Panthers draft: Lots to do

If mock draft experts are to be trusted, Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey, shown here scoring on a 41-yard catch against Florida, may be joining the Panthers in Friday’s second round. (John Raoux/AP Photo)

The Carolina Panthers are not on the clock, yet.

The NFL Draft starts on Thursday night. After finishing last season with the worst record in the NFL, the Panthers earned the right to choose first overall. However, the Panthers traded away the opportunity to do that this year in order to take Bryce Young first overall in last year’s draft.

While the Bears happily use the pick traded to them by the Panthers, Carolina will be poring over the draft board, looking at who to choose first overall when the draft continues with round two on Friday night. The Panthers have five picks spread over the final six rounds—two in the second, both in the top seven picks of the round, one in the third and fourth, a pair of fifth rounders and one in round seven.

The team has been busy addressing needs and upgrading positions during free agency. However, there are still plenty of areas of the roster that need attention.

Needs for Panthers

The most glaring need is likely at wide receiver. Since the Panthers traded DJ Moore to Chicago in last year’s trade that netted them Young, Carolina has needed to upgrade the receiver unit. While the Panthers traded for Pittsburgh’s Diontae Johnson, they still need to add quality and depth to the targets available for their second-year passer.

The consensus among mock draft experts is that the Panthers will use their early second-round picks to get at least one receiver. Among the potential pass catchers possibly available then are Ladd McConkey of Georgia, who has been the most popular projected pick for Carolina to kick off round two. Other names to watch are Ja’Lynn Polk, of Washington, South Carolina’s Xavier Legette, Florida State’s Keon Coleman and Xavier Worthy, of Texas.

McConkey battled back and ankle injuries last season, which limited him to nine games and 30 catches. That likely will cost him a spot in the first round and make him available to Carolina. He is projected as a slot receiver, not a game-breaker, and his hands have been questioned by some scouts after a high number of drops.

Polk, who started at Texas Tech, is a physical wide receiver who should win plenty of battles for contested balls. However, his speed has been flagged as a potential concern.

Legette has promising talent but is a work in progress. His ability to run crisp routes and go full out every snap are possible issues.

Coleman is an exciting talent who earned all-ACC at receiver, return man and all-purpose back. His leaping ability and physical play make him a likely slot receiver at the next level. Like most of the physical receivers believed to be on the Panthers’ board, his burst may be the biggest concern.

Worthy is at the opposite extreme. He set the Combine record for fastest 40-yard dash and, like Coleman, was all-Conference at return man and all-purpose. His slight frame is the biggest red flag at the NFL level.

The Panthers may also use at least one later pick on receiver depth. Mentioned in some of the seven-round mocks are Alabama’s Jermaine Burton and Michigan’s Cornelius Johnson.

Next on priority list

The next biggest priority on offense appears to be tight end. Kansas State’s Ben Sinnott has been mentioned in several mocks, either with a second-round pick or possibly a third. Texas tight end Ja’tavion Sanders is also an early possibility.

Despite the attention paid to the offensive line during free agency, the Panthers can always use more help up front. Many mocks have the team looking to bring in a center to challenge Austin Corbett. West Virginia’s Zach Frazier could be available with one of the second-round picks. NC State’s Dylan McMahon, Penn State’s Hunter Nourzad and Georgia’s Sedrick Van Pran have also been mentioned in later rounds.

Defensive needs

On defense, the Panthers will likely be looking to add help at edge rusher and cornerback. If they choose to address either need with a second-round pick, Rutgers corner Max Melton has been mentioned.’s mock has Carolina looking defense in later rounds, taking Texas defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat to start the fourth. The league site also projects Washington safety Dominique Hampton, Oregon corner Khyree Jackson, Cal linebacker Jackson Sirmon and East Stroudsburg pass rusher Deshawn McCarthy on the final day of the draft.

Utah’s Jonah Elliss (projected third round) and Colorado State’s Mohamed Kamara (projected fifth) have also been mocked to the Panthers to fill edge rushing needs.