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5 position groups to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine

Ladd McConkey

INDIANAPOLIS— The future starts at the NFL Combine. Over 300 prospects have descended upon Indianapolis this week to meet with teams, introduce themselves to the media, and take part in the all-important on-field workouts, which begin today. But Panthers head coach Dave Canales keeps a cautious approach to the draft, and therefore evaluations from the Combine.

"It's a challenge to get rookies to play at the level that you need them to right off the bat to make an impact as a starter," Canales shared with reporters on Tuesday, kick-starting the Combine week.

Canales pointed to years of available statistics, using wide receivers drafted in the first three rounds as an example, to point out the unlikelihood of a rookie making an immediate impact.

"You'll be shocked to see that it might be only one or two guys that are actually contributing at a starter standpoint."

Even beyond receiver, Canales continued, "as far as defensive ends, pass rushers, are these guys producing 10 sacks like a starter would in these positions? So, you kind of ask yourselves a lot of questions about these positions and how can they impact us on a roster?"

That being said, with the Panthers philosophy under Dan Morgan to look two to three years down the road at all times, Canales and staff are still taking a close look at each prospect this week, and how they could fit into the Panthers now and in the future.

The Panthers don't have a first-round pick in this year's draft but will pick first in three subsequent rounds (second, third and fourth). The club has six picks overall. With several areas of need, those picks will have to be used efficiently.

"I think no matter how many picks we have, we're looking to add impact players at every position," general manager Dan Morgan said this week at the Combine. "We want to build depth. We want to build competition on this roster. The 33rd pick, that doesn't mean that we can't do that. So, I think all options are on the table at that 33rd pick."

With that in mind, here are the five position groups to keep an eye on during this week's NFL Combine drills.

Wide Receiver

Inevitably, this spot will receive (pun intended) the most looks and hype leading into the draft. DJ Chark Jr. was on a one-year deal. Adam Thielen is the most consistent receiver option for Bryce Young but will be 34-years old heading into the season. Laviska Shenault Jr. is also a free agent, and coming off an injury.

"I think it's pretty obvious, it's not a secret that we need to have more playmakers in that room," Morgan said Tuesday. "Obviously we have Adam Thielen, (Jonathan) Mingo, but we got to add some more receivers, some more depth and competition in that room right now.

"We just got to get guys that can make plays. That's really what we're looking at in the draft or free agency."

A true down-field threat could allow Canales to open up the playbook more for Young. In a receiver heavy draft, the Panthers have the potential to hit in numerous different rounds. Whether it's the first position addressed at No. 33, or Dan Morgan and staff elect to mine for gems in later rounds, the talent should be available.

The latter option, however, does run the risk of bringing in more of a developmental receiver, versus someone who could be a home-run hitter earlier on (accounting for the expected adjustment period).

Five receivers to watch:

  1. Ladd McConkey - Georgia
  2. Adonai Mitchell - Texas
  3. Keon Coleman - FSU
  4. Tez Walker – North Carolina
  5. Xavier Legette – South Carolina
Keon Coleman

Tight End

While tight end isn't necessarily the most urgent need, it's one that will need to be addressed, and soon. The unit, largely on the shoulders Ian Thomas and young projects Tommy Tremble and Stephen Sullivan, was supposed to be bolstered by Hayden Hurst. The latter suffered a season-ending concussion in Chicago, causing him to miss eight games.

Regardless, the unit as a whole was responsible for only four total touchdowns all season, three of which were caught by Tremble. Because of Tremble's ascension into the season, and Hurst's return, this is a position where the Panthers could feasibly wait till later rounds.

"I think we have some capable guys there," Morgan said Tuesday, of the tight end position. "I think that we'll see them progress and hopefully help us in the future…Tommy's a really good athlete. He's really tough in the run game. I think he's actually pretty underrated when it comes to that. But I think the future is bright for him. I think, he has a lot of ability as not only a receiver but also as a blocker."

In an offense that will be looking to find their footing, a dynamic tight end can be a game-changer and a quarterback's best friend. Whether setting up crucial blocking on the edge or providing a consistent pass-catching option for the intermediate game, bringing in an every-down tight end could buy Young time to develop chemistry with his receivers.

Five tight ends to watch:

  1. Dallin Holker - Colorado State
  2. Trey Knox - South Carolina
  3. Jared Wiley - TCU
  4. Ja'Tavion Sanders – Texas
  5. Jaheim Bell – FSU
Dallin Holker

Offensive Line

The best way to help Young take the next step, is to start by just keeping him upright. Young took a franchise-record-tying 62 sacks in his rookie season, the sixth-most in league history. There were holes all over the line, but it starts with the revolving door at both guard spots. Presumably Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen returning from multiple injuries will shore up some of that uncertainty. But a starting-caliber interior player would provide some much-needed protection for Young, and offer cover they didn't have last year as they plowed through seven left guards and eight right guards in 17 games.

Said Morgan, "I think it's pretty evident that our offensive line struggled at times last year. We got to get better in that area and we're going to do everything in our power to make that happen."

Beyond just the guard position, quality depth at every position along the line would save the wall from tumbling down anytime there is an injury. The offensive linemen available in this year's class are largely cross-trained already, giving them the ability to play multiple spots. Particularly, those in the interior can move to center, and those at tackle can flip-flop sides with more ease than in the past.

Five offensive linemen to watch:

  1. Jackson Powers-Johnson - Oregon
  2. Sedrick Van Pran - Georgia
  3. Kingsley Suamataia - BYU
  4. Christian Haynes – Washington
  5. Javion Cohen – Miami
Jackson Powers-Johnson


With only six picks in this year's draft, the Panthers don't have a ton of capital to draft players just to stock them away for later. That being said, new Executive VP of Football Operations, Brandt Tilis, has made a name for himself as someone who is looking three years down the road.

The Panthers have starting corners in place for the coming season, in Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson. But as Jackson's age or contract forces decisions in coming years, Carolina will need to be prepared. The Panthers also have a load of free agents at the position, including Troy Hill, CJ Henderson, and Shaquill Griffin. Drafting a young corner now gives them flexibility to sit someone to learn under Horn and Jackson, while also providing depth in case of injury, like Horn faced this past season.

Five corners to watch:

  1. Jarvis Brownlee - Louisville
  2. Quinyon Mitchell - Toledo
  3. D.J. James - Auburn
  4. Max Melton – Rutgers
  5. Nehemiah Pritchett – Auburn
Jarvis Brownlee


Presumably Brian Burns will return for the 2024 season, whether through an extension or the franchise tag. Today's NFL though means having a one-two punch off the edge. One forceful pass-rusher isn't enough when facing RPO heavy offenses and quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts and more. Both sides need to have the edge set and the requires two edge rushers who can break a game open.

The position has become a premium draft target, so with the insurance of Burns, no first-round pick and bigger needs to address first, this will likely be a later round pick. Someone who can learn under Burns, and provide rotational snaps behind others on the roster (this position will be set more after free agency).

Having the possible ability to sit an edge rusher for a year or two is also beneficial, as many coaches agree it's the toughest position to transition from college to the league.

Five edge rushers to watch:

  1. Adisa Issac - Penn State
  2. Braiden McGregor - Michigan
  3. Javon Solomon - Troy
  4. Chop Robinson – Penn State
  5. Jaylen Harrell – Michigan

View photos of linebacker Luke Kuechly taking part in the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.

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