NFL Draft Notebook: Carolina Panthers Get Their QB In 7-Round Mock Draft

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 10: Bryce Young #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Georgia Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 10: Bryce Young #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Georgia Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

In this week’s NFL Draft Notebook, we examine what the Carolina Panthers will do in the 2023 NFL Draft. While it is a certainty the Panthers will go with a quarterback at number one, do they go with C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young? It will also be intriguing to see what young players the team adds to surround their franchise quarterback.

Along with previewing what the Carolina Panthers might do at number one this week’s NFL Draft Notebook also looks at the following

  • Our All-Underrated defensive team
  • The top safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft
  • A few specialists to watch on day three of the draft
  • And much more

NFL Draft Notebook Opener: Carolina Panthers Mock Draft

Round 1, Pick 1: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
The Carolina Panthers gave up a bunch to move from the number nine pick to the first overall selection and they use that pick to get their quarterback of the future. While C.J. Stroud may have the prototypical size, Bryce Young has an elite football IQ and throws a better ball. It will be interesting to see how Frank Reich develops a scheme for a smaller quarterback who prefers to stay in the pocket.

Round 2, Pick 39: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
The Panthers had to move their number one wide receiver D.J. Moore when they traded up for the number one pick. That makes this position a need for the Panthers, despite them signing Adam Thielen and DJ Chark. TCU’s Quentin Johnston is a big-bodied wide receiver who consistently wins the jump ball and is a threat after the catch.

Round 3, Pick 93: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU
The Panthers suffered another loss when starting nickel Myles Hartsfield left for the San Francisco 49ers. With the selection of Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, Carolina finds his replacement. Despite being on the small side, Hodges-Tomlinson was one of the best corners in college football last season winning the Jim Thorpe Award. He allowed just 34.6 of the passes thrown his way to be completed according to Pro Football Focus.

Round 4, Pick 114: Nick Herbig, OLB, Wisconsin
Last season the Carolina Panthers finished 25th in the league in sacks, and finding a pass rusher or two in the draft should be a priority. Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig would compete for the outside linebacker spot opposite Brian Burns next season.

Round 4, Pick 132: Andrew Vorhees, OG, USC
The Panthers lost both of their starting offensive guards Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen to season-ending injuries last season so adding some depth inside would be a wise move for Carolina. While USC’s Andrew Vorhees is another player coming off a serious injury, he would be excellent value this late in the draft. When healthy, Vorhees shows the potential to develop into a starting offensive guard playing with impressive power, and shows the strength to keep the pocket clean for Bryce Young.

Round 5, Pick 145: Josh Whyle, TE, Cincinnati
This offseason Carolina signed Hayden Hurst to a three-year deal, but could still be in the market to add a number two tight end. Cincinnati’s Josh Whyle is an athletic tight end who has been a big part of the Bearcat’s passing game, having caught 68 passes over the past two seasons.

All-Underrated Defensive Team

In order to make the All-Underrated team, a player has to be graded as a day three prospect by Mock Draft Database and be someone I view as a prospect who can make an impact at the next level. Also, be sure to check out the All-Underrated offensive team.

DE: Byron Young, Tennessee
One of the most explosive pass rushers in the 2023 NFL Draft is Tennessee’s Byron Young. Last season, Young recorded seven sacks on the year which led the Vols. As a pass rusher, he tends to win with his 4.43 speed and the agility to turn the corner. It would not be a surprise if he is able to go to an NFL team and record five or six sacks as a rookie.

DT: Colby Wooden, Auburn
An undersized defensive tackle who is getting first-round talk is Calijah Kancey, yet despite only recording 1.5 sacks less Auburn’s Colby Wooden is widely projected as a fourth or fifth-round pick. Two of the reasons why Wooden should be able to continue to harass the quarterback in the NFL are his speed off the ball and his relentless motor.

DT: Keondre Coburn, Texas
While Wooden is a pass-rushing defensive tackle Keondre Coburn is a stout run defender. Coburn uses his 332-pound frame to clog up running lanes and disrupt blocking schemes. He also moves well for a player his size and displays the ability to make plays in the backfield.

DE: Habakkuk Baldonado, Pittsburgh
Over the past two seasons, Baldonado has recorded 11 sacks, despite missing significant time due to injuries. As a prospect, he has impressive size coming in at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds. In addition to his size, he also shows a good burst off the ball for a bigger defensive end and plays with the strength to hold up vs. the run.

OLB: Bumper Pool, Arkansas
One of the most underrated players in the 2023 NFL Draft is Bumper Pool. Despite being one of the most productive players in college football the past couple of seasons recording 441 tackles he still carries an undrafted free agent grade by Mock Draft Database and The Athletic. At the bare minimum expect him to be a key player on special teams, and he could make an impact similar to what Lion’s rookie Malcolm Rodriguez did last season.

