Armed with just one pick (sixth overall) in the first three-plus rounds of the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers have some important decisions to make. They desperately need help at quarterback and offensive tackle, but with just one premium pick, which position will they choose to address? Let’s explore their options at No. 6, as well as the five selections they’ll make on Day 3.
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Round 1, Pick 6: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Willis has been one of the biggest risers on draft boards over the past few months, putting him squarely in the conversation for the QB1 of the class. The Liberty product is a gifted athlete with impressive mobility and a strong arm. Not only can he make tricky throws, but he can break tackles and throw on the run. Given some concerns about his pocket awareness, decision-making, and ball placement, Willis needs to go to a team that is willing to mold its offense around his style of play. The Panthers, led by young, savvy head coach Matt Rhule, offer just that. He could be the final piece that this offense needs in order to reverse the woes inflicted by Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and P.J. Walker.
Round 4, Pick 137: Max Mitchell, OT, Louisiana
Mitchell has the potential to be a solid starter, which is an opportunity that the Panthers should pounce on in the fourth round. The Louisiana product has good lateral movement, allowing him to mirror opposing pass-rushers and protect the offensive backfield. He also has good hand usage and offers versatility at both right and left tackle. The biggest concerns with Mitchell are that he lacks upper-body strength and doesn’t finish blocks. However, with discipline and time spent in the weight room, he can negate these concerns. This feels like a great developmental choice for the tackle-needy Panthers after going 130 picks without a selection.
Round 5, Pick 144: John Ridgeway, DL, Arkansas
Tasked with attacking stout offensive lines in the SEC, Ridgeway made a good impression on scouts this past season and should hear his name called early on Day 3. The Illinois State transfer has great upper-body strength, leverage, and an ability to take on double teams. Although he plays a bit sloppy and lacks desired balance, he can be a physical mauler who plugs gaps and shuts down big running plays.
Round 5, Pick 149: Jerome Ford, RB, Cincinnati
The Panthers are set at running back with Christian McCaffrey, but he won’t play forever. Injuries have squashed his last two seasons, forcing Carolina to evaluate its future at the position. Chuba Hubbard is currently second in line behind McCaffrey, but this is a team that has witnessed firsthand a need to employ strong depth. Ford, an Alabama transfer, is a talented downhill runner with impressive awareness and shiftiness. If he finds a gap and beats the defensive line, he can escape opposing tackles in the secondary with ease. However, that’s a big if. Ford doesn’t have the greatest vision in the backfield, nor is he reliable in the ball security department. Still, in the fifth round, Ford’s athleticism fills a pressing need that awaits Carolina in the future.
Round 6, Pick 199: Luke Wattenberg, OL, Washington
Wattenberg aligned at center in college, though he has experience playing the guard and tackle positions, too. The redshirt senior is a downright physical player who can handle double-teams and get to the second level. Between strength and good awareness, there’s a lot to like about Wattenberg. His biggest flaw is his balance, which NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein described as “erratic.” This weakness somewhat cancels out his strength since he still ends up on the ground rather than plowing over defenders.
Round 7, Pick 242: James Mitchell, TE, Virginia Tech
It’s hard not to get excited about Mitchell. A basketball and football star in high school, Mitchell is a pure athlete. He’s 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, and capable of both blocking and catching passes. He withstands contact with ease and has shown the YAC ability needed from him to blossom into an eventual starter. There’s no better place for him to get that opportunity than Carolina, which has struggled to get much production from Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble.
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