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Carolina Panthers

What They're Thinking: Houston Texans picking third overall

Laremy Tunsil

This week, we're going to take a look inside the heads — or at least inside the rosters and offseasons — of the five teams currently picking ahead of the Panthers in the 2022 NFL Draft. What they've done and will do will impact what the Panthers are able to do at No. 6, so it's better to know the landscape ahead of time. Monday we started with the Jaguars at No. 1, and discussed the Lions at No. 2 on Tuesday.

CHARLOTTE — The Texans made the biggest move of the offseason so far, and have the opportunity to continue to shake up the draft.

After trading quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans have 11 total picks, including a pair of first-rounders.

With the bounty of picks the next few years, the Texans have the opportunity to rebuild a team in a hurry, and they need to after seeing so many franchise cornerstones leave in recent years (including DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt).

What they need: Coming off back-to-back four-win seasons, the list is not a short one.

They could use a lot of stuff, so having all the extra picks (they got three first-rounders from the Browns) is helpful.

Specifically, they need a pass-rusher and a lot of defensive help. There's plenty of it, and the Texans ought to be positioned to check off a big box — whether that's the second or third defensive end, or the top corner or safety, or any number of avenues.

And with the third and 13th overall picks in the first round, they're positioned to land some key pieces. Those multiple picks also give them the liberty to make deals if they want, and they'll likely be a popular call in pre-draft trade discussions. They have five of the top 80 picks overall.

Offseason moves: Sending Watson to Cleveland for a package including three first-rounders was a big start, a major change of direction for the Texans after leaving the former first-round quarterback inactive all of last season.

They also hired coach Lovie Smith after the one-year stint of David Culley, and he appears inclined to proceed with quarterback Davis Mills, the 2021 third-rounder who looked capable at times last year.

If they're sincere in that desire, they have even more flexibility in this draft, and could use one of those top picks on a big-time receiving target to help Mills grow.

Possible clues: They did move on from Watson, but the Texans didn't make all the moves they could have.

They had the opportunity to trade left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who has two years left on his contract and was an attractive commodity to other needy teams. Discussions were held, but the Texans have chosen (so far) to retain one of the top players at his position.

They also extended wide receiver Brandin Cooks rather than trade him at a time when receivers are out there getting premium deals.

Do they need a quarterback? Maybe, but they're not acting like it. Mills may not be a flashy name-brand, but he played ably (16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 88.8 passer rating) in a difficult situation last year.

How they impact the Panthers: As with the Jaguars and franchise-tagged left tackle Cam Robinson, the continued presence of Tunsil could be viewed as a reason not to draft a top tackle such as Ickey Ekwonu or Evan Neal. But they ought to consider the option, and strengthen what has been a suspect line even when times were better there.

Otherwise, they'd likely lean defense with the third pick, and have the opportunity to collect a game-changer there.

And if they take something other than a pass-rusher or a tackle, it pushes one more guy closer to the Panthers at the sixth spot.

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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