After a 2020 draft class that added no offensive talent, the temptation to go all offense in the 2021 class for the Carolina Panthers is real. I tried to stay balanced, but I wanted to improve the circumstances for whatever quarterback takes snaps for the Panthers by shoring up the offensive line and ending depth to the wide receiver room, while also grabbing a QB to develop for competition in 2022 and 2023.
Carolina’s still a team on a long arc, so I prioritized upside players with some peak traits to try and hit and speed up this rebuild.
ROUND 1 (NO. 8 OVERALL): Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
It’s cornerback or offensive tackle at No. 8 for the Panthers unless they get a Justin Fields to fall or a great offer to trade back. This is a good class for a need at either position, but given the focus Carolina put on the defense in last year’s draft, I’d expect and hope that it goes offense here and shores up the offensive line with Rashawn Slater.
The Panthers don’t have a clear starter at left tackle with an ex-second round pick in Greg Little and free-agent pickup Cameron Erving currently vying for the role. Even on the right side, Taylor Moton is on the franchise tag—and on the interior, Pat Elflein is slotted for a guard spot. There are needs across the board, which puts a premium on Slater’s versatility to give the Panthers flexibility moving forward.
ROUND 2 (NO. 39 OVERALL): Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
I hesitated at this spot, where the board was really tough in general for the Panthers. I love Asante Samuel Jr.—he’s a total stud on film—but I do worry that the Panthers won’t want two sub-5-foot-11 cornerbacks on the outside. That is a tough sell; but if they get over it, Samuel is the best zone corner in this class outside of Round 1 consideration. And he should be in Round 1 consideration, but again, the height thing. The Panthers were zone-heavy in their approach last year, and with Samuel’s instincts, ball skills, and toughness, he can immediately produce as a CB2.
ROUND 3 (NO. 73 OVERALL): Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
Everyone has noted that the Panthers remain in the quarterback market despite the acquisition of Sam Darnold—and appropriately so. Ideally, the Panthers are able to trade away Teddy Bridgewater, opening up the QB2 spot for a rookie behind Darnold. If Kellen Mond makes it out of Round 2, he’s a good candidate for that spot. I’m not sure how much more Mond can develop, as he has a ton of reps in a pro-style offense in the SEC under his belt. But new coaches always present new opportunities, and the easy targets of the Joe Brady offense could afford Mond a wide margin of error as the Panthers ride his inconsistency. Worth a swing as the Panthers try to riddle out this position.
ROUND 4 (NO. 113 OVERALL): Alim McNeill, IDL, NC State
The Panthers drafted their top-two snap-getters at defensive tackle in last year’s all-defense draft. The first: Derrick Brown, a top-10 pick who came along nicely as an interior disruptor and seems poised for a big Year 2. The second: Bravvion Roy, a sixth-round pick and Phil Snow holdover from the Baylor defense. Roy is a space-gobbler who lines up right over the center, but he’s not much of a rush threat on passing downs. Alim McNeill is also a nose guard who can play on base downs and hold his own against NFL bodies, but he has significantly more rush juice now, and some good flashes of upside with his quickness and hands.
ROUND 5 (NO. 151 OVERALL): Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR, Illinois
Depth at receiver is a critical position for the Panthers, and I don’t just mean for development. Behind Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore, the Panthers have David Moore, the occasional big-play threat for the Seahawks last season. Beyond him? Brandon Zylstra, Keith Kirkwood, and Omar Bayless. It’s a thin room. So, it’d be nice to hit a player with developmental upside, but who can still reasonably take snaps in Year 1. That could be Josh Imatorbhebhe, a truly elite jumper (recording a 46.5-inch vertical) who can offer red zone and outside, nine-ball reps—while still growing as a route-runner and consistent snap-getter.
ROUND 6 (NO. 193 OVERALL): Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa
There was awesome testing from an Iowa linebacker for the first time in my memory, as Nick Niemann delivered a 6.67-seconds 3-cone, 10-foot-1 broad jump, 33.5-inch vertical, and 4.45-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds. Neimann was not as productive as some Iowa tackling machines, but he has NFL bloodlines—his brother, Ben, plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. In a thin LB room in Carolina, Niemann could offer the top developmental profile and see playing time accordingly.
ROUND 6 (NO. 222 OVERALL): Pro Wells, TE, TCU
Pro Wells—with an elite name, which is always a good option for late in the draft—is a developmental prospect with a basketball background, and his lack of football experience shows up on tape. TCU used him as a red zone target and occasional pop pass player, but the league will want to develop his natural strength and build into more traditional alignments. Behind Dan Arnold and Ian Thomas, Wells is a good developmental dart throw.