The NFL Combine is nearing its end with just one more group of prospects left to take the field and try to increase their draft stock. Monday will feature the 2016’s crop of safeties and cornerbacks that include intriguing prospects like Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves III and Darian Thompson with many more talented players to be found as the list goes on.
The Panthers are lucky this year in that their two biggest areas of need happen to be the two deepest positions in this draft. Carolina could use help at both safety and cornerback in the coming season to potentially start alongside Kurt Coleman and to backup Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere on the outside. And here are a few of the prospects that could find themselves in a Panthers jersey next season.
Early Round Stars:
Mackensie Alexander – Clemson
After an extremely strong final two seasons, Mackensie Alexander looks to be one of the top cornerback prospects to look at in the coming draft. The Clemson product has barely any notable statistics to his name because he was rarely tested, essentially locking down an entire side of the field.
Alexander is a confident cornerback, much like the Panthers own Josh Norman, and has shown the ability to elevate his play against top competition. Also similar to Norman, he’s not afraid to get into it with offensive players and will fight for the ball and play tough coverage. He has quick recovery and recognition skills and overall is the kind of fiery personality that can benefit a defense. Alexander is shorter than most teams prefer at corner in today’s NFL and may struggle early in his career against NFL receivers but if by some slim chance he slips to the Panthers’ pick he would certainly be the right pick to make.
Darian Thompson – Boise St.
If the Panthers want to look at a top safety candidate late in the first round, Darian Thompson out of Boise State may be the player they choose to go after. Thompson had incredible interception numbers in his career as a Bronco (19) and is quite the playmaker in coverage. He is a risk taker in coverage which can lead to incredible plays but also has a habit of getting beat deep too often.
He has shown the ability to make plays in the run game, bobbing and weaving through traffic to make plays but at times can get lost and seems unaware of what’s going on around him and can be fooled by smarter quarterbacks. Right now he may be more of a run-stopper despite his interception skills which could take him off Carolina’s radar but if he can develop better overall coverage skills, they may take the risk and snatch him up when they can.
Mid Round Gem:
Cyrus Jones – Alabama
With the Panthers reportedly wanting to give Benwikere a shot to seize the outside spot opposite Norman they will likely be in the market for a new nickelback option which means a player like Cyrus Jones would be a name to watch in preparation for the draft.
Jones’ height (5’9”) and lack of length likely means he’ll be relegated to nickel duties in the NFL. He’s a solid press coverage defender who has a high football character and a constant chip on his shoulder to prove himself. Jones is a tough competitor willing to go at even the best and biggest opponents and is also a premiere returner in this draft; something Carolina could always use. His height and length hampers his coverage abilities overall and his tough press coverage gets him in trouble in against the run game but his positives and work ethic should make him a target for the Panthers to further improve their secondary.
Late Round Sleeper:
Michael Caputo – Wisconsin
One late round prospect that few have heard about outside of the state of Wisconsin is safety Michael Caputo. The Three-year starter is a tackling machine and works his tail off to make plays all over the field and has quietly earned several collegiate honors in his time as a Badger.
Caputo is as tough as it gets, willing to play through pain and still be a defense’s top playmaker and leader. He’s a much better run stopper than pass defender as his lack of speed can hamper his ability to stay with receivers. At the very least Caputo is a special teams workhorse who has the work ethic and determination to potentially improve in coverage and become an underrated contributor to any NFL defense.