worth mentioning: Sweat has a heart condition that has caused some teams to take him off their draft boards entirely. He has Top 10-upside but also could fall on draft night with a questionable medical history. Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel missed four games with an irregular heartbeat at the start of last season but was fine to play once he returned.

Bet you didn’t know: He was a tight end recruit coming out of high school in Georgia.

What they’re saying: “If Sweat keeps developing his arsenal of pass-rushing moves, he’ll average 10 sacks per season. He already has a great takeoff at the snap.” - ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

NFL Draft

Round 1: 8 p.m., Thursday (ABC, ESPN, NFLN)

Rounds 2-3: 7 p.m., Friday (ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, NFLN)

Rounds 4-7: Noon, Saturday (ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, NFLN)

Panthers Picks: Round 1 - 16th; round 2 - 47th; round 3 - 77th and 100th; round 4 - 115th; round 5 - 154th; round 6 - 187th.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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