With the NFL draft just one day away and the Carolina Panthers trading for 3-year veteran Sam Darnold, after weeks of speculation of potentially trading for Texans star Deshaun Watson who is in a legal fiasco at the moment, it’s time to debate where the Panthers should look for the 8th overall pick? David Tepper, owner of the Carolina Panthers, has put everyone on notice that he’s about “right now.” This is how most NFL G.M.’s and owners think – the ‘what have you done for me lately’ mentality.
Panthers’ brass have publicly stated the quarterback position is an area of focus and they’re willing to make deals to land the right guy. Trading for Sam Darnold, however you viewed the acquisition, was in their opinion the right asset “for now.”
Yes, we know Darnold has under a 60 percent completion percentage, below .500 record as a starting quarterback, and is ultimately ranked in the bottom tier of all starting quarterbacks in the NFL (when looking at overall quarterback performance). Nevertheless, Sam Darnold has never played with weapons the likes of Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, both who at their respectable positions are elite and game changers. D.J. nearly eclipsed 1,200 receiving yards this past season with Teddy Bridgewater behind center, and Christian McCaffrey rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and added to that over 1,000 receiving yards in 2019. With those weapons, and having established chemistry with Robby Anderson who he played with in New York, Darnold is well-positioned to succeed in Charlotte.
What is important to note is that according to Next Generation stats, Darnold ranked top 5 in averaged time to throw the ball, which indicates at his exposure either his receivers weren’t getting open or Sam wasn’t getting through his progressions.
Where should the Panthers go at 8?
We know while with the Jets Darnold often found himself running for his life behind center. Offensive line is the most important position in all of football, as well as the highest paid position (collectively). The Super Bowl reminded us how pivotal it is to have protection, regardless if you have the league’s MVP behind center or not.
With that said, here’s my top selections for the Panthers by position:
Penei Sewell (6’6″ 330 lbs.) – Arguably the best blindside protector in the draft. Sewell likely will be gone by pick 5, but should definitely be on any teams radar within the top-10. Excellent lateral movement, agile, and most importantly keeps his feet chucking during containment.
Kyle Pitts (6’6″ 240 lbs.) – Too big for defensive backs, and too fast for linebackers, Pitts is a nightmare for defensive coordinators to game plan against. Great change of direction speed, with exceptional route running, Pitts could lineup as wide receiver in trips/bunch formations with his 4.44 speed. Kyle goes after the ball in jump-ball situations, especially on goal line situations.
Justin Fields (6’3″ 228 lbs.) – A gun-slinger in the pocket who has the intangibles of keeping his eyes downfield, not telegraphing his passes. There isn’t a throw on the field Justin can’t make. Justin often throws the receivers open, especially in tight windows. He may be even more dangerous on the run and outside the pocket. A strength of Fields is not turning the ball over, which is a necessity in the NFL.
**Noted** the Panthers attended Fields second Pro-day today, along with the Jets (2), 49ers (3) and Falcons (4) who all pick before the Panthers at (8). With having a 5th year option on Darnold and cap hit of 18 million, if the Panthers underperform again this season making this pick at 8, it gives the Carolina the leverage to potentially move on from Darnold after one season.