Day 2 of on-field drills at the NFL Combine will feature the first set of skill players as quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends are set to take the field.
However, the Panthers aren’t necessarily in the market for any of those positions. At quarterback they have the reigning MVP and one of the league’s top backups in Derek Anderson fresh off a new deal signed last offseason. At tight end, they have one of the NFL’s best in Greg Olsen and quality backups in Ed Dickson and Scott Simonson. And even at receiver, a position that has been an issue for Carolina in recent years; they look to be in pretty solid shape with the return of Kelvin Benjamin to go with the likes of Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown.
A team can never have too many weapons though and if the value is there it’s not inconceivable that the Carolina front office could scoop up a dynamic playmaker or too to add even more firepower to this offense.
Early Round Stars:
Hunter Henry – Arkansas
It’s highly unlikely that Carolina goes for a tight end in the first round. After all they have one of the NFL’s best in Olsen and solid backup options behind him; but then again, no one thought they’d draft a linebacker last year. That’s why Arkansas’ Hunter Henry could still be a viable option at pick 30.
Henry is far and away the best tight end in the 2016 class. He is a tremendous blocker in the running game and has the athleticism and skill to both separate from defenders and make the tough catch or go across the middle and absorb a big hit without fear. The Arkansas junior frankly doesn’t have many weaknesses that couldn’t be fixed and he’s almost assuredly a first round pick because of it. If by some chance he slips through the cracks and is available with the Panthers’ pick late in the first, he could very well be the best player on the board and the easy choice to make.
Braxton Miller – Ohio St.
The thought of a talent like Braxton Miller as the number three wideout manning the slot with Cam Newton at quarterback is quite an enticing thought. And as such, the Panthers should take a long look at Miller in case he lasts until the end of round one.
The Ohio St. product has just one season as a wide receiver under his belt but it was more than enough to show he can make an impact on an NFL team and improve to be a real game-changing threat. His combination of height and speed (he could come close to breaking Chris Johnson’s 40-time record) is impeccable and as a former quarterback has the kind of knowledge and feel that you can’t teach. He has incredible concentration and can go up to get a high ball with good enough hands that can certainly get even better. Miller is also the perfect gadget type player that could be inserted into the Carolina offense and make it even more diverse, and if it’s possible, even better than it was in 2015.
Mid Round Gem:
Sterling Shepard – Oklahoma
Carolina has a pair of speedy receivers already with Ginn and Brown but if he falls to them, a talent like Sterling Shepard would be hard to pass up. The Oklahoma product made his mark as an elite speed receiver and in his senior year, he caught 86 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 scores. His quickness through routes is tremendous and can run a variety of routes on the tree and can make the tough catch when necessary; a plus when strong-armed Newton is your quarterback.
The biggest knock on Shepard is his lack of size and strength as he has the tendency to get erased by tougher, press corners; which he’ll see a lot more of in the NFL. But his skill as a possible number three receiver out of the slot is hard to ignore and he has the positives that could make this Panthers offense near impossible to defend.
Late Round Sleeper:
Jake McGee – Florida
As mentioned previously, the Panthers don’t have a real pressing need at tight end but could stand to add some talent to the mix if they want to. And a tight end like Jake McGee would do just that. With elite hands and knowledge for the position, the Florida tight end can make up for any deficiencies he has. His downside is that he’s and older prospect (24) and has plenty of technical issues to correct in terms of route separation and run blocking.
Overall, McGee would be a project, no different than Simonson was for the team last season. But regardless of his downside, he is positives are enough to give him a chance and his work ethic could very well end up helping him to become a quality tight end in the league, capable of contributing to an offense regularly.