2023 NFL Draft: Carolina Panthers
At points in the 2022 season, the Panthers looked like a team primed for a top selection in the NFL Draft. Carolina started the season 1-4, subsequently firing head coach Matt Rhule before trading franchise running back Christian McCaffrey a week later.
The Panthers further dug their hole to a 2-7 start, before turning things around. Interim head coach Steve Wilks, quarterback Sam Darnold, and running back D’Onta Foreman were the unlikely heroes behind the resurgence, leading the team to a 7-10 record. With that said, I can’t imagine Carolina will be content with its roster heading into the 2023 season.
Top Draft Needs: QB, WR, LB
Listen, Sam Darnold wasn’t terrible in 2022. Those are words I never expected to say, but he has certainly played worse. He had the highest passer rating of his career in leading the Panthers to a 4-2 record in his six starts. On top of Darnold, the Panthers have Matt Corral on the roster, a third round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Corral suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason and never got a real chance to show what he can do.
But the Panthers may be in striking distance of landing one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s crop and that’s likely too attractive an opportunity to pass up. I have the Panthers drafting a QB in the first round, then going back to grab him a top target later in the draft. Outside of D.J. Moore, Carolina has Terrace Marshall, Laviska Shenault Jr., and Shi Smith at the receiver position.
All of these guys are good enough to be on NFL rosters, but if you’re relying on them at the top end of your lineup to make plays for a rookie quarterback, I can already tell you how that’s going to go. The Panthers will need to invest in pass catchers in April. On top of wide receiver, I could see them adding a pass-catching tight end as well.
The Panthers defense has some cornerstone pieces, but the linebacker position needs some work. Off-ball linebacker Cory Littleton will be a free agent this offseason and given the trade deadline rumors, there’s a good chance that Shaq Thompson could also be cut as a means to clear cap space.