The Panthers have a nice core of skill position players on offense, from Cam Newton to Christian McCaffrey to their arsenal of young pass-catchers. But the only way to raise the ceiling of the offense is to do better up front protecting a franchise quarterback who takes more hits than most. That's why it would be no surprise to see the Panthers attack the offensive line early in the draft. Adding great fits to a defense that wants to be more versatile is also an option.
Below, you can check out which picks the Panthers currently have, along with our projection of their top positional needs. I'll then build a war-room big board based upon players I think have some kind of chance of making it to their first pick before sharing multiple draft classes that make sense for the team from myself, Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso.
As for the actual draft, you'll be able to stream our live coverage right here on CBS Sports HQ (or download the CBS Sports app for free on any mobile or connected TV device) breaking down all the picks and everything you need to know during draft weekend.
Current draft picks
The CBS Sports NFL writing staff to identify needs for each team heading into the draft. A helpful guide: any position group that had an average ranking worse than 16.0 (on a scale of 1 to 32) was considered a "need," while any that ranked worse than 23.0 (bottom-third of the league) was considered a "pressing need."
Needs: WR/TE, OL, EDGE, DB
Pressing: WR/TE, DB
The signing of center Matt Paradis means we've moved offensive line out of the "pressing needs" column for the first time since I've been doing this column, which is a nice change of pace. The Panthers could still use some more dynamic weapons for Cam Newton, but D.J. Moore looks like a find and a healthy Greg Olsen is still incredibly dangerous. It's just that Olsen rarely seems healthy anymore. Another perimeter target to pair with Wilson would be nice. And while Eric Reid solidified one safety spot, they still need to get some defensive backfield help to go with James Bradberry and last year's pick, Donte Jackson. Our mocks are split on the Panthers, but the edge is a popular fortification spot as the team looks to make up for the loss of Julius Peppers.
War room big board
The Panthers will have options when they're on the clock, and the most likely scenarios have them adding to their offensive or defensive line. Here's how I'd project the Panthers' draft board for their first pick, considering only players I feel have some chance of making it in range:
- EDGE Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
- DL Rashan Gary, Michigan
- EDGE Brian Burns, Florida State
- EDGE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
- OT Andre Dillard, Washington State
- OL Jonah Williams, Alabama
- OL Cody Ford, Oklahoma
- DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
- CB Byron Murphy, Washington
- DT Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
Seven-round mock drafts
|1||12||DL Rashan Gary, Michigan||from GB*|
|1||16||to Green Bay|| |
|2||47||DE/LB Chase Winovich, Michigan|| |
|3||77|| OT Bobby Evans, Oklahoma || |
|3||100||to Green Bay|| |
|4||115||QB Clayton Thorson, Northwestern|| |
|5||154||DE/LB Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State|| |
|5||156||FS Mike Bell, Fresno State||from DEN*|
|6||187||to Denver|| |
|7||236||WR Tyre Brady, Marshall||from JAC*|
With Gary falling out of the top 10, the Panthers make a move up four spots by sacrificing No. 100 to land a pass rusher with outstanding traits who should be tough to stop at the NFL level. With the Panthers looking to be more versatile on defense and incorporate more 3-4 looks, Gary's versatility could lend him to being a poor man's J.J. Watt if Carolina plays to his strengths, or he can be a beast on the edge in a typical 4-3 set.
The Panthers are definitely in the market for offensive line help in this draft, but after none of the top options make it to them in the second round, they double up on pass rush help with the versatile Winovich, who shined at the combine and even showed some linebacker ability if the team does get creative with its defense. In Round 3, the team grabs a tackle in Evans who can push for snaps early on the right side.
Thorson likely isn't more than a backup at the NFL level, but the team must develop a quality No. 2 at the position with Cam Newton's ongoing health issues. Brailford is yet another versatile player to come in and help rush the passer, turning that position into one of strength with this draft class. The Panthers also ship Vernon Butler to Denver in order to move up 31 spots on Day 3 before taking a solid free safety prospect in Bell, while also taking a cheap flier at receiver in the seventh round after shipping Torrey Smith to the Jaguars in a mock draft trade.
More seven-round mocks:
(*) indicates pick acquired via trade
Check out more first-round mocks from CBS Sports.