Five 3rd-7th rounders that would be awesome Panther selections.
Mid-Round picks have been kind to Dave Gettleman’s Panthers, and hopefully this doesn't change anytime soon. The Panther’s have a whopping seven picks after the second round, and hopefully they turn into 5-7 solid contributors over the next few years. Overall, this draft class may be as deep as last year, and potentially future pro bowl talent could be all over the board on day 2 of the draft. Here are a few players that could be absolute steals when the Panthers are on the clock rounds 3-7.
Player #1: Zach Zenner, South Dakota State
Over the last three years no one has come close to the yardage Zenner has put up, 6078 yards, that’s three straight 2000 yard seasons! He is projected a fifth or sixth round pick right now, why? It’s because they say he isn't athletic enough to play halfback and should be relegated to a possible fullback at the next level. Well, he was top 10 at running back at bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3 cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, and 60 yard shuttle. The only major workout category he didn't post top 10 numbers in was 40 yard dash, where he was twelfth with a 4.6. A 4.6 isn't that fast, but with his one cut downhill running style, similar to CJ Anderson/Jeremy Hill, it’s good enough to get the job done (CJ Anderson ran a 4.60 and Hill ran a 4.66 by the way). He is a stud, and if the critics are right about him being just a fullback, I’d take a three time 2k rusher at fullback any day. It’s very possible Tolbert isn't on the roster in the next few seasons, and we need a good fullback to keep our offense rolling. Selecting him in the fifth would be a pretty good deal considering he’s a player who can dominate at fullback and give us solid production at halfback.
Note: I know he played FCS opponents, but would you rather he have put up lesser stats? He also dominated the three FBS teams he played (Nebraska, Mizzou, Kansas) averaging 163 yards per game and tacking on 5 TDs to the tune of 8 yards per carry.
Player #2: Dezmin Lewis, Central Arkansas
Another small school prospect to keep your eye on, Lewis has steal written all over him. His measurables have me salivating, he is 6’4 and ran a 4.46 at his pro day. Not insanely fast, but can definitely strike fear into opposing defensive backs. He caught the ball well at the combine and shows a knack for high pointing it in the air. Again, his level of competition can be in question, especially considering he didn’t dominate at that level. He does show enough promise to warrant a fifth round pick, and it would be pretty sweet if he pans out. A 6’5 Cam throwing to a 6’5 Benjamin, a 6’5 Olsen, a 6’4 Lewis, and someone electric from the slot. Yes please.
Player #3: Za’Darius Smith, Kentucky
The “other” Kentucky defender has promise as well. After watching Smith, there are two things I learned. The first, he is a big boy. The second, he plays as if the QB/RB has a million dollars in his back pocket and his family can’t pay his Grandmother’s medical bills. Doesn't have the highest ceiling, but his motor should warrant him a spot in the Panther’s rotation. His pass rushing technique needs serious refinement, but at the least, I could see him becoming a great run stopper and 3-4+ sack rotation guy. His high upside and the premium placed of defensive ends should have him off the board in the third or fourth, both would be a good time for Carolina to pounce.
Player #4: Nick Marshall, Auburn
First things first, I really want the Panthers to draft Nick Marshall. The cornerback turn quarterback turn cornerback has some insane upside. At 6’1 he possesses great size for a corner, and his 32 1/8’’ arm length is right on par with Richard Sherman and Darelle Revis. Even though he was away from cornerback for three years, he played well at the Senior Bowl. It would definitely take some time to get him up to NFL speed, but it’s a bet that could pay off in the long run. From his days playing QB, he has an invaluable knowledge of what quarterbacks are thinking, who can read a quarterback better than someone who has played the position? Marshall has the talent to carve out a niche on an NFL roster, lets hope the Panther’s pull the trigger in rounds 5-6. Having two Auburn quarterbacks would be pretty cool, I’m sure Cam would be all for it. If he panned out and started opposite of Norman, we’d have three young corners, all six feet or taller. That’d be more than enough to handle the likes of Julio Jones and Mike Evans.
Player #5: Darren Waller, Georgia Tech
Another big Georgia Tech receiver is garnering some attention around the league. The first two, Calvin Johnson/Demaryius Thomas turned out pretty well. Stephen Hill, not so much (cross your fingers he lives up to his potential). At 6’6 and 238 pounds (4.46 40 yard dash), he has a body that resembles Kelvin Benjamin and could catch touchdowns like him too. Coming out of Tech’s rather-watch-paint-dry option offense, his route tree couldn't be more limited. He has a great ability to catch the ball at it’s peak and bring it down with confidence. He is a serious project but could see action in Carolina’s offense as a rookie, splitting out wide as a red zone threat. Having around 13 feet of receiver out wide in the end zone is never a problem, unless you're the other team. Low-floor high-ceiling guy, he could post around 400 yards and 7 TDs within a few years. Drafting him could be accomplished with a fourth or fifth round selection, and would be a safer overall bet than selecting Dorial Green-Beckham in round one.
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander