By Zach Goins
April 23, 2023
It’s NFL Draft week, and the Carolina Panthers are the proud owners of the first-overall pick. After a blockbuster trade sent wide receiver DJ Moore and four draft picks to the Chicago Bears, the Panthers will now have their choice of quarterback at No. 1.
The last time Carolina had the first pick in the draft, things worked out pretty well. Quarterback Cam Newton was the selection, and he went on to break nearly every franchise record at the position, winning an MVP and leading the team to the Super Bowl in the 2015-16 season. Now, the Panthers hope to do the same in 2023; find a franchise quarterback to secure the future of the team.
Outside of the No. 1 pick, the Panthers have five additional draft picks to help fill holes along the defensive line, linebacker, and in the secondary, as well as adding depth at wide receiver and tight end.
Let’s take a look at some potential outcomes for each pick the Panthers hold in this year’s draft:
No. 1 pick
It’s a no-brainer the Panthers traded up to No. 1 to draft their quarterback of the future. What started as a four-man race between Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis has since been narrowed down to two contenders, with Young and Stroud in final consideration.
Ohio State’s Stroud has the physical build head coach Frank Reich has preferred in previous quarterbacks, coming in at 6’ 3” and 214 pounds, compared to Young’s smaller stature at 5’ 10” and 204 pounds. However, Young, the former Alabama quarterback and Heisman Trophy-winner, seems to be the pick as the Panthers get closer to draft night.
Between the two, there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer, but expect to see Young holding a Panthers jersey Thursday night.
No. 39 pick – Wide Receiver?
It’s a toss-up whether the Panthers will use their second pick in the draft to build around their new quarterback, or flip to the other side of the ball and add an edge rusher on defense. With DJ Moore out of the picture, the Panthers would be wise to invest in their first-round quarterback by finding him a new best friend at wide receiver.
North Carolina’s Josh Downs would be an attractive addition, thanks to his flexibility to win in the slot or on the outside. His elite route running and burst would mesh well with Adam Thielen’s skills as a possession receiver and DJ Chark’s as a downfield threat. Downs is expected to be a late-first early-second round pick, which makes him a prime target at No. 39.
If Downs is already off the board, Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt would be another exciting option. If Hyatt and Young both make their way to Carolina, the two would have to bury the hatchet after the wideout racked up six catches for 207 yards and five touchdowns in Tennessee’s 2022 upset over Alabama.
No. 93 pick – Edge Rusher?
With the offense in good hands, the third round means it’s time to shift to the defensive side of the ball. Under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, the Panthers are shifting to a 3-4 defensive front, which will have Pro Bowler Brian Burns rushing from a linebacker position, but the defense will need another threat opposite Burns to balance the attack.
At 6’ 6” and 256 pounds, Army’s Andre Carter II has the potential to be a dynamic edge rusher in Carolina’s defense. Carter dominated offensive lines in 2021 tallying 15.5 sacks, but his production slowed to only three sacks in 2022. Still, his frame and raw talent have tremendous upside when paired with the right scheme.
While a bit undersized at 6’ 2” and 240 pounds, Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig could be another option to fill the void on the edge. The linebacker-edge rusher hybrid amassed 18 sacks in two seasons for the Badgers, constantly wreaking havoc in the backfield despite his size. Herbig likely wouldn’t be an every-down player on defense, but would serve as an effective substitute for pass-rush scenarios.
No. 114 and No. 132 picks – Secondary Depth?
The secondary is in need of some serious depth, with cornerback Donte Jackson recovering from a ruptured achilles and cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and C.J. Henderson both having histories of injury. Jackson and Horn have proven to be standouts when healthy, but some extra depth will help provide some peace of mind in the secondary.
Two potential cornerbacks available in the fourth round could be Syracuse’s Garrett Williams and Minnesota’s Terell Smith. Williams would be a bargain this late in the draft, but coming off an ACL injury, he slid from an early-round lock to a mid-round projection. Still, his physicality and zone coverage abilities make him worth the risk here, and would provide great depth behind Horn and Jackson. Smith is another aggressive cornerback with strong coverage skills who has proven to be a force in the run game as well.
Carolina could also opt to help address the inside linebacker position in the fourth round. Alabama linebacker Henry To’oTo’o would be a great pickup, as a smart linebacker capable of playing outside or inside alongside Shaq Thompson in Carolina’s 3-4 defense.
No. 145 pick
This late in the draft, the Panthers could opt to address any number of positions– and with no sixth or seventh-round selections, they could attempt to trade back for more picks, too.
Assuming they stay put at No. 145, with quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback addressed, it’s time to continue to add more depth.
Christopher Smith II out of Georgia could add depth at safety, or the Panthers could continue to solidify the linebacking corps with Tulane’s Dorian Williams or Cincinnati’s Ivan Pace Jr.
The 2023 NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 27 at 8 p.m. EST. The Panthers will also be hosting an NFL Draft Party at Bank of America Stadium starting at 6:30 p.m.