I think the Carolina Panthers nailed the NFL Draft, but once again they didn’t address one of their biggest needs.
First, I’ll start with the good.
I think Carolina’s first-round pick, wide receiver DJ Moore out of Maryland, is going to be a star in the league.
At 6-feet, he’s got good enough size, but it’s his speed that the Panthers so coveted that they made him the first receiver taken in a draft full of really good pass catchers. Moore has good hands and is an elusive runner after the catch. He’ll start either in the slot or backing up Devin Funchess, but by the end of the year, Moore should be one of the team’s top targets.
LSU cornerback Donte Jackson was one of the fastest players in the entire draft, and a good cover corner who will work in nickel packages in his first year. Hopefully, the second round pick is good enough to take over as the starter opposite James Bradberry by the end of the season.
The other Day 2 selection was Tennessee safety Rashaan Gaulden. Gaulden is a good tackler and a ball hawk who will contribute right away at safety and as a slot corner.
The Panthers focused mostly on defense on the third day, but opened the fourth round by drafting Indiana tight end Ian Thomas, who I already really like. He wasn’t used much in college as a pass catcher, but he’s a late bloomer who has drawn comparisons to former San Diego Charger Antonio Gates, and that’s a very good thing.
The Panthers needed to address linebacker depth with Thomas Davis missing the first four games and likely retiring at the end of the year, but I don’t know if they needed to spend three straight picks on the position.
Ole Miss’ Marquis Haynes seems to be the best prospect of the bunch, although he’s a bit undersized. Maryland’s James Carter Jr. and North Carolina’s Andre Smith are both much bigger, at about 240 pounds each, but don’t appear to be as complete a player as Haynes has the potential to be.
The Panthers final pick, at selection No. 242 overall, was nose tackle Kendrick Norton. At the least he’s a solid backup and depth pick along the defensive front, but the 312-pound Norton has potential to develop into a starter and a possible star. The knock on him is he doesn’t get into the backfield often enough, but Norton is a run stuffer who will contribute.
Now for the bad news.
Why do the Panthers never seem to address the offensive line in the draft? They did it again this year, failing to find replacements for the guard spot after Andrew Norwell left in free agency or the center position that will be vacant after Ryan Kalil retires at the end of this season.
It’s really inexplicable.
Carolina can get Cam Newton all of the weapons on offense that he could use, but if the line can’t protect him they won’t matter.
But, all in all, I think this is a very good draft. Moore, Gaulden, Thomas and Norton all have a chance to be above average players, and if the Panthers hit on four out of eight picks then they’ve done pretty well for themselves.