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There have been multiple reports about what the Panthers are looking to do when it is their turn to pick at No. 8. The rumor that has received the most buzz is that they are looking to trade down. Call it a smoke-screen if you want, but new general manager Scott Fitterer comes from an organization (Seattle) that trades back nearly every year so these reports should be taken seriously.
If the Panthers do trade down, they will likely move back into the mid to late first round. Let’s look at five prospects who they would likely consider in that range.
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech 6-foot-2, 197 lbs
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One of the best overall talents in this year’s class, Farley has seen his draft stock fall over the past few weeks after undergoing a microdiscectomy (removing a damaged section of a herniated disc) in his back on March 23. Although he has received a “green light” from his doctors and NFL trusted doctors, some teams are still concerned with his injury complications. However, Farley could be one of the biggest steals of the draft if he can stay healthy. He has only been playing corner for two years, but looks like a seasoned veteran on film. He is about as natural of a corner as it comes and is tremendous in coverage, especially man to man. Due to Virginia Tech’s scheme, Farley did not play a whole lot of press coverage in college. However, he is a long and lanky corner that loves using his physicality and excellent ball skills to beat receivers. He has silky smooth hips, quick transitions and superb instincts attacking the ball. Farley has a natural gift to be sticky in coverage and will undoubtedly be able to play more of a press-man role in the NFL. This fit would be perfect in the Panther defense and take pressure of Donte Jackson to perform as CB1 with his undersized frame. Farley is long, athletically gifted, and plays with the toughness needed to cover top-tier receivers at the next level. Again, Farley’s success will be continent on his health, but if he can stay healthy he would elevate Carolina’s defense to the next level.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State 6-foot-2, 245 lbs
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Parsons is another prospect who has seen his stock slip a bit since the start of the draft process. Some off the field issues and character concerns have coaches re-thinking his evaluation even though he is one of the best overall talents in this year’s class. Some projections even show Parsons falling all the way to the end of the first round. Parsons is a freak athlete with tremendous versatility. He can play inside and off ball linebacker, as a stand-up edge rusher and even as a base end with his hand in the dirt. Speed, burst and instincts are all strengths of Parsons that he uses to get after the quarterback and stuff run plays on a consistent basis. He’s small for his position, but he doesn’t play like it. Parsons’ 6-foot-2 frame is well-built and very compact, which allows him to turn speed into power when rushing the passer. Parsons uses his speed to reach ball carriers sideline to sideline and has natural instincts to plug up the run game. However, his greatest strength is his ability to blitz. Head coach Matt Rhule has said it time and time again – he loves versatility. Parsons is a very similar mold to recent addition Haason Reddick and can bring the same kind of positional versatility. If the Panthers go this route, Parsons would give an immediate boost to Carolina’s defense and essentially complete their front seven.
Christian Darrisaw, LT, Virginia Tech 6-foot-5, 314 lbs
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Darrisaw possesses a tremendous frame: long arms, quick feet, a powerful lower half, and extremely strong hands. He does a splendid job of squaring up his blocks when handling speed rushers and re-positioning his feet to give himself a stable base in his pass sets. He is also a mauler in the run game as he displays excellent mobility out in space and strong ability to hit his pull/outside zone blocks. Darrisaw has gone up against some of the best edge rushing talent in college football (Duke’s Chris Rumph, Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham, and Miami’s Quincy Roche) and has absolutely stymied every one of them. There is a bit of concern with how he handles speedy edge rushers, but overall he displays a tremendous understanding of how to use his top-notch athleticism, strength, and fundamentals to eliminate pass rushing threats. Carolina has had a serious problem the past 8-9 years at left tackle, and even in a trade down scenario into the mid-first round they would still be able to get a franchise player in Darrisaw. He would fill a huge position of need, fit like a love into Carolina’s offense, and likely be one of the best players available on the board.
Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina 6-foot-1, 205 lbs
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Some teams have Horn as the number one corner on their boards, but he is still likely to be picked within the 10 to 15 range. Horn is a tough, lanky, physical and athletically gifted DB. He is tremendous in press coverage, an alpha at the catch point and excellent in zone. Speed is not his strong suit on film, but Horn ran a 4.39 second forty at his pro day showing up all his doubters. He has shown on film that he can shut down physical wide receivers, such as Auburn’s Seth Williams. Horn also displays great play strength in his tackling ability and with his hands at the catch point. He is the definition of a physical, ball-hawking, outside corner. Horn is fine in man coverage but, because of his physical play style, he gets a bit grabby with his hands and occasionally draws pass interference flags because of it. He also is a bit stiff in the hips while flipping into his transition and has been burned before by speedsters such as Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz. However, Horn projects really well to the NFL. He can make an immediate impact covering the league’s most physical receivers in zone-heavy schemes and can take over the number one corner role for the Panthers. Again, this pick would fill a strong position of need while getting one of the best player’s available if the Panthers traded back into the mid-first.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/OG, USC 6-foot-4, 300 lbs
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Vera-Tucker’s draft stock has steadily increased throughout the offseason due to his tremendous play at USC over the past two seasons. Even though he will likely be selected in the top 15 to 25, he is considered one of the “safer” prospects in this year’s class. Vera-Tucker aligned at left tackle for the Trojans where he put out some excellent film. He is a superb athlete at his position, plays with outstanding balance and strength throughout his frame, and is a mauler in the run game. Everything Vera-Tucker does well stems from his athleticism; he is such a silky-smooth mover out in space or getting to the second level, his pass sets look so effortless with his graceful kickslides, and his re-direct ability along with his balance is unparalleled. However, the one major negative that comes with him is his lack of length. Vera-Tucker measured in with 32 1/8 inch arms at his pro day which is very concerning for a potential left tackle at the next level. NFL teams prefer players with an absolute minimum of 33 inch arms, and Vera-Tucker is well below that. It did not cause him much trouble at USC, but trying to land that punch on the outside shoulder of an elite speed rusher in the NFL (Brian Burns) might give him fits. Most teams see Vera-Tucker as a guard at the next level simply due to his lack of length. He does have plenty of experience at guard though which makes him a potentially versatile piece along any offensive front. Surely you would want to see him succeed at left tackle, but it is also the reason why he is considered such a safe pick – his realistic worst case scenario is that he turns out to be a high level guard at the next level. If the Panthers make him the pick in a trade-down scenario, they should start him at left tackle to see how he adapts. They have been longing for a franchise left tackle for years now and, especially with his versatility, there is nothing wrong with “letting him fail” a left tackle before moving him inside to guard. [vertical-gallery id=635518]