Predicting the Carolina Panthers 2017 Draft

When predicting the Carolina Panthers 2017 NFL draft picks, it is important to understand what motivates GM Dave Gettleman. “I want free agency to set up our draft so we can truly take the best player.” Gettleman told the media recently. However, somehow that best player available has also almost always lined up with a current need. Vernon Butler served as KK Short insurance. Kelvin Benjamin filled a huge need, as did Star Lotulelei. The only first round draft pick that seemed like a true BPA was Shaq Thompson. So preaching BPA is one thing, but rarely is it actually put into practice.

Last season, Gettleman admitted straying from his “best player available” strategy when he selected three cornerbacks with three consecutive picks. This demonstrated for all of us that immediate need does play a definite role in the selection process. Cornerback was a desperate need last year, and the draft reflected that fact. Though there are no needs as desperate this year, there are still needs nonetheless. Lets take a look.

Defensive End

The signing of Julius Peppers negates trading Kony Ealy to the New England Patriots. Realistically, the Carolina Panthers have done little to actually improve their defensive end position and in turn improve the pass rush from the base four defensive lineman. Yes, the Panthers were second in the league in sacks last year, but this came at a great cost to the defensive secondary. The Panthers blitzed more than every before, no longer able to rely on pressure being applied from the front four. Being second in the league in sacks doesn’t mean much if being next to last in coverage comes along with it.

The Panthers must address the defensive end position early in the draft. There is no way around it. This is the most dire immediate need on the roster if they hope to improve over last year’s sub par performance from the group. I suspect at least one defensive end will be taken in rounds one and/or two. I still like Solomon Thomas at pick 8.

Tight End

Last year the Carolina Panthers looked high and low for a young tight end that could jump ahead of Ed Dickson on the depth chart. They signed so many tight ends that chairs literally needed to be added to the tight end’s meeting room. Unfortunately, the Panthers were never able to find a sufficient young prospect.

It is safe to say that the Panthers will look again for Ed Dickson’s replacement in the draft. They may even look at round one and OJ Howard. Although Howard likely would not be the BPA at pick 8, the need may force Gettleman to either trade back or reach a little. Landing the best tight end in the draft doesn’t sound so bad in round one, does it?

Safety

Signing free agent strong safety Mike Adams last week immediately stopped the bleeding at safety for the Carolina Panthers. If the Panthers would have been able to sign Adams last year, it likely would have directly translated in to one or two more wins for the Panthers.

While it is true the need to draft a safety is somewhat diminished now, the Panthers know that Adams is at the end of his career. They need to avoid starting a rookie next season if they hope to remain in contention. If LSU strong safety Jamal Adams is available at pick 8, he is definitely in play. However, I imagine he will be long gone by then. I don’t suspect the Panthers will draft any other safety in round one. However, you can safely expect the Panthers to select a safety by round 4. Obi Melifonwu is a player I like for the Panthers in round 2.

Offensive Tackle

Signing Matt Kalil went a long way to fixing the Carolina Panthers issues at offensive tackle. If healthy, he is an immediate upgrade in pass protection over Mike Remmers and probably at the same level as Michael Oher in 2015. However, Kalil is a better run blocker than both Remmers and Oher which should translate immediately on the playing field. If Michael Oher is healthy, the Panthers will be in the best position at tackle they have been since the days of Gross and Wharton. If Oher cannot play, Daryl Williams showed strong promise last season and should be a quality starter in 2017.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the 2017 draft is very thin at offensive tackle. I don’t see the Panthers spending a top pick, as a later pick may have the same likelihood at success in the NFL. I look for the Panthers to select a tackle on day three and also in undrafted free agency.

Running Back

The Panthers are not bad off in 2017 at running back, provided Jonathan Stewart remains healthy. Behind Stewart, it gets very thin very fast. As such, some are guaranteeing a running back selection for the Panthers in round one. I am not so sure. Running backs have a diminished value in the NFL which is much lower than defensive end or even play making tight end currently. Selecting a running back in the top ten of the draft is risky.

Could the Panthers select Leonard Fournette at eight? Sure, but he is the only selection possible there. I would prefer the Panthers trade down and select Christian McCaffrey who can fill in at multiple positions (running back, slot receiver, kick returner). To me, that is a much higher value prospect than simply a power runner with a history of injuries. If not McCaffrey, I like Oklahoma back Samaje Perine that could possibly be available late in round 3.

As always, the best place for all breaking Carolina Panthers talk is right here.

Jeremy Igo is owner of Carolina Huddle. Based in Charlotte, he has covered the Carolina Panthers for over a decade.