The Carolina Panthers have some gaping holes in their defense that should be addressed in this upcoming draft. Luke Kuechly: Retired, Gerald McCoy: Cowboys, Dontari Poe: Cowboys, Mario Addison: Bills, James Bradberry: Giants, Eric Reid: Released. All of these pivotal players from a season ago are now gone, the most important of which is Luke Kuechly, the 2010s All-Decade team member and former DPOY.
Notable defensive signings include safety Juston Burris from the Browns as well as ILB Tahir Whitehead, DE Stephen Weatherly, and DL Zach Kerr. I expect Burris, Whitehead, and Weatherly to start, but that still doesn’t address the need for not one, but two starting-caliber cornerbacks (Donte Jackson, another outside corner, and a nickel).
Notice that I haven’t touched on the offense at all, and that is because I don’t believe the Panthers will draft more than 2 offensive players, only one of which might have the opportunity to start this year. Their only hole on offense right now is at OG after trading Pro Bowler Trai Turner to the Chargers for Russell Okung. Now, let’s get into the fun stuff: The picks.
Round 1, Pick 7: LB/S Isaiah Simmons
This guy is an absolute freak in the best way possible. You put him at safety, he’ll go out there and lay an Ed Reed-esque hit on your best receiver. You put him at linebacker, he’ll stretch the field and make a tackle on the opposite sideline. You blitz him off the edge, he’ll bull rush whatever poor running back has to pick up that blitz and pick up an easy sack.
You can even put him in man coverage in the slot and he can run and jump with the best of them. If you don’t believe me, check out his combine: 4.39 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical jump at 6’4” and 238 lbs. That is a matchup nightmare for any tight end and would be a great weapon to have against guys like Jared Cook and OJ Howard.
Isaiah Simmons is an offensive coordinator’s worst nightmare and Phil Snow’s dream. Snow is known to manipulate offenses with different pre-snap looks, and imagine what he could do with this guy. Simmons could line up anywhere on the field pre-snap and the offense would have no clue where he’s going to play in coverage. Under Phil Snow and Matt Rhule, Baylor’s defense finished third in the FBS in takeaways (30), fifth in interceptions (17) and ninth in sacks per game (3.29).
Simmons would be the ultimate bait and playmaker in Phil Snow’s defense. I think the only way he doesn’t fall to seven is if the Giants take him at four. However, I have heard rumors that the Giants are looking to draft an OT at four, which would pave the way for Simmons to Carolina. I think this pick would fill a big need in the defense wherever you put him and if he’s still on the board at seven, pencil him in.
Look at Simmons’ film against South Carolina where he reads the QB run all the way and takes him down with ease in the backfield for a four-yard loss (0:09 timestamp).
Backup Pick: DT Derrick Brown
Round 2, Pick 38: CB Jaylon Johnson
A big, physical corner like Johnson will be a great compliment to the 5’10” speedster the Panthers have on the other side of the field in Donte Jackson. Johnson is 6’0”, 193 lbs, and ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at the combine. Johnson also has elite quickness and footwork, so he can close on the ball extremely well, which is something the Panthers have had trouble with. He can also track the ball well down the field, enabling him to play in a man or cover 3 zone, both of which will be popular coverages with Snow next season.
Johnson’s physicality and playmaker mindset will be a great addition to the defense. He needs to work on his tackling a bit, but then again, there are very few good tackling corners with first-round coverage talent and Johnson is amongst the better of them. I think Johnson would be a steal for the Panthers at 38. Johnson is an underrated prospect with great upside and a lot of heart.
Many others have the Panthers going with a safety or a DT in this spot, provided that they don’t pick Derrick Brown in the first round. However, I think there is a glaring need at corner because the Bradberry departure that is just too big to ignore. Also, Juston Burris’ tape shows flashes of being a very good, and at the very least capable, strong safety that the team can groom into a reliable starter.
Check out these two vicious hits that Johnson lays on Oregon receivers to cause incompletions in the Pac-12 Championship game against Oregon (Timestamps 2:03 and 2:22).
