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Mocking the Panthers 7.0

Posted Apr 16, 2014

Look at enough mock drafts attempting to forecast what the Panthers will do with the 28th pick in the NFL Draft, and you'll easily notice a pattern.

Almost everyone has the Panthers picking a wide receiver, offensive tackle or defensive back.

Those who dabble in mock drafts typically make their semi-educated guesses based on the perceived roster needs of each team. Carolina has added three notable receivers and a pair of former Pro Bowl safeties to the roster in recent weeks, in addition to hinting that Byron Bell will move to the left tackle spot vacated by Jordan Gross' retirement. But the mockers have held firm.

Their approach is understandable, but it's not what the Panthers preach. Carolina tends to lean toward a best-available-player strategy, one that for example netted Luke Kuechly in the 2012 draft when the Panthers appeared set at linebacker.

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With all that in mind, we'll set aside the mock drafts this week and instead look at several analysts' "big boards," which simply rank the top prospects in order.

Upon review of the 28th spot on those lists, another pattern develops: The Panthers could be in position to make their strengths stronger.

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com
DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame

The Panthers selected defensive tackles with their first two choices last year. Would they go there again? With the re-signing of defensive tackle Colin Cole, the top nine defensive linemen on the roster last year are all back for the 2014 season.

The mountain of a man that is Nix can help someone situated in the latter stages of the first round. By the way, Drafttek.com lists Nix's teammate at Notre Dame, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, at No. 28 on its big board.

Gil Brandt, NFL.com
DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

Brandt says that the 6-5, 310-pounder Hageman "has size, power and explosion but lacks consistency, otherwise he would be ranked higher. He might be too tall to play defensive tackle in the NFL but is good enough to convert to end."

Flexibility is always a good thing, both when it comes to prospects and to draft strategies.

Josh Sanchez, Fansided.com
DE Dee Ford, Auburn

Ford could well be the second defensive end selected after Jadeveon Clowney. Multiple mock drafts have him being taken one spot before the Panthers pick, at No. 27 to the New Orleans Saints.

Josh Norris, Rotoworld.com
DE Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech

The three other analysts referenced in this article that go at least 50-deep with their prospects don't list Attaochu. That should serve as a reminder that while looking at the consensus is a good way to get a feel for the draft, NFL teams will have significant differences of opinion on their draft grades - causing the draft to play out in a way no one can accurately predict.

Charlie Campbell, WalterFootball.com
QB Derek Carr, Fresno State

While the Panthers try to take the best available player, that strategy has its limits. I'll go out on a limb and say Carolina will not choose a quarterback in the first round.

Todd McShay, ESPN.com
CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

While many fans feel like the Panthers must pick a wide receiver or offensive lineman in the first round, there could be some elite defensive back talent available. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com also lists Fuller as his 28th-rated prospect, while Chris Burke of SI.com has Louisville safety Calvin Pryor ranked 28th.

Partner-in-crime Mel Kiper doesn't list a 28th-best prospect at this point in the draft process – his big board only extends 25 deep.