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Carolina Panthers

LB and CB targets at 39, 93, and beyond

Jack Campbell

CHARLOTTE — All the attention surrounding the Panthers' upcoming draft has been around that first pick, which will be used on a quarterback.

But the Panthers have other needs, and other picks, as they try to fill out the roster heading into the season. We're taking a look at those needs and how the rest of their picks could be used to fill them.

Other than the first one, the Panthers have five other picks this year, beginning with their own second-rounder (39th overall), San Francisco's third-rounder (93rd), two fourths (114th and 132nd), and a fifth (145th).

So here's a look at two more of the positions they could look to address and some of the possibilities with those picks (We'll hit more positions of need in the coming days, and here's a look from last week at the receivers and tight ends who could be of interest).


Why it's a need: The Panthers took a step toward stability on defense by bringing back veteran Shaq Thompson on a restructured contract. But because they were playing a different defense (and they were running lean in the middle anyway), there aren't a lot of natural inside linebackers on this roster. Frankie Luvu will likely get the starting nod next to Thompson, but he's a hybrid player with rush ability, so nailing him inside might not be the most efficient use of his strengths.

As far as positional value goes, this is down the list. Things like corners and pass-rushers and touchdown-scorers are generally going to be of greater value than inside linebackers. But other than Thompson, there's no other natural answer on the roster, so it's more of a concern. In recent years, he was playing next to a line of rentals in the middle, so having more of a long-term plan there could be helpful.

Trenton Simpson

Possibilities at 39: This is one of the positions where the depth of this draft may match up well with the Panthers' needs.

There's a clump of talented linebackers, who could fall to the end of the first or early second round, and enough of them to make it worth considering moving back and getting some more stuff if they want to address it early.

For a point of reference, Eric Edholm's list of Top 100 prospects on has Arkansas' Drew Sanders at No. 35, Iowa's Jack Campbell at No. 53, Clemson's Trenton Simpson at No. 62, and Washington State's Daiyan Henley at No. 65.

(It's worth noting that the team draft boards can vary widely, and linebackers are kind of an eye-of-the-beholder position anyway. Last year, the Broncos and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero watched former undrafted and CFL refugee Alex Singleton have a career year with 163 tackles.)

You can get productive players at the position in all kinds of ways, but if you want high-end talent, investing early is the answer.

Any of the four aforementioned linebackers could be an immediate difference-maker on defense, as could a number of prospects. But they have to balance whether the depth at the position points them elsewhere. But make no mistake, a bigger body such as Campbell or Simpson would be a welcome addition.

Possibilities at 93 and beyond: Again, because teams value this position in their own unique ways, the market can get depressed here. And if they move back for added assets, it could become a target position.

Players such as Tulane's Dorian Williams pop on tape, and there are guys who will be scheme-specific that could be found in later rounds.


Why it's a need: Because everybody needs cornerbacks, and a lot of them. And the ones the Panthers have come with some question marks.

While 2021 first-rounder Jaycee Horn gives them a stable place to build any defense, there are reasonable concerns about the rest of the depth chart. Veteran starter Donte Jackson is coming off a torn Achilles (and recovering well), and CJ Henderson alternates between bright flashes of talent and some on-field lapses that become highlights in the other direction. But the talent among the top three there is obvious.

It drops off a bit after that. They brought in veteran defensive back Eric Rowe, a versatile nickel and safety, giving them an option in the secondary. And young players such as Keith Taylor Jr. and newcomer Herb Miller and special teamer Stantley Thomas-Oliver III are competing for depth roles.

The Panthers have seen what happens when you run out, so reinforcing the position is top-of-mind.

Joey Porter Jr.

Possibilities at 39: The top guys, such as Oregon's Christian Gonzalez and Illinois' Devon Witherspoon, will be long gone; they're top-half-of-the-first prospects. And because there's generally a run on corners, sometimes lower-graded players get over-drafted.

The Panthers have looked at a number of prospects which a lot of online outlets peg in the 15-40 range, so this is an interesting group to monitor.

So players such as Penn State's Joey Porter Jr. (No. 17 on Edholm's list) or Maryland's Deonte Banks (No. 21) will likely be gone, but a large group at the position remains.

One of the more intriguing evaluations in this class is Mississippi State's Emmanuel Forbes (No. 31). He's rail-thin (6-1, 166 pounds), and that will disqualify him for some teams. But he makes a ton of plays and holds the NCAA record with six interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Cam Smith

Possibilities at 93 and beyond: Again, this is a deep group, and some named might get drafted higher than they should because of the law of supply and demand.

Georgia's Kelee Ringo might be a late first-rounder, and the name recognition he gained from making timely plays in playoff games. But some teams think he might also be a safety in the NFL. He has size and athleticism, but he's presented some uneven game tape as well.

South Carolina's Cam Smith is lean (6-1, 180) but has good instincts and has made plays, and is part of a group that will likely come off the board during the second day of the draft (the second and third rounds).

Look back on some of the productive draft picks the Panthers made in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft all the way back to 1995.

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