1. The Panthers will bring in three or more corners during the draft and after.
The departure of Josh Norman leaves an already thin cornerback corp in a scary position. If the NFL season were to open today the starters on the outside would consist of Robert McClain and Bené Benwikere; Brandon Boykin would lock down the slot. Benwikere played well on the outside during his rookie season, but a full season away from the position and a late-season broken leg puts him in a precarious situation. Robert McClain repeatedly got burnt during the post-season, even though he showed flashes of potential. Expect Carolina to draft 1-2 corners during the first seven rounds, and bring in several afterward. Kendall Fuller, William Jackson, and Mackensie Alexander make sense in the earlier rounds while players such as Ryan Smith and Zack Sanchez are day two to three options. The Panthers will likely bring in a veteran corner post-draft as well. Antonio Cromartie makes the most sense, as he worked with Ron Rivera in San Diego and made three straight Pro Bowls for the Cardinals before imploding last season. Another name I would like to see is former Steeler Cortez Allen. Allen ranked as Pro Football Focus’s #17 cornerback in his second season, but just finished his fourth as one of the worst corners in the NFL. He could be Carolina’s next great reclamation project as he is still young and full of potential.
2. The Panthers draft Ryan Smith
It is nearly impossible to guess who a team drafts outside of the top 10 picks, not to mention predicting which mid-rounder a team will draft. However, if I had to bet on one player the Panthers will select, my money would be on Ryan Smith. Smith played ball in the Panthers’ backyard at North Carolina Central University, and Carolina even brought him in for a visit. At NCCU he set the team record for solo tackles with 168, while playing cornerback. He is a physical player with average height and speed, his big play ability and athletic traits remind me of Bené Benwikere. For a team void of corner depth, Smith seems like a sensible fourth to fifth round pick for Carolina. He could be a steal and a potential starter at corner sooner than later.
3. The Panthers draft a receiver who can play in the slot
Though the Panthers had the NFL’s highest scoring offense this past season and are bringing back Kelvin Benjamin, look for Carolina to add another toy to Cam Newton’s arsenal. The Panthers have worked out/met with ten receivers, and around four of those can play in the slot. With the plodding twin towers on`the outside, the Panthers should be highly interested in a sure handed quick player. The subtraction of Jerricho Cotchery leaves the Panthers without a receiver I would trust catching a pass on third and long. This concern should be addressed with the selection of Sterling Shepard, Pharoh Cooper, or another slot receiver.
4. The Panthers execute a draft day trade
Last year, the Panthers had few holes going into the draft, and thought it would be a smart idea to trade draft capital to move up in the second round and draft Devin Funchess, a player they had a first round grade on. A year and a Super Bowl appearance later, the Panthers find themselves in a similar situation. A team complete enough to where later round selections may not be able to find themselves a roster spot. We could see Carolina trade up a few spots in the first, or execute another big trade in the second to secure a player they want. It is also a possibility the Panthers trade back out of the first to secure more second round picks in a deep draft.
5. The Panthers draft at least one safety.
The Panthers currently have only three safeties on the roster who have a solid shot at starting next season. Kurt Coleman looks to continue his high level of play at the free safety position, while Tre Boston and Dean Marlowe battle it out at strong safety. The Panthers have worked out with nine safeties and seem to be very interested in the position, especially small school player Kevin Byard. Though the class lacks top end talent at the position, players such as Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal look like future impact starters. If the Panthers are concerned with the starting potential of Boston/Marlowe, look for them to draft a safety in the first three rounds. If the opposite is true, still expect them to address the safety spot later in the draft.
For more draft info, buy your Panthers’ Draft Guide at: http://www.amazon.com/2016-Carolina-Panthers-Draft-Guide-ebook/dp/B01EO2CHSW/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1461718987&sr=8-16&keywords=draft+guide
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander