Let’s be honest: any Carolina Panthers mock draft over the past several months that didn’t feature a quarterback being taken in the first round felt unrealistic. That is, until Carolina traded for Sam Darnold, which eliminated the necessity to spend a first-rounder on one of the top signal-callers in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Everything’s changed now. Who are the Panthers intent on drafting with their first-round pick now that Darnold is in the fold? Much of that depends on what happens in front of them.
Ideally, Carolina can stay put at eighth and still get a high-quality player now that moving up for a QB is no longer required. Here’s a look at our latest Panthers seven-round mock, which came about from The Draft Network’s simulator.
Carolina Panthers mock draft: Support for Sam Darnold in Rounds 1-3
- First round, 8th pick: Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern
- Second round, 39th pick: Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
- Third round, 61st pick (via Buffalo): Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina
If the Panthers stick at No. 8, they could still choose between North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State star Justin Fields if things play out a certain way. However, due to their two-year commitment to Sam Darnold, it’s probably wise to just build around him as much as possible and see what they have.
Rashawn Slater is a great place for this Carolina mock draft to start in Round 1. Slater is among the highest-floor prospects in this class, and has the flexibility to play legitimately any position on the offensive line. If Greg Little can’t cut it at left tackle — and it looks like he can’t — Slater could definitely push for the starting job by Week 1. Otherwise, he’d be a massive upgrade at guard.
With Russell Okung still on the free-agent market, the Panthers opt to invest in a left tackle of the future in Radunz in the second round. Radunz ironically blocked for Lance in college, and now he’d get to protect the blind side of another gifted passer in Darnold.
In the continued effort to maximize Darnold’s chances for success, Carolina moves up in Round 3 when the opportunity to draft a downfield threat in Dyami Brown presents itself. Brown averaged 20 yards per catch and had 20 touchdowns over the past two seasons at North Carolina.
Carolina Panthers mock draft: Depth and value intersect on Day 3
- Fourth round, 113th pick: Trill Williams, CB, Syracuse
- Fifth round, 151st pick: Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech
- Sixth round, 193rd pick: Thomas Graham Jr., CB, Oregon
Offense and acquiring a couple foundational pieces to build around Darnold was the obvious priority in the opening of this mock, so now the Panthers build out their cornerback depth with Rasul Douglas and Corn Elder still deciding what to do in free agency.
These three selections really are strong ones. Trill Williams has the length and skill set better suited at outside corner, yet he played primarily in the slot at Syracuse. If Carolina puts him in the right spot, there’s a chance Williams eventually emerges as a starter in Year 2.
Speaking of underrated defensive backs who are pro-ready, Graham fits that description as well. Before opting out of the 2020 campaign, the Oregon standout was a three-year starter in Eugene and had tremendous production. Graham racked up 183 total tackles, eight interceptions and 32 passes defensed in 40 games.
Quite a strong resume, and why he’s still on the board in Round 6 is unclear. If it’s slightly underwhelming athleticism, well, Graham has all the instincts and stellar game tape to offset that minor concern.
Finally, how about a little bit of insurance in the backfield behind McCaffrey? The All-Pro playmaker missed all but three games last season, and his backup Mike Davis signed with the Falcons.
Virginia Tech’s Herbert is a vastly underrated tailback who had 1,183 yards rushing (7.6 yards per carry) in 11 games for the Hokes, and spent the prior four years at an embattled Kansas program before then. Despite his advanced football age for a draft prospect, Herbert has little wear and tear, possesses great speed and would be an absolute steal in the fifth round.