Going into the 2021 NFL Draft, Matt Rhule and company knew they had plenty of work to do on both sides of the ball. While their struggles at corner could’ve led some to label it their biggest need, others could’ve pointed to the other side of the ball, where Carolina desperately needed offensive line help. In response to their needs, the Panthers front office executed five trades over the course of three days to select eleven players, and now it’s time to review those draft picks. With those eleven picks, the Carolina Panthers added the following players:
- First round, 8th overall: Jaycee Horn, cornerback, South Carolina
- Second round, 59th overall: Terrace Marshall Jr., wide receiver, LSU
- Third round, 70th overall: Brady Christensen, offensive tackle, BYU
- Third round, 83rd overall: Tommy Tremble, tight end, Notre Dame
- Fourth round, 126th overall: Chuba Hubbard, running back, Oklahoma State
- Fifth round, 158th overall: Daviyon Nixon, defensive tackle, Iowa
- Fifth round, 166th overall: Keith Taylor, cornerback, Washington
- Sixth round, 193rd overall: Deonte Brown, guard, Alabama
- Sixth round, 204th overall: Shi Smith, wide receiver, South Carolina
- Sixth round, 222nd overall: Thomas Fletcher, long snapper, Alabama
- Seventh round, 232nd overall: Phil Hoskins, defensive tackle, Kentucky
Carolina Panthers 2021 NFL Draft Grade: 9/10
Carolina Panthers 2021 NFL Draft Review: Depth Everywhere
The Best Player: Jaycee Horn
When Carolina opted to select the son of legendary NFL wide receiver Joe Horn in Thursday’s first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, it shocked many analysts and fans alike. However, there’s no reason Panthers’ fans should dislike this pick. Horn fills a position of need for the Panthers, one they’ve been looking to sure up since the departure of James Bradberry last offseason. With this selection, the Panthers give defensive coordinator Phil Snow plenty to work with in the cornerback room, seeing as players like the young Donte Jackson and the newly-signed A.J. Bouye are already on the roster. Horn projects best as an outside corner, where he spent most of his time in 2019 and 2020. While he still has some areas of his game to clean up, Horn was a solid selection for Carolina at the No.8 spot.
The Head-Scratcher: Thomas Fletcher
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the whole draft might came from the Carolina war room on Sunday afternoon. In the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the organization opted to select Alabama long snapper Thomas Fletcher with the 222nd overall pick. This turned many heads, as Fletcher was expected to be picked up by a team as an undrafted free agent. Another reason this pick confused many fans could be because long-time Panthers’ long snapper J.J. Janson isn’t coming off an injury or serving a suspension. As many have speculated, this pick was likely made to put pressure on the older veteran and to spark up some competition in training camp.
The Surprise: Brady Christensen
The surprise with the Panthers drafting BYU OT Brady Christensen with the 70th overall isn’t that they selected him higher than he was projected, it’s that he was available at that spot in the third round. Christensen surprised many coming into the draft, with most mocks having him being selected in the second round. Christensen profiles best as a tackle at the next level, with reports coming out of Carolina stating the team would like to make him Sam Darnold‘s backside protector. If the Panthers can prove they’ve found their franchise left tackle in the third round, Christensen could be one of the biggest surprises of the draft.
The Steal: Terrace Marshall Jr.
Selecting Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft was a great move by the Carolina Panthers. Due to reports of a nagging leg injury, the LSU-product’s draft stock plummeted right before the draft. Originally mocked as a first-rounder, Marshall was selected by Carolina with the 59th overall pick. If Marshall can stay healthy at the next level, Carolina may have selected a first-round player with their second round pick. Marshall impressed scouts leading up to the draft with his excellent size and route-running abilities. In addition to his previously mentioned positives, Marshall also displayed impeccable techniques in front of multiple NFL scouts.
Not only does Marshall have the intangibles to make some noise in Carolina, but he’s also reuniting with his former offensive coordinator Joe Brady. If the Panthers are able to work Marshall into the offense and get decent production from him on the field, they’ve likely found themselves one of the biggest steals in the draft.
Most Likely to Turn Heads During Training Camp: Chuba Hubbard
After watching Mike Davis depart for the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, the Panthers needed to grab another ball-carrier to complement Christian McCaffrey. The team opted to select Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard with the 126th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Hubbard will likely have one of the best chances out of all of the Panthers’ other 2021 selections to shine in camp as he will be the feature back behind Christian McCaffrey. Without much competition from the other ball-carriers in Carolina’s running back room, Hubbard should be able to carry his success over from college to the Carolinas, where he should blossom into a serviceable ball-carrier behind McCaffrey.
Ready or not Panthers’ fans, the organization has themselves another new tight end. After signing former Cardinal Dan Arnold this offseason, the Panthers opted to double up on the position and draft Notre Dame prospect Tommy Tremble. While one of the more under-the-radar players, Tremble has a chance to be successful in the NFL. While not on the same level talent-wise, many analysts have compared Tremble to Kellen Winslow Jr. This is mostly because of his physical blocking technique and his ability to give QBs a big-body target. If the Panthers can begin working Tremble into the offense, he has the chance to be productive at the next level.
Daviyon Nixon is one Panthers’ draftee who could make a difference right away. Giving 2nd-year pass rusher Derrick Brown a big, physical defensive tackle like Nixon may have been one of the best moves Carolina could make. This, of course, depends on how much they value the newly-signed DaQuan Jones. Nixon, at the very least, should be able to make a solid impact as a back-up defensive tackle.
Fifth-rounder Keith Taylor also has a chance to make an impact immediately. The Washington-product impressed scouts with his long frame and lateral quickness. Being drafted by the Panthers in the fifth round, Taylor was the second cornerback off the board for the team behind Horn. Taylor lacks the physicality to be useful in run stopping, which Carolina has notably struggled with. However, Taylor does bring versatility to the team. His ability to play both outside and inside gives the Panthers’ defensive coordinator Phil Snow plenty of options. If the team can find a role on the field for Taylor, he has the chance to become a productive plug-and-play guy.
Late Round Additions
With their first pick in the sixth round, the Panthers opted for more offensive line help. With the 193rd pick, the organization selected massive Alabama guard Deonte Brown. Calling Brown massive could be an understatement, with the guard weighing in at 345 pounds. However, despite his massive size, Brown is actually quite agile. Throughout his film, he shows his quick footwork and can even be labeled as a pulling guard. This addition is perfect for the Panthers, as they desperately needed offensive line depth. Brown provides the team with a large body who can be plugged into either of the guard spots.
After selecting Deonte Brown, the Panthers opted to go a different direction with their next pick. With the 204th overall selection, the Panthers selected wide receiver Shi Smith. The South Carolina product saw his draft stock soar after an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. While there, Matt Rhule and company had a chance to check out the pass-catcher up close and personal. Smith profiles best as a slot receiver, which utilizes his elusive ability to slip past defenders to his advantage. In a crowded receiving room, Smith will need to have a strong camp to find himself a spot on this Panthers’ roster.
With their final selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Panthers selected Kentucky defensive tackle Phil Hoskins. While Hoskins isn’t small by any means, he brings impressive agility to Carolina. Despite starting only one season at Kentucky, Hoskins has some impressive moments on film. If he can have a strong camp, expect him to compete for a depth role.
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