With the NFL Draft approaching, each team’s potential outlook has come into better focus. During the initial part of the offseason, teams suffer from retirements and look to re-sign their own free agents. After the start of free agency, team needs for 2019 and beyond have become more obvious.
When it comes to the Carolina Panthers, their most obvious need is EDGE.
Last season, Carolina finished 27th in the NFL in sacks. Once the offseason started, future hall of fame defensive end Julius Peppers retired. The position was already a need, but that retirement has made it a glaring one.
In free agency, Carolina brought in veteran pass rusher Bruce Irvin on a 1 year, $4 million contract. The 31 year-old has 43.5 sacks in his career, and should provide a boost in sub packages and on obvious passing downs. However, at this stage in his career, Irvin likely won’t be relied on as the primary starting defensive end. On top of that, his 1 year contract suggests that Carolina will be searching for an answer at the position past 2019.
This puts the EDGE position at the forefront of their draft class. It’s seemingly becoming increasingly likely that Carolina will look to address the position with either pick 16 or pick 47, their first two rounders.
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
Clelin Ferrell feels like a natural fit for the Panthers in the middle of the first round, as a player who excels against the run and pass. While Ferrell isn’t a dynamic, bendy athlete for the position, he has outstanding power. His ceiling as a pass rusher is more limited than other first round EDGE’s such as Nick Bosa, Brian Burns or Josh Allen, but Ferrell has a solid foundation as a prospect.
Ferrell could step into be starting defensive end role for years to come, providing an upgrade compared to the 2018 version of Julius Peppers.
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
Montez Sweat was already held in high regard, but his NFL Scouting Combine performance pushed him even higher. With outstanding size and length, Sweat posted elite testing numbers in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump.
While there was talk about Sweat being a top 10 pick, there was a report that he has a slight heart complication. While he was cleared to participate at the NFL Scouting Combine, it may be enough to push him down to the middle of the first round. Sweat is another natural defensive end who could start for the Panthers right away and provide a boost to the pass rush.
Chase Winovich, Michigan
If Carolina chooses to go in a different direction in the first round, it almost guarantees that they’ll target EDGE in the second round. Chase Winovich could be a steal at that point in the time.
With a relentless motor and nuance in his hand usage and counters, Winovich is rarely contained from providing pressure. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he performed well in the agility drills. Despite projecting as a Day 2 selection, he could immediately fill a starting role for whichever team drafts him because of his sound technique against the run and pass.
With Peppers retirement, Carolina needs to address the EDGE position early in the NFL Draft to assure they take a player capable of starting right away. Ferrell, Sweat and Winovich all fit that mold, and could be available where the Panthers select. It’s possible that they double-dip at the position, especially if one of these players who fit their need fall in the draft.