The Carolina Panthers went into this year’s NFL Draft needing to address a lack of depth at four key positions. One of those came immediately in the first round with the others coming in days two and three. Here’s a brief overview of the picks made by GM Scott Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule.
Round 1, No. 8 overall: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Overall, a physically athletic defensive back who’ll be expected to hover around the ball. The Panthers sent a statement by drafting Horn to say they believe in quarterback Sam Darnold’s ability to be a game-managing quarterback. Also, with Oregon’s Penei Sewell already taken off the board by the Detroit Lions, Horn seemed like the right pick to help solidify the secondary.
Horn plays much bigger than advertised at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds with an impressively long wingspan. He’ll need it to compete with some of the NFL’s elite targets in the NFC South. What helps his progression into the league is that Jaycee’s father, Joe Horn, played wide receiver for the Chiefs, Saints and Falcons. Expect a lot of advice to be shared between them, especially knowing Joe is an assistant coach at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Round 2, No. 59 overall: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
Darnold will need a sleuth of talent around him to keep the Panthers offensive competitive. They needed another wide receiver and got LSU’s “next man up” who is familiar with offensive coordinator Joe Brady having won a National Championship under his guidance in two years ago. Marshall averaged 15.2 yards per catch and 10 touchdowns in the first seven games last season before opting out. Expect him to compete for a starting position on day one in camp.
Round 3, No. 70 overall: Brady Christensen, OT, BYU
The Panthers had the opportunity to grab several offensive tackles, but landed on Christensen early in the third round. He was responsible for protecting Zach Wilson at BYU and reduced the total number of sacks allowed every year in an air raid offense. Joe Brady’s scheme is similar to the one Christensen operated in at BYU for three seasons, and is an ideal fit to develop into a starter. At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, he already has a lot of upside with great intangibles.
Round 3, No. 83 overall: Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
Tremble is known as a great blocker, but wasn’t utilized as a go-to pass catching option at Notre Dame. Four touchdowns in two seasons isn’t an eye-popping stat line. However, he’s scrappy and adds an extra man on the edge for Christian McCaffrey to run behind. A glorified offensive lineman who could develop into a more as his NFL career progresses.
Round 4, No. 126 overall: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
With injuries to McCaffrey, the need for having a similar-type rusher to supplement his value was something Julie Rhule wasn’t going to pass up. The wife of coach Matt Rhule shot a text to her husband, asking him to draft Hubbard, after witnessing him dismantle Rhule’s Baylor team two years ago. The former Oklahoma State running back rushed for 3,459 yards and 33 touchdowns in three years at Stillwater. The good news is Hubbard is very effective as a receiver out of the backfield and said he models “much of his game” after McCaffrey’s, “particularly when it comes to receiving.”
Round 5, No. 158 overall: Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
The Panthers got a late-round steal with Nixon still available past the fourth round. At 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, He’ll be needed as a run-stopper but can also get to the quarterback. Nixon accumulated 45 tackles (13.5 for loss) and 5.5 sacks last season, earning consensus All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. He also had a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown against Penn State last year.
Round 5, No. 166 overall: Keith Taylor, CB, Washington
The Panthers added another player to their secondary and one that Rhule and his coaching staff got to know while at last year’s Senior Bowl. Taylor does an excellent job keeping receivers from getting extra yardage. Like Horn, he uses his size to his advantage and likes to play physical in press coverage. However, he will need to work on some of his mechanics, especially given the speed of the NFL game.
Round 6, No. 193 overall: Deonte Brown, OG, Alabama
You take one look at Brown and know anyone going up against him has a tough challenge on their hands. At 6-foot-4 and 365 pounds, “Cornbread” is the prototypical offensive lineman a team like the Dallas Cowboys would draft in the 1990s. Brown never gave up a sack his entire time at Alabama and will fill an immediate need to protect Darnold. He has played multiple positions on the O-line and adapts well under pressure. A solid pick for the Panthers.
Round 6, No. 204 overall: Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
Like Taylor, The Panthers got another Senior Bowl prospect on Day 3. Smith adds another weapon for Darnold who will need all the help he can get. The undersized receiver at 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds is gritty and has solid hands. Smith, a Union, S.C. native, will stay close to home to start his NFL career.
Round 6, No. 222 overall: Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama
The long snapper pick isn’t a throw away and with the Panthers trading back to stock up, it fits. J.J. Jansen is approaching his 14th year in the league at the age of 35 and won’t be a long-term option. Fletcher, a four-year starter at Alabama, earned the Patrick Mannelly Award winner as the nation’s top snapper.
Round 7, No. 232 overall: Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky
Size and strength was a factor for the Panthers who went for more defensive help with their final pick. At 6-foot-5 and 313 pounds, Hoskins will be a solid option in either the 3-or-5 technique along the defensive line. He played 25 games at Kentucky, where he racked up 7.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks.