The 2018 NFL Draft is a few weeks away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into this year’s draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. Draftmas continues today with the Carolina Panthers 2018 NFL Draft profile.
The Carolina Panthers enjoyed a successful 2017 season after a disappointing 2016 season in which they missed the playoffs. This past season, Carolina finished 11-5 and clinched a Wild Card berth in the competitive NFC South.
However, Carolina lost its first-round matchup to the division rival New Orleans Saints. Carolina failed to get a win in all three matchups with New Orleans.
Panthers fans still had a lot to be excited about. Carolina’s offense finished fourth in rushing yards and 12th in points.
The defense was also impressive. The Panthers ranked seventh in total defense, 11th in points allowed, third in rush defense and third in sacks. The defense was once again led by star linebacker Luke Kuechly, who finished 10th in the NFL in tackles. The pass rush was led by Mario Addison and Julius Peppers, who both finished the season with 11 sacks each.
There was still room for improvement of course, mostly in the passing game on both sides of the ball. The offense ranked 18th in passing touchdowns and just 28th in passing yards. The defense ranked 18th in passing yards allowed, 22nd in passing touchdowns allowed, 24th in interceptions and 30th in passes defended.
The passing game probably will not change much as Carolina’s identity is in the running game. Even quarterback Cam Newton is one of the biggest contributors for the Panthers on the ground. Carolina did add Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright to its receiving group, but they are more of the same receivers Carolina already has.
With the release of Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey will now be the main back in Carolina. In his rookie season, the eighth overall pick had 1,306 all-purpose yards, which ranked 18th in the NFL. McCaffrey’s production should take a big step forward in the 2018 season.
Carolina did lose a couple key pieces this offseason, most notably being All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell. They did sign former Vikings guard Jeremiah Sirles, but he is expected to add more depth to the line rather than be a replacement for Norwell.
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei also left the team, but the Panthers got an upgrade with Pro Bowler Dontari Poe. Poe and fellow Pro Bowler Kawann Short will be a very scary combo inside. Carolina also re-signed Peppers to further boost the defensive line.
The team also brought in defensive backs Ross Cockrell and Da’Norris Searcy to fill in for Daryl Worely, who was traded, and Kurt Coleman, who was released. Those guys are not ideal replacements, but they should not be any worse than the previous guys. Kicker Graham Gano will also be sticking around.
Carolina should be back in the playoffs this season. They can move further than the Wild Card round by addressing some of their biggest needs in the draft.
Picks and needs
Carolina has eight picks in this draft, including four in the first three rounds.
First round (1 pick): 24
Second round (1): 55
Third round (2): 85, 88
Fourth round (0):
Fifth round (1): 161
Sixth round (1): 197
Seventh round (2): 234, 242
Offensive line – The Panthers have a big hole to fill on the offensive line after losing Norwell. If this unit still plans on opening up holes for the running backs and providing protection for Newton, they need to address this need early in the draft.
Wide receiver – Carolina has been getting by with average receivers for a while now, and they actually played better without Kelvin Benjamin. Curtis Samuel should see more involvement in the offense, but adding another dependable target in the middle rounds would not be a bad idea.
Running back – After releasing Stewart, the Panthers are in need of a big back to compliment McCaffrey. This is also something that can be addressed later in the draft or even free agency.
Defensive back – Carolina is still looking for a leader in the backfield after Josh Norman left. Carolina’s secondary is the weak link on defense. They need to find a playmaker that can make life more difficult for opposing receivers.
Defensive end – With Charles Johnson gone and Julius Peppers’ days in the NFL numbered, the defensive line is going to need a boost on the edge in order to keep putting pressure on the quarterback.
Pick No. 24: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
Isaiah Wynn will most likely be the best guard available at pick 24, and that is who the Panthers should take first.
Wynn has a bright future in the NFL and should be able to start right away. The 6-foot-3, 313 pound former Bulldog has spent time at guard and tackle during his time in college. He helped open holes for star running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and was a big part of why the running game at Georgia was so successful. He should continue to do the same for McCaffrey.
Wynn is both powerful and mobile and has the versatility to move around the line if necessary. He has the strength and quickness to effectively block and open holes in the NFL. Wynn can be a Pro Bowler in this league and would fill in nicely for Norwell.
Pick No. 55: Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest
Bates only played two years in college, but showed plenty of potential in those seasons. He totaled 177 tackles, 10 defended passes, six interceptions and two touchdowns in 24 games with the Demon Deacons.
Bates stands 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, but plays like he is bigger. He can play both man and zone coverage and is not afraid to make a hit. He could develop into the ball hawk the Panthers need in the secondary.
Pick No. 85: Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
Callaway has the talent to be drafted sooner, but his issues off the field and maturity will cause him to drop to the middle rounds.
A credit card fraud scandal led to Callaway being suspended the entire 2017 season. However, he has proven in his first two seasons that he can compete. Callaway totaled 89 catches for 1,399 yards and seven touchdowns with the Gators. He was also effective on special teams with three touchdowns as a returner.
Callaway is fast with a 4.41 40-yard dash, the fourth fastest among receivers in this draft. The 5-foot-11, 197 pound speedster runs routes well and could be very effective as a slot receiver.
Callaway is a high-risk, high-reward pick, but the risk goes down as the rounds go on in the draft. Carolina will have to decide if Callaway is worth the risk, but the potential is there.
Pick No. 88: Chad Thomas, DE, Miami
Thomas is a big man at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds. His size and athleticism are just what any NFL team would want in a defensive lineman.
Last season in Miami, Thomas had 41 tackles, 12.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks. He can play in odd and even fronts, and even slide out as a linebacker from time to time.
Any team that takes Thomas would be picking him more for his potential than his production. However, a defensive coach like Ron Rivera and stars like Peppers should be able to bring the best out of Thomas.
Carolina can do a lot in this draft to put themselves in a better position to win in the playoffs. The guard position is the most pressing need and needs to be addressed in the first round, followed by defensive back. After that, they should focus on picking the best players available for their other needs.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for the Tennessee Titans 2018 NFL Draft profile.