With less than two weeks until the 2023 NFL Draft gets underway, the tea leaves suggest that Alabama quarterback Bryce Young will be the Carolina Panthers‘ selection at No. 1 overall. Young has now canceled his remaining pre-draft visits, according to NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero, a potential indication that Young will be the draft’s top pick.
But Carolina’s draft won’t be over after Young comes to the podium. What will the Panthers need to do over the remaining two days of the draft?
The Carolina Panthers Don’t Have Any Glaring Draft Needs
The best thing that an NFL team can do in advance of the draft is to ensure that their roster doesn’t have any obvious holes. That doesn’t mean that every club needs All-Pros at every position — but a baseline level of competence throughout a depth chart will prevent a team from reaching for needs when the draft begins.
The Panthers did just that this offseason. They didn’t spend big — no Carolina free agent signing received $30 million in total value or a contract with a salary of more than $10 million per year. But they added legitimate NFL players at a number of positions.
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Miles Sanders, Adam Thielen, DJ Chark, and Hayden Hurst will give Young a new set of weapons from Day 1. Does this group represent the most talented playmakers in the league? Hardly. But it’s in the middle of the NFL pack, which should be enough if Young is the quarterback Carolina believes he is.
The Panthers brought back center Bradley Bozeman to complete an underrated offensive line that includes two strong tackles in Ikem Ekwonu and Taylor Moton. On defense, lineman Shy Tuttle and safety Vonn Bell will join a depth chart that already includes edge rusher Brian Burns, linebackers Frankie Luvu and Shaq Thompson, and defensive backs Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn.
Aside from quarterback, there isn’t a single position on Carolina’s roster that’s desperately crying out for help. That’s a testament to the work general manager Scott Fitterer and head coach Frank Reich put in this offseason, and it will allow the Panthers to pick the best player available when they’re on the board.
The Panthers Still Have Draft Picks After Moving to No. 1
There’s no question that the Panthers gave up a lot to acquire the No. 1 pick from the Chicago Bears. In addition to wide receiver DJ Moore, Carolina sent the No. 9 pick, the No. 61 pick, a first-round selection in 2024, and a second-round selection in 2025 to the Bears.
However, the Panthers didn’t totally empty out their cupboard to move up the board. Notably, they retained their second-round pick at No. 39 overall. NFL teams can still find immediate contributors at that slot, and Carolina could locate a starter, especially if they select from among this year’s deepest positional groups.
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The Panthers don’t have their original third-round pick, having used that selection to move up for quarterback Matt Corral in 2022. They are also missing choices in the sixth and seventh rounds, having traded those picks for cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Laviska Shenault, respectively.
However, Carolina received a third-round (No. 93) and fourth-round (No. 132) pick as part of last year’s Christian McCaffrey trade. They also still have their organic fifth-rounder.
What Positions Should the Panthers Target?
After presumably selecting Young No. 1, the Panthers can take a best-player-available approach for the remainder of the draft. Still, Carolina should still skew its decision-making in favor of premium positions, at least on Day 2.
Because they’ve papered over their needs, the Panthers don’t have to fill immediate gaps. But they can still draft the most important positions on the field with an eye toward the future.
At No. 39, it wouldn’t be surprising if Carolina targets either another receiver or edge defender. If they can land a starter at one of those positions, that player’s rookie contract would instantly provide immense surplus value for the Panthers.
While Thielen is likely locked in through 2024, Chark only signed a one-year deal. The rest of Carolina’s wide receivers — Shenault, former second-rounder Terrace Marshall Jr., and Damiere Byrd, among others — aren’t good enough in an 11-personnel-focused NFL.
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There’s already a sense that this year’s wide receiver class could fall in the draft, which could leave the Panthers with an attractive option at the top of the second round. Boston College’s Zay Flowers, Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt, and North Carolina’s Josh Downs are all positioned between Nos. 31 and 40 on PFN’s Industry Consensus Board.
On the edge, Burns and Yetur-Gross Matos are both entering their contract years. While Burns is an extension candidate, Gross-Matos hasn’t delivered on the promise that made him a second-round pick in 2020.
The Panthers could be the beneficiaries of an unexpected draft fall by Myles Murphy or Lukas Van Ness, but more realistic options probably include Will McDonald IV (Iowa State), BJ Ojulari (LSU), and Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame).
Carolina could focus on other future needs in the third round and beyond. With Austin Corbett recovering from an ACL tear, interior offensive line depth wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Panthers may not exercise Derrick Brown’s fifth-year option, so another defensive tackle could be on their radar.
Fitter, Reich, and Co. may have already made up their minds at No. 1, but they’ll still have plenty of work to do as the draft progresses. While Young will always be the headliner of the Panthers’ 2023 draft, they have had the opportunity to add several long-term contributors by next Saturday.