Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State athletics
Scott Fitterer’s first draft as the Carolina Panthers’ general manager ended with some steals.
Here’s a look at Carolina’s picks from Saturday:
Round 4, Pick 126: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Day 3 started in the same mold as Day 2: with a trade back. The Carolina Panthers traded pick 109 (fourth round) to the Tennessee Titans for the 126th overall pick (fourth round), the 166th overall pick (fifth round), and the 232nd overall pick (seventh round). This trade broke the record for most trades in a single draft in Carolina franchise history.
When pick No. 126 arrived, the Panthers drafted the best running back available, snagging Chuba Hubbard. Hubbard was extremely productive in college. He led FBS with 2,094 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns in 2019.
Hubbard may have fallen in the draft due to some analysts view of Hubbard as a one-dimensional running back. He was rarely used as a receiver in college, which is an important skill for an NFL running back. The Panthers hope to develop this ability; however, as is, Hubbard is the perfect compliment for the elite receiving back Christian McCaffrey.
Hubbard is a hard-nosed runner, who like Mike Davis (the guy Hubbard is replacing) is rarely going to get pulled down by the first tackler. He keeps his legs churning and keeps working for extra yards. Hubbard will immediately serve as the second-string running back, backing up McCaffrey and getting some rushing snaps to preserve the star’s body.
Round 5, Pick 158: Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
The Panthers stayed put on their next pick and selected the best defensive tackle available, which was Daviyon Nixon. Nixon is 6-foot-3 and 313 pounds with the longest arms of any defensive tackle in the draft. He has an explosive get-off, which helped him lead the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 13.5.
Many analysts had Nixon getting drafted in the third or fourth round, so the Panthers drafting him in the fifth was a steal. Nixon will most likely come off the bench with Derrick Brown and free agent signing DaQuan Jones slated to be the starting defensive tackles. Jones is only on a one-year deal, so Nixon will work to take over the starting job in 2022.
Round 5, Pick 166: Keith Taylor, CB, Washington
Next, the Panthers doubled up on cornerbacks. Keith Taylor showed out at the Senior Bowl with Carolina head coach Matt Rhule and company in attendance. Taylor has the desired size (6-2) for the position.
He has great press and mirror coverage abilities; however, he lacks ball skills right now. He never made an interception in college.
Carolina will view Taylor as a project outside cornerback. In 2020, Dante Jackson, A.J. Bouye, and Jaycee Horn are going to be the starting cornerbacks. Taylor will have time to develop ball skills and potentially fill the void left by Jackson, if the Panthers are unable or unwilling to re-sign him after this season.
Round 6, Pick 193: Deonte Brown, G, Alabama
With their first pick in the sixth round, the Panthers selected Deonte Brown, a massive force on the interior of the offensive line. He’s 6-3 and 345 pounds. He never gave up a single sack during his time with Alabama.
Brown may have fallen in the draft due to his weight, but he is certainly a steal for Carolina. He uses his weight to his advantage, and he moves well for his size. Some analysts had Brown as high as a second- or third-round prospect, so his selection has amazing value in the sixth.
Brown played mostly right guard in 2019 and left guard in 2020, showing versatility to play either for the Panthers. He will come in and compete for a starting role on the offensive line right away.
Round 6, Pick 204: Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
Following this selection, the Panthers selected Shi Smith, a wide receiver from South Carolina, with the 204th overall pick. Smith joins the likes of Sydney Rice, Alshon Jeffrey, Deebo Samuel, and Bryan Edwards on a long list of pass catchers selected in the NFL Draft from South Carolina. Smith projects as a slot receiver, but may have upside as a returner as well.
Smith was productive during his four years at South Carolina, quickly earning a starting role as a freshman. He totaled 174 receptions for 2,204 yards and 13 touchdowns during his four-year career. He is agile and an excellent route runner with as great hands.
Smith has a chance to impact this team as early as this season. He could win the starting slot receiver job over David Moore, especially if the Panthers choose to use Terrace Marshall Jr. more on the outside. Regardless, Carolina added yet another weapon to one of the better wide receiver rooms in the league.
Round 6, Pick 222: Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama
The next Panther selection surprised some. The Panthers selected Thomas Fletcher, the top long snapper in the NFL Draft.
He won the Patrick Mannelly Award for best long snapper in college football in 2020. Thomas Fletcher’s reaction to getting drafted was one of the better moments that came from the draft.
Longtime Panthers long snapper J.J. Jansen is 35 years old. Even though he signed a one-year deal for 2021, he’s moving toward the end of his career. Fletcher appears to be his successor, and if his career is anything like Jansen’s, utilizing a sixth-round pick on a long snapper will be totally justified.
Round 7, Pick 232: Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky
Finally, the Panthers selected Phil Hoskins, a Kentucky defensive tackle, with their final pick of the draft. Hoskins has the size needed for the position (6-5, 315 pounds).
Defensive tackle depth was much-needed going into the draft. Even though Hoskins may not project as a starter, he has a chance of making the roster as the fifth defensive tackle on the depth chart.
UDFA: David Moore, G, Grambling State
After the draft ended, the Panthers added one more player, who has a chance of making the 53-man roster. David Moore was a standout guard at Grambling State. He performed well at the Senior Bowl, but that was his first game action since 2019.
He was a left guard throughout college, but took snaps at center at the Senior Bowl. Moore ended up winning the award for best offensive lineman on the American team at the Senior Bowl. He has a good wingspan and weight for the position, even though he may be a little short (6-1). He has the upside to be a starting guard in the NFL.
All in all, the Carolina Panthers got better on Day 3. They drafted several players who should have been taken earlier in the draft. This team is now ready to go to Training Camp and should have good competition to make the 53-man roster.