Carolina Panthers: 2021 Draft Pick Analysis

One season after an offseason that saw about as much turnover as the franchise had ever seen, the Carolina Panthers have had another busy and unique offseason, which they culminated by tying their franchise record for the most picks in a single draft. Clearly, the biggest drama of their offseason has surrounded the quarterback position, where the Panthers reportedly struck out on trades for Matthew Stafford and (thankfully?) Deshaun Watson, before settling on Sam Darnold. In the days leading up to the draft, the team shipped incumbent starter Teddy Bridgewater to Denver, which seemed to indicate that they weren’t quite done wheeling and dealing. And they weren’t, but not in the way that I had expected… 

Round 1, Pick 8: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

To be honest, I was pretty surprised to see the Panthers take Horn at 8. I had seen him mocked to them a few times, but I think I had mostly seen that after a trade down. Even then, their demonstrated aggression throughout the offseason led me to wholeheartedly believe that they would still take a quarterback if one fell to them. Personally, I would not feel comfortable with their QB situation if I was with the team—after trading Teddy Bridgewater to Denver, the only quarterbacks on their roster are Sam Darnold, Will Grier, who was barely holding on to a roster spot last year, and undrafted former-XFL player PJ Walker, who showed a few nice things last year but also some really bad things.

Horn certainly fits a need, is the son of a former NFL player, and is considered to be one of the top defensive players in the draft—in fact, Horn was the first one taken. But if the Panthers weren’t going to take a quarterback at 8, I would have preferred that they take a tackle. They spent their entire draft on defense just a year ago, and while the defense left a lot to be desired, they often overachieved last year. The offense, which on paper looked solid, often underachieved because of shoddy offensive line and low-ceiling quarterback play. 

No matter what I think should have happened, Horn has a lot to live up to: before taking Derrick Brown last year (who is still too early into his career to judge), the Panthers had picked in the top 10 of the draft 5 times since 2000, taking Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Christian McCaffrey with those selections.

Round 2, Pick 59: Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU

At one point, I felt like the Panthers were trolling with their picks. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team trade as many times as they did in this draft, setting a franchise record with five separate draft day trades. At one point, they were slated to pick at the 7th pick of the 2nd round. They traded 2.07 for 2.20, then traded down again from 2.20 to 2.27, took a player, then traded up twice in the 3rd round to take players. 

In my mind, receiver wasn’t necessarily a position of need for the Panthers since they have two above average players in DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. However, following the hugely underrated Curtis Samuel’s departure, there’s very little behind that duo. Samuel left a void of over 1000 yards from scrimmage and first downs on half of his catches. I don’t expect Marshall to entirely fill that void—especially with Christian McCaffrey returning from injury—but he projects to fill at least part of it.

Round 3, Pick 70: Brady Christensen, OT, BYU

Finally, an offensive lineman! One of my biggest frustrations with the Panthers is their near complete refusal to invest in offensive lineman in the draft, not just in 2021, but most of the time. The last time they drafted an offensive lineman in the first round was Jeff Otah in 2008. In the 13 drafts since, they have drafted an offensive lineman at any position just five times in the first three rounds, including Brady Christensen this year; meanwhile, the Panthers drafted seven defensive tackles (mind you, a position that you only rarely have more than two of on the field at any given time) during that same time in that same range. I chose a team at random to compare them too, got the Bengals, decided to compare them to a good franchise because it didn’t much prove my point if a bad one had a different OL/DT ratio, and found that the Indianapolis Colts had drafted eight offensive lineman in the first three rounds in the last 13 years. And that includes them not drafting one in the first three rounds since 2018, because it hasn’t been a position of need for the Colts since then. But I’m sure that it’s a coincidence that they are considered to have one of the best lines in football. It’s not like the position hasn’t been one of need: the Panthers have had 14 different players start at left tackle since 2014. So while it’s later than I might have wanted, Christensen is a welcome addition.

