First-year general manager Scott Fitterer was simply unafraid to pull the trigger on many trades throughout last year's draft, going through with about four trade-backs in all. As it stands now, the Panthers have one pick in the top 100, and six total. It's fair to wonder if the Panthers will actually stay at 6 come April 28th but this scenario explores the possibility of Fitterer standing pat with their original pick to select a potentially franchise-altering player.
Round 1 Pick 6: QB Malik Willis Liberty
Sam Darnold and PJ Walker comprise the QB depth chart as of now. Enter Malik Willis. The electric playmaker from Liberty will give Carolina a shot at competing for the NFC South crown for the next 10 years with proper development from coach Ryan and McAdoo.
His rocket arm and blazing speed gives him the potential to bring the "pride back to the Carolina's" that Cam Newton mentioned was missing in his closing press conference. Much like his 7-on-7 mentor, Willis has the contagious energy and a beaming smile that could take over the NFL if he capitalizes on his talent. In 2021, he was 207 of 339 for 2857 passing yards, with 27 TDs and 12 INTs. He also recorded 197 rushes for 878 yards and 13 TDs. It is also worth mentioning that Willis had a top-30 visit with the team this past Tuesday.
Round 4 Pick 137: IOL Marquis Hayes Oklahoma
The Oklahoma guard has protected the likes of Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Jalen Hurts, and other high profile Sooners' QBs over the past four years, and is likely a young depth piece that could take over for the likes of failed projects in Dennis Daley and Michael Jordan. NFL Network's describes him as this:
"He's a tough, physical finisher with coveted physical traits but needs to upgrade his hands, feet and contact posture to become more than a backup in the league."
Round 5 Pick 144: WR Velus Jones Jr Tennessee
The former Vol return man could find his way not too far from home in Carolina. The fifth round could be a nice value pick to get a boost for special teams. Last year, the Panthers worked with Alex Erickson, who wasn't much to watch. New STC coordinator Chris Tabor is likely looking for more explosiveness from that position and Jones Jr could provide that this season.
In 2021, Jones Jr recorded 62 catches for 807 yards and 7 TDs, along with 23 returns for 628 yards and 1 TD return (27.3 avg). In the punt return game, he had 18 returns for 272 yards (15.1 avg.). These efforts earned him the honor of co-SEC Special Teams Player of the Year, sharing the award with 'Bama's Jameson Williams (projected 1st-round pick). It is worth noting that the Panthers already have plenty of depth in the wide receiver room but his special teams' value could give him an edge over Shi Smith, (who recently got arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute) a player that may not even contribute next season.
Round 5 Pick 149: EDGE Amare Barno Virginia Tech
While I wrote this before the Panthers reportedly brought the edge rusher in for a Top-30 visit, this pick could be even more likely to come to fruition after the loss of Haason Reddick.
After two years of seeing Matt Rhule's draft picks, it should be evident that he loves players who are athletic freaks; Barno is one of those guys. At 6'6 245, the former Hokie has plenty of potential in a scheme where Phil Snow likes to utilize his edge players as 3-4 outside linebackers, with the ability to put their hand in the dirt or stand up in coverage. His 2021 season was slightly disappointing after a 6.5 sack season in 2020 but I have full confidence in his ability to contribute at least as a rotational defender.
Round 5 Pick 155: OL Zach Tom Wake Forest
Primarily spending his college career at center, Tom also spent time at left tackle for two years at Wake Forest. His undersized body at 295 lbs, may signal a return to his natural center position in the pros, per NFL Network's Lance Zierlein. Snagging an underrated prospect like Tom would be a steal on Day 3 considering our centers on contract only have one year left (Bradley Bozeman & Pat Elflein), and provides position flexibility heading into training camp and OTAs.
In this mock draft, I entertained the possibility of the Panthers staying put at pick #6. What are your thoughts of this potential draft haul of five picks? Leave your comments below.