Backup Pick: CB Damon Arnette
Round 3, Pick 69: DT Raekwon Davis
At 6’6” and 311 lbs Raekwon Davis is an absolute monster on the inside. He combines a powerful swim move with a vicious bull rush to overpower offensive guards and centers. His tall and lengthy frame helps him fill up gaps in the run game as well as disrupt the quarterback’s pocket and vision in the pass rush. He ran a 5.12 40-yard dash at the combine, but that subpar time doesn’t seem to translate to his game speed. In the film room, Davis is very quick for an interior lineman.
This quickness makes him a great tackler in the run game and his skillset should translate well to the next level. You should expect him to slip slightly in the draft because of his 40-time and his injury history, but don’t let that mislead you; he can flat out play. One of these injuries happened to be a gunshot wound, after which he was uncooperative with investigators, so you might add off-the-field issues to the list of knocks against Davis.
Davis is a wildcard in this draft. He is seen going anywhere from the second round to the fourth, but if the Panthers have not taken an interior lineman at this point in the draft, they should pull the trigger on Davis. His technique needs work, but you can expect that of any mid-round defensive linemen. Overall, Davis would be an amazing value pick in the third round provided the Panthers haven’t already drafted a DT.
The following is a Davis’ game tape against Auburn last season. One play that stood out to me was a leaping stop he made on a run play to keep it at a 2-yard gain after beating the OG pulling from the other side of the line. Notice he is playing on the edge on this play, which showcases his athleticism at the DT position (2:40 timestamp).
Backup Pick: OG Damien Lewis
Round 4, Pick 113: CB Amik Robertson
This pick could fill the Panthers need at nickel CB very well. Robertson is fantastic in run support and will bring a fiery presence with him anywhere he lands. At 5’8” 187 lbs, Robertson is very small for a corner, making him most valuable in the slot, which is one reason he slips to the fourth round. Another reason for his fall is that he comes out of LA Tech, a small school in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He still has to prove that he can play at a high level in the NFL.
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in ball skills. This man is essentially Brandin Cooks on defense. He can go up and get any ball thrown his way with tremendous athleticism and speed. Robertson is my favorite player in this mock draft. I can’t get enough of this guy.
Robertson’s playmaking ability was outstanding in college, so the only question is whether that will translate to the pros. He is also an outstanding tackler and should be a huge help in the run game in the nickel package. He very well could be the smallest guy on the field in the NFL, but he plays like the biggest. Watch out for Amik Robertson. He could turn some heads.
The following video is his 2019 highlight reel. It’s worth a watch. The dude can straight up ball!
Backup Pick: S Terrell Burgess
Round 5, Pick 152: OG Ben Bredeson
At this point in the draft, the Panthers are looking for a decent player who may have a chance to play at guard this season or one that they can groom into a more complete player in the coming years. Bredeson played four seasons in the big ten at Michigan and has proven to be a reliable player with a great frame at 6’5” 315 lbs. His technique concerning hand placement and leverage was superb and he was especially good in the run game, which bodes well for a Panthers offense centered around running back Christian McCaffrey.
His biggest flaw is his lack of quickness, meaning he would not be a viable option on plays where the guard pulls to the other side of the line. In a draft that has very few elite guards, Bredeson is a good option in the later rounds and could turn out to be a good player for the Panthers down the stretch. Bredeson’s build and skill set should translate relatively well to the next level.
Backup Pick: TE Thaddeus Moss
Round 6, Pick 184: TE Josiah Deguara
This is a depth pick for the Panthers. Their two starting tight ends are set with Ian Thomas and Chris Manhertz, but they do need a solid backup and Deguara provides just that. He is a very solid blocker with reliable hands in the passing game and could be a valuable player later on in his career. He doesn’t excel in either area but is respectable in both which could land him a TE2 spot on the roster. Deguara is a smart pick for the Panthers because he is not a raw talent, but rather a reliable, hardworking, balanced player that has immediate value.
Backup Pick: OG John Simpson
Round 7, Pick 221: OT Alex Taylor
The last pick in the draft is a project pick. Alex Taylor, at 6’8” 308 lbs, has a strong build to work with at OT, but lacks technical skills. Taylor skated by on raw strength and quickness at South Carolina State. Learning behind veteran Russell Okung could do wonders for the giant on the end of the line, but Taylor has a long way to go before he can be considered a starting option at tackle in the league.
Backup Pick: DT Chauncey Rivers