Round 3, Pick 83: Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame

I don’t have any analysis for Tommy Tremble. I just want to talk about his name. It’s like, a top five name of all time—not just a football name, a top five name. Raymond Chandler and Stan Lee WISH they would have come up with a name as cool as Tommy Tremble. If Tommy Tremble never catches an NFL pass, it will be because he was too busy wrestling peak Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and the actual Hulk all at once. I would follow someone named Tommy Tremble into combat. If I was fighting in World War II and General Tommy Tremble was like, we don’t really need to storm this hill but it would be nice, I would charge directly into enemy fire with nothing but a butter knife and a few cans of soup. I would say that I would risk my life to carry an injured Tommy Tremble down the hill we stormed to safety, but Tommy Tremble cannot be harmed by something as insignificant as a bullet. 

Okay, one piece of analysis. Apparently Tommy Tremble is more of a blocking tight end, and you know what that means: IT’S DAN ARNOLD TIME!

Jaycee Horn stands in front of a Panthers themed backdrop after being selected by the team in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Photo by Brandon Todd/Carolina Panthers

Round 4, Pick 126: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

The Panthers had a need at backup running back, and they addressed it here with Chuba Hubbard. Christian McCaffrey couldn’t stay on the field last year, leading to a breakout season for the Falcon’s new presumptive starter Mike Davis. McCaffrey’s injuries led the team to be desperate enough to play WR Curtis Samuel (who was, admittedly, a running back in college), and Samuel isn’t on the team anymore either. Hubbard should slot in immediately as the backup, although the odds that he gets snaps when CMC is healthy are low.

Round 5, Pick 158: Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa

Following an injury and eventual release of Kawaan Short, the Panthers ended up starting two rookies at defensive tackle for most of the season: first-round rookie Derrick Brown and sixth-round rookie Bravvion Roy. We’re getting to the point where players are rarely expected to be immediate contributors, but I’m sure few expected Roy to start as many games as he did last season either. Nixon was graded out to be a 3rd or 4th round prospect on some sites, so getting him in the 5th could end up being a steal.

Round 5, pick 166: Keith Taylor, CB, Washington

The Panthers select a second corner in the draft for the second year in a row. Their draft was sort of weird, with the first 6 picks almost mirroring their last 5, and almost in the same order (CB, WR, OL, TE, RB, DT compared to CB, OL, WR, LS, DT). Taylor is slightly taller than Horn (6’3” vs. 6’1”) and should provide depth for the Panthers’ very young defensive unit.

Round 6, Pick 193: Deonte Brown, G, Alabama

After what felt like years eschewing the offensive line in the draft, the Panthers double-down at the position this year. I’m hoping that they don’t need to start Brown this year like I see in some places, but at the very least, Brown contributes depth to a line that will likely still be a weakness this year. 

Round 6, Pick 204: Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina

Shi Smith reunites with his former South Carolina teammate, first round pick Jaycee Horn. Smith adds additional receiver depth following Curtis Samuel’s departure, and is closer in size to mimicking Samuel than Marshall (Samuel is 5’11” and 195lb compared to 6’3” 205lb and 5’10” 190lb for Marshall and Smith respectively). I expect that Marshall would receive the bulk of Samuel’s receiving role, but Smith almost immediately slots in as the Panthers’ fourth wide receiver.

Round 6, Pick 222: Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama

I guess when you set a franchise record for draft picks, six of which are in the fifth round or later, you can just be like, “hey, let’s get wild and draft a long snapper.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Round 7, Pick 232: Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky

One of the weirder things I found out while researching was that Hoskins could have had a seventh year of college eligibility. I would be surprised if Hoskins is a major contributor this year, but his addition provides more depth, which the Panthers clearly need since Bravvion Roy played a big role last year as a sixth-round pick.

Final Thoughts

While I was very surprised by their first pick, the Panthers’ draft nicely addressed several needs. It’s too early to tell if the new additions will give new starter Sam Darnold the support he needs, but the draft was a positive step forward.

Written by Nick Luciano

Nick Luciano received a Master’s in Music Theory from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. He is a film editor at 25YL and cohosts the 25 Yards Later fantasy football podcast for SportsObsessive.

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