Panthers in prime spot in NFL Draft

By Jeff Linville -

Jeff Linville

The days leading up to the NFL Draft are like the days before an election. You can’t believe anything anyone is saying.

The Carolina Panthers are sitting in a primo spot this year after three straight years near the bottom of the first round.

Unfortunately for General Manager Dave Gettleman, figuring out what to do with that #8 pick isn’t an easy task.

Sure, there are a lot fewer teams picking ahead of the Panthers than when they were winning three straight NFC South titles (and getting low picks as a result). But, gossip is flying fast and heavy, according to the beat reporters on ESPN and the NFL Network.

The most interesting talk concerns #4 with the Jaguars and #6 with the Jets.

Several media outlets have reported on Jacksonville’s interest in running back Leonard Fournette and tight end O.J. Howard, both of whom also have been linked to Charlotte. Some ESPN analysts think the Panthers will get whichever one is left.

Former NFL GM Charley Casserly doesn’t think Fournette will last that long. He believes the 49ers will grab the RB at #2, and that will trigger Jacksonville to trade back in the draft.

At #6, New York’s quarterback situation is shaky. If you recall a year ago, contract talks were going nowhere fast with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was coming off a career year in 2015: 3,900 yards and 31 TDs.

Then went the season started, Fitz regressed badly. He finished the year with 2,700 yards, 12 TDs and 17 INTs. That left many thinking that the Jets would use the #6 pick on a quarterback.

The Jets just might do that and have shown an interest in UNC’s Mitchell Trubisky.

However, the word from a reporter who covers the Jets was that the team was moving away from the idea of getting a QB and would look to fill another hole on the team. The talk is that the team spent a second-round pick last year on Christian Hackenberg and want to see what he can do before using another pick.

Why should all this matter to the Panthers? Well, they don’t need a QB, so if the Jets go with another position, that takes another player off the big board.

On the other hand, it potentially adds big interest for teams lower in the draft wanting to move up.

Carolina’s former defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott, is now the head coach of the Bills at #10. Word is that the Bills have so many holes to fill, the team is looking to trade back and get more draft picks.

Maybe a team like San Francisco or Arizona looks to move up in the draft to get Trubisky or Deshaun Watson.

If a team wants to move ahead of the Bills (or their trade partner), then the Panthers at #8 would be a perfect spot.

Who is looking for a quarterback? The Browns at #12, the Cardinals at #13, and then you drop way down to the lower part of the round like the Texans at #25, the Chiefs at #27 or the Steelers at #30.

If the Browns and Cardinals are fighting over the same QB, then one of them might want to trade with Carolina to ensure the pick.

Would the Panthers move down? I think they would if the draft falls wrong. If Fournette and Howard are both gone, the Panthers will probably pick a defensive end that drops into their laps like Solomon Thomas or Jonathan Allen. If all four of those guys are gone, then why not trade back four or five spots?

RBs Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook will probably still be on the board through the 13th pick.

Keep this in mind. From the performances at the combine and the comments from scouts, this is a ho-hum draft for QBs and WRs, and it is a terrible draft for offensive linemen.

That doesn’t bode well for Carolina’s need at tackle.

However, this draft is loaded with quality players at defensive back, running back and tight end — all three of which are concerns for the Panthers.

Somebody desperate for a QB will want Trubisky or Watson, but the Panthers can fill their needs at many spots in the first three rounds.

Imagine if a team did trade up 4-5 spots and give up a second-round pick to boot. The Panthers could hold the #12 in the first round and the #8 and #12 in the second round.

Heck, let’s get really bold.

The Panthers could trade backward in the first round and get enough ammunition to trade back into the latter part of the first round again.

For example, the team could turn #8 in the first and #8 in the second into #12 in the first and #29 in the first.

In my head, those picks turn into McCaffrey and TE David Njoku or safety Budda Baker.

We’ll find out Thursday night.

Jeff Linville Linville

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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