Photo courtesy of Penn State athletics
With the eighth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select…
In just three and a half months, Panther fans will hear those exact words, with much anxiety and anticipation built up regarding the player mentioned afterward. This Panthers’ roster is not in a great place at the moment.
Free agents Taylor Moton, an offensive tackle, and Curtis Samuel, a wide receiver, are both game-changers for the Panthers. It will be difficult to retain both. Behind center, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has proven time and time again that he is not a franchise quarterback.
So, where do the Panthers go from here?
By beating Washington in Week 16, the Panthers lost their chance at a franchise-shaping top-3 draft pick; however, at No. 8, Carolina could still draft an important player for turning this franchise around. No, neither Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, nor Penei Sewell will be a Panther.
Unless the Panthers trade up, they aren’t getting one of those guaranteed generational talents. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is a tier below those three, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will most likely call out his name before Carolina is on the clock.
If the Panthers trade up this year, they would be targeting one of those four guys. Let’s take a look at players draftable at No. 8, who could help turn the franchise around. Unless the Panthers trade up or down, one of these four guys should be playing home games in Charlotte next year.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Micah Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, but his 2019 tape was enough to prove that he is the top linebacker in this class. He is not as cerebral as the middle linebacker that he would be indirectly replacing (Luke Kuechly), but he has similar gap-filling, run-stopping ability. Also, Parsons drops back into coverage extremely well. He hasn’t yet proven that he has the hands to come down with interceptions yet.
He is many analysts’ top defender in the draft and plays the position that is arguably the Panthers’ biggest need. If Micah Parsons falls to No. 8, he would be a steal and would immediately start next to Shaq Thompson. Parsons is versatile enough to rush the passer from the edge or match up with backs and tight ends in coverage. He would be quite the weapon to add to head coach Matt Rhule’s defense.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Patrick Surtain II is the son of the former 3-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Surtain Sr. Surtain II shows the potential to have a similar NFL career to his father. At 6-foot-2, Surtain II has the size to match up with big-bodied NFL receivers.
The Panthers currently lack a true shutdown corner. If the best cornerback in the draft is available at No. 8, the Panthers will be very tempted to take him. After 2021, Donte Jackson’s contract will expire.
Cornerback will be even more of a need if the Panthers are unable to retain him. Surtain would give the Panthers some much-needed young talent at an important position in a pass-happy league, as they continue to rebuild the defense.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
After an unbelievable redshirt freshman season in which he threw for 42 touchdowns with no interceptions, Lance had the clear lead on being the third-best quarterback in the draft class. Then, Zach Wilson happened.
Trey Lance is still an extremely interesting prospect who showcases game manager ability at worst, but flashes big-play ability as well. He was extremely efficient in college, but North Dakota State did not run a pass-heavy offense. His combine is going to be very important for scouts to figure out what Lance may be capable of at the next level.
For the Panthers, Lance may profile as a future franchise quarterback. If the new general manager likes what he sees, he may draft him and let Lance sit for a year, learning under Bridgewater. If Lance is ready to take over after 2021, Bridgewater could be cut for a mere $5 million cap penalty.
Owner David Tepper has made comments this offseason hinting that a quarterback could be drafted this year. If it happens at pick No. 8, it will most likely be Lance.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Last season, the Panthers’ starting tight end, Ian Thomas, put up 20 catches for 145 yards and one touchdown. It sounds like the stat line from a single George Kittle or Travis Kelce game. To say that there could be improvement at the position is an understatement. Kyle Pitts would be an immediate upgrade after destroying SEC defenses throughout the 2020 season.
Pitts is a match-up nightmare. He is basically unguardable by linebackers — most of whom simply do not have the speed to run with him. Pitts bodies most nickel corners and safeties.
An elite tight end may be a luxury that the Panthers cannot afford with so many other glaring needs that are seemingly more pressing; however, Pitts would be an amazing weapon for years to come for Carolina.
After a run of wide receivers and quarterbacks, not a single defensive player will be taken before the Panthers’ pick. The Panthers’ new general manager will decide to stick with the best player available.
With the eighth overall pick, the Carolina Panthers select Micah Parsons, linebacker, Penn State University.