Now that we are past the midpoint of the season, teams can begin to focus more and more on the Draft. Needs are definitely more apparent and clearer to see. So without a further ado, let’s get into it and see what positions the Carolina Panthers should tackle in 2021.
The Panthers were left hurting at the linebacker position prior to the 2020 season with the unexpected retirement of Luke Keuchly. That left Shaq Thompson to be the primary guy remaining. An offseason pickup of veteran linebacker Tahir Whitehead helped boost the position with some depth. Still, the loss of Keuchly is a hard void to fill. So far in the 2020 season Thompson has been solid with over 80 tackles on the year. Whitehead on the other hand has been far more disappointing. He has consistently missed tackles and has made too many wrong reads to count for the majority of the year. He has been more of a liability to the defense, than a help it seems. This year’s draft, the linebacker position has to be a need addressed within the first two rounds.
Prospects to watch:
Micah Parsons, Penn State–6’2”, 245 lbs
Dylan Moses, Alabama–6’1”, 235lbs
Chazz Surratt, UNC–6’2”, 230lbs
The Panthers have a definite need at the tight end position. During the offseason the Panthers let long time tight end Greg Olsen leave for Seattle. This has left a noticeable difference at the position. Ian Thomas is listed as the starting tight end on the roster with Chris Manhertz listed as second on the depth chart. Together both of them barely combine for a catch a game. While the Panthers have weapons in Robbie Anderson, DJ Moore, Christian McCaffrey, and Curtis Samuel; it would be nice to have a reliable and explosive tight end to create mismatches with a relatively small (but fast) receiving core.
Prospects to watch:
Kyle Pitts, Florida–6’5”, 240lbs
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State–6’4”, 260lbs
Brevin Jordan, Miami–6’2”, 245lbs
During the offseason the Panthers decided to let cornerback James Bradberry go, where he was later picked up by the New York Giants. This left Donte Jackson to be the main cornerback to take on the number one spot, and a rookie in Troy Pride to take the second. In September the Panthers acquired Rasul Douglas to help at the corner position. He has been a help to both the depth and talent of the cornerback position. This addition forced Pride to play more of a slot role, with Douglas and Jackson taking the one and two role. The position still is a huge need and a weakness for the defense. They have really struggled to contain some of the less talented receivers in the league, not to mention their struggles with some of the best. Cornerback should be a high priority entering the offseason.
Prospects to watch:
Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech–6’1”, 207lbs
Jaycee Horn, South Carolina–6’0”, 200lbs
Patrick Surtain II, Alabama–6’1”, 202lbs
Other positions the Panthers could tackle would be their offensive line. The interior part of the offensive line could be better, and maybe even a younger offensive tackle to replace the aging Russell Okung eventually. Later in the draft it may be worth getting another interior defensive lineman. Kawann Short has not been healthy since the 2018 season. His contract ends in 2022, so it might be worth finding a young talent to develop to help take his place.
Overall the Panthers are in a good spot. Their defensive line and pass rush look great this season. While they had a slow start, things have definitely improved. With a few boosts to the linebacker position and at cornerback, the defense would look a lot better. The offense has had no issue scoring so far this season, but it would be nice to have a better size mismatch or two. Carolina are well on their way to putting themselves in a position to eventually take over the NFC South.
The Panthers should have cornerback and linebacker as their main needs. If a player like Pitts out of Florida is the best player available, I could easily see them taking him just because of the sheer mismatches they would be able to create. But if that luxury is not available, grabbing a cornerback that can do well in man coverage or a linebacker who can consistently tackle would be ideal.