The 2021 NFL Draft begins on April 29, which means that The Game Haus will be writing draft profiles for every team. Each NFL team will be evaluated heading into this year’s draft, as our staff recaps their last season, highlights their needs, and pinpoints their potential 2021 NFL Draft targets.
The Carolina Panthers are the subject of today’s 2021 NFL Draft profile.
Last offseason the Panthers decided they needed to go in a different direction in order to remove themselves from the average teams in the league. They let long-time head coach Ron Rivera go and replaced him with Temple head coach Matt Rhule. Even though they went 5-11, the Panthers were very competitive in their losses. Eight of their eleven losses were by eight points or less.
The biggest turnover for the Panthers last offseason happened at quarterback. Carolina signed Teddy Bridgewater to a 3 year $63 million contract. After bringing in Bridgewater to be the team’s starting quarterback, Carolina let go of former MVP Cam Newton. Bridgewater appeared more like a bridge quarterback instead of the team’s long-term starter. He only threw 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 games last season.
A season later the Panthers have traded a 2021 sixth-round pick, 2022 fourth-round pick, and 2022 second-round pick for former third overall pick Sam Darnold. Carolina hopes that Darnold becomes the quarterback many thought he would be coming out of USC in Carolina and that his struggles had more to do with the Jets than him.
It also didn’t help that Christian McCaffrey missed 13 games last season due to multiple injuries. Veteran running back Mike Davis stepped up with over 1,000 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns. Division rival Atlanta Falcons signed Davis to a 2 year $5 million deal to have a major role in their backfield.
The Panthers’ trio of starting receivers played at their full potential last season. Both D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson had over 1,000 receiving yards last season. While Curtis Samuel had over 850 receiving yards he had over 1,000 scrimmage yards as well and established himself as a weapon in the Panthers’ offense. But the Panthers lost Samuel who reunited with Ron Rivera in Washington this offseason.
Defensively Carolina’s defense was discreetly one of the best units in the league. After drafting all defensive players last season they got outstanding production out of all of their players on defense. That is even though franchise leader Luke Keuchly retired and James Bradberry signed with the New York Giants. Carolina also lost a long-time defensive star in Kawaan Short. He was released by the Panthers earlier this offseason.
Shaq Thompson and standout 2020 second-round pick Jeremy Chinn each had over 110 tackles. Brian Burns led the team with nine sacks. But Efe Obada who had the second-most sacks on the team with 5.5 has signed with the Buffalo Bills. Rookies Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos also looked good during their first seasons in the league. Donte Jackson led the team with three interceptions and veteran Rasul Douglas played well in his first season out of Philadelphia as the Panthers’ second cornerback.
The Panthers made a bunch of signings in free agency bringing in young players who could develop in Carolina and outplay their contracts. A bunch of those players includes former Cardinals Haason Reddick and Dan Arnold. Two offensive linemen who are expected to play bigger roles in Pat Eflein and Cam Erving. Carolina signed Denzel Perryman to be the teams starting middle linebacker. They also brought in defensive lineman Morgan Fox and wide receiver David Moore to soften the blows of losing Kawaan Short and Curtis Samuel.
2021 NFL Picks
Carolina will have eight picks to use in the 2021 NFL Draft
First Round (one pick): No. 8
Second Round (one pick): No. 39
Third Round (one pick): No. 73
Fourth Round (one pick): No. 114
Fifth Round (one pick): No. 152
Sixth Round (three picks): No. 194, No. 223, No. 227
Seventh Round (zero picks):
Cornerback- the Panthers need to still add a replacement for James Bradberry. Donte Jackson is capable of being a number one cornerback, but they need a player to put opposite him for the next four-plus years.
Left Tackle- Last offseason Carolina traded perennial Pro Bowler Trai Turner for Russell Okung. He only played seven games for the Panthers. They have since released Okung and only have versatile offensive lineman Cam Erving and former second-round pick Greg Little to fill that void. They need to add a player who could compete with Erving and Little for this season and potentially be the team’s left tackle for the extended future.
Defensive Tackle- There is a giant void along the Panthers’ defensive line with Kawaan Short gone. Morgan Fox is a solid player, but Carolina should add another interior defensive lineman to fill that void and play next to Derrick Brown for the future
(Jack of All Trades) Wide Receiver- The Panthers don’t need a traditional wide receiver. But they do need an offensive weapon to fill Curtis Samuel’s role in Joe Brady’s offense. If Samuel’s role isn’t filled Carolina could lose out on a dynamic part of their playbook.
Running back- Carolina got a good look at what life could look like without Christian McCaffery in the lineup. Now that Mike Davis is gone it falls on Reggie Bonnafon and Rodney Smith to be the team’s emergency option at the position. They could use an upgrade there.
Interior Offensive Line- Pat Elflein and John Miller are solid starters at guard. But none of them have shown the potential to be the team’s long-term starters. Miller is only on a one-year deal so a rookie this year could push Miller for the starting job this year and eventually take it over next year.
2021 Draft Targets
Pick No. 8: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
One of the draft’s biggest fallers due to all the quarterbacks that will be selected early is Penei Sewell. Now that Carolina has traded for Sam Darnold they should be out of the quarterback hunt in the first round and could take advantage of the talented players that will fall down the draft board. For seemingly the past two years it has been known that Penei Sewell is a generational prospect at left tackle. But in recent weeks Sewell has fallen down draft boards and there is a belief that Rashawn Slater could be selected before him. If Carolina drafts Sewell they will get their long-term answer at left tackle and potentially a multiple-time Pro Bowler.
Pick No. 37: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
Many view Christian Barmore as the draft’s best defensive tackle, but also give him a second-round grade. Carolina could view Barmore as the best player available who fills a need. Playing on a stout defensive line in Carolina could bring the best out of Barmore that he showed towards the end of last year that cemented him as a top-50 draft pick.
Pick No. 73: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
Much like his brother Obi, Ifeatu Melifonwu is a fantastic athlete. Carolina may want to take a player with the athleticism and traits of Melifonwu and develop him into a starting NFL cornerback. Melifonwu could start for the Panthers early in his rookie year and could develop into an essential piece for a young secondary with a lot of potential.