For the first time since they drafted Luke Kuechly, the Panthers will have a pick inside the top 10 when the first round gets underway in Philadelphia. After a very disappointing 2016, the Superbowl 50 runners up have plenty of holes that need filling.
The biggest needs for this team are on the defensive side of the ball. Despite recording the second most sacks in the league, the Panthers are in desperate need for a pass rusher. The resigning of Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Charles Johnson won’t be enough to consistently pressure the quarterback. The defense also needs to add strength at safety as there is very little depth behind Kurt Coleman and the inconsistent Tre Boston. The need for a slot corner should be addressed in Free Agency.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers are struggling at the tackle positions. Mike Remmers had been filling in at Left Tackle, but he is likely to be moved back to his natural spot on the right side of the line. Left Tackle Michael Oher has been in the concussion protocol since September and it is looking increasingly unlikely that situation will change soon. However, this need looks like it will be sorted out through free agency due to this year’s poor draft class in the position.
The other position of need is at the slot receiver position. The Panthers are set out wide, with the towering figures of Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and Greg Olsen providing Cam Newton with big targets to throw to. But with Philly Brown expecting to be released, there is an opening on the inside.
The first name, and the fans favourite selection, does not actually fill any of the holes which exist on the team. But if LSU’s power back Leonard Fournette is available at 8, he is a talent who absolutely cannot be passed on. He’s drawn comparisons to Bo Jackson and Adrian Peterson and it is easy to see why. At last week’s combine he weighed in at 240 lbs, but despite this weight he still ran a 4.51 40 yard dash. That combination of speed and size is why he is considered by many to be one of the best 5 players in the entire class. This tweet from NFL Research gives us all a great idea of who Fournette measures up against
Based on the combine, Leonard Fournette has:
– Same weight as Clay Matthews
– Same burst as Percy Harvin
– Same speed as Jordy Nelson
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) March 3, 2017
Despite carrying an ankle injury for a portion of his college career, he still wowed and amazed with his balance of speed and raw power. In 2015, he scored 22 touchdowns and posted up 1953 yards, numbers which turned every head in the NFL. This year, he managed over 900 yards despite only playing 7 games. He was the most hyped player in college ball last year and that hype is definitely carrying over to draft season.
There are very few negatives about Fournette’s game. Both NFL scouts and fans love his play and it’s possible that he could do as high as 2nd when the 49ers are on the clock. If he is available when the Panthers pick, then drafting the LSU star would be the perfect way to take some of the load away from Jonathan Stewart and reinvigorate a Panthers offense that struggled in a big way in 2016.
Despite only being a one year starter at Ohio State, Malik Hooker is without a doubt the best safety this draft has to offer. He has superb instincts that manage to keep his ahead of the play and the former high school basketball star has excellent ball skills which helped him to 7 picks in 2016. Hooker excelled as a Buckeye when he was playing the ‘Robber’ role. He has superb lurking ability and can disguise his coverage to throw off quarterbacks.
Whilst the lack of experience may hinder him in his first year, one AFC personnel director has been quoted as saying that Hooker will ‘be an all-pro by his third year.’ He has such a high ceiling and it seems certain that he will be drafted within the top 10. Despite this, he was unable to participate in the combine due to surgeries to his labrum and a hernia. His pro day will be crucial for teams to meet with him and physically evaluate him. Every year we see a players draft stock fall because of injuries and in 2017 that player could be Hooker. If healthy, he would contribute massively to a Panthers secondary that got beat deep many times in 2016.
Like Fournette, he could go anywhere in the top 8 of the draft, but he will be under serious consideration by Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera if he is available when they are on the clock.
It is quite rare for box safeties to be ranked so high on so many draft boards, so that it is a testament to the abilities of LSU safety Jamal Adams. He may not have the sexy stats that many people look for in a safety, but his ability to be the extra man in the box is invaluable. He’s one of the hardest hitters available in this draft, and his ability and desire to make plays behind the line of scrimmage can set the tone for a defence. Adams has been compared to Landon Collins, someone who excelled in his sophomore year in New York. Adams never missed a tackle in college and can contribute on special teams as well.
Adams’ excellence in the run game comes at a price however. He is slower in coverage and often tends to be too hands on with receivers down the field. He has also dropped interceptions this past year, something which is a momentum killer for defences. He is a very different prospect to Malik Hooker and yet it is very difficult to determine who is the better prospect.
In a Carolina defence who struggled at times against the run last year, just watch the game against the Seahawks, bringing Adams in would give the defence a massive boost in the run game.
Solomon Thomas is already used to making big plays at the Bank of America stadium as he sacked Mitch Trubiksy to win Stanford’s bowl game at the end of the college season. He has risen meteorically up draft boards since then, with some predicting he goes in the top 5.
He has the ability and the size to play both inside and outside, and if the Panthers select him he would be used primarily as an end but could be pushed inside in passing situations. He is incredibly violent at the point of attack and has a variety of pass rush moves to beat blockers. However, he has a tendency to play too far upright which leads him being washed out by down blocks. He also had 7 offside penalties in 2016. In the NFL, that kind of basic error could lose your team matches.
He seems to be the exact kind of player that the Panthers need on their line. A strong and violent pass rusher who can also shift inside to increase the pressure on the quarterback. He feels like the exact kind of player that Dave Gettleman likes and it would not be a surprise to see him back at the Bank of America Stadium next September.
Putting Jonathan Allen in here seems like a bit of a wildcard due to the talent he has, but he looks to be falling down draft boards everywhere. He has had each shoulder surgically repaired and several NFL teams may choose to pass on him because of it. It is simply very difficult to gauge how severe his problem is. He has had a superb year on the field with Alabama and there appears to be no repercussions in his shoulders, but playing in the NFL is a massive step up physically. Question marks about his shoulders only grew during the combine as he only managed 21 reps on the bench press. Myles Garrett, the consensus number 1 pick, managed 33 reps.
Judging on field talent alone, he is undoubtedly a top 3 pick. Much like Soloman Thomas, he has the athleticism to be a 4-3 end, and the size to play as a 3-4 end. He is very quick off the ball which gives him a step on the offensive lineman and he has the punch to keep their hands away from him. Despite not being the quickest defensive lineman available, he has great hustle and always looks to finish plays. His wonderful “superman” tackle against Texas A & M really thrust him into the public spotlight, which is always a difficult thing to accomplish when surrounded by all of the talent at Alabama. However, the fact that he came from Alabama could hinder him initially in the league. There’s so much talent around him that teams never specifically game planned for Allen. He isn’t built to consistently get off double team blocks.
Only time will tell whether Allen will get picked where his talent says that he should. If his injury worries are allayed and he is still on the board at number 8, I can’t see any reason why Gettleman would not pull the trigger on this outstanding talent.