MLB: Owen Pappoe, Auburn
Auburn’s Owen Pappoe may lack ideal size coming in at only 6-foot and 225 pounds, but he is one of the quicker linebackers in the 2023 NFL Draft. This speed allows him to make tackles sideline to sideline and also hold up well in coverage. If he can continue to improve his football IQ, he should be able to have a long career in the NFL.

OLB: Nick Herbig, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig is one of the more underrated pass rushers in the 2023 NFL Draft. Last season, he led the nation by averaging one sack a game and has a total of 20 sacks over the past two years. While his top asset is getting after the quarterback, he also holds up well against the run and if he can improve in pass coverage he could become a starter in the NFL.

CB: Terell Smith, Minnesota
A player who has all the NFL measurables is Minnesota’s, Terell Smith. His top measurable is his 4.41 speed which allows him to match up with even the quickest receivers. He also has the size to play press coverage or come up and be a force vs. the run.

S: Christopher Smith II, Georgia
Even though Christopher Smith II may lack great measurables (coming in at 5-foot-11) and running the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds, his play on the field is impressive. Smith is an aggressive player who does a great job playing downhill against the run. He is also a proven playmaker having recorded five tackles for loss and three interceptions last year.

S: Jay Ward, LSU
One of the more versatile players in this year’s NFL Draft is Jay Ward. During his time with the Tigers, Ward has played cornerback, nickel, and safety. In addition to being one of the better covermen at LSU, Ward has also helped out on special teams having blocked two kicks.

CB: Cory Trice, Purdue
Purdue’s Cory Trice is a player we talked about in last week’s NFL Draft Notebook as a possible sleeper. What stands out about him is his ability to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage at 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds.

Top Five Safties in the 2023 NFL Draft

1. Brian Branch, Alabama
There should be no doubt that Alabama’s Brian Branch is the top safety in the 2023 NFL Draft. He has the skill set to step in as a day-one starter and is the only safety who carries a first-round grade. What stands out about him is how physical he is which makes him an ideal strong safety in the NFL. In addition to his play against the run, he also holds up well against the pass. In this area, he shows the ability to hold up against quick slot receivers and at the same time not be out physicalled by tight ends.

2. Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
A versatile safety in this draft class is Texas A&M’s, Antonio Johnson. Johnson is an aggressive run defender who can play in the box, but at the same time shows the coverage ability to line up at free safety or even as a nickel cornerback at times. Look for some team to get a good value pick when they take Johnson in the second round.

3. Christopher Smith, Georgia
Georgia’s Christopher Smith is a member of the All-Underrated team due to his playmaking ability and the fact he could compete for a starting job as a rookie. If Smith falls to day three of the 2023 NFL Draft, the team that drafts him will be getting an excellent value pick.

4. Jay Ward, LSU
LSU’s Jay Ward is a player you can count on giving all-out effort play after play. He shows excellent aggression against the run and is not afraid to come up and hit the ball carrier despite being on the lighter side. He was also one of LSU’s better covermen having seen plenty of time at cornerback for the Tigers. At the bare minimum expect him to be a good special teams player and it wouldn’t be a shock if he ended up starting in the NFL.

5. Sydney Brown, Illinois
One of the better ballhawks in the 2023 NFL Draft is Illinois’ Sydney Brown. Last season, Brown led the Big Ten and finished third in the nation with six interceptions. When looking at where he fits in the NFL he will likely fit more as a strong safety than free safety despite his impressive ball skills. The reason he fits better at this spot is his aggressiveness vs the run, his strength that allows him to play in the box, and the fact he is a little stiff which can hurt him in coverage.

NFL Draft Scouting Notes

— Tennesee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt recently visited the New York Giants, and this connection could make sense at the end of the first round. The Giants’ biggest draft need going into April is wide receiver, and Hyatt will likely hear his name called either late in the first or early second round. Hyatt would give the Giants a deep threat and would open up room for Darren Waller and Wan’Dale Robinson to work in the short to intermediate passing game.

— One player who has surprisingly had a quiet draft process is North Carolina’s Josh Downs. Downs has not had any visits with any NFL teams, which is rare for a top-75 prospect. Despite this lack of action, Downs is one of the better slot receivers in the NFL and should be able to make a significant impact next season. Two traits that really stand out with Downs is his ability to catch the ball in traffic and how well he picks up yards after the catch. He also should be able to help on special teams having averaged 13.3 yards per punt return last season.

— A kicker who could hear his name called in the sixth or seventh round is Christopher Dunn of North Carolina State. This past season he connected on an impressive 97% of his kicks including going 10 of 11 from over 40 yards. Dunn is also far from a one-year wonder starting for five years for the Wolfpack and is the school’s career scoring leader. The biggest concern with him is he has just average NFL leg strength.

— While North Carolina State’s Christopher Dunn is my second-ranked kicker behind Jake Moody, my top punter in the 2023 NFL Draft is Michael Turk. What stands out about Turk is his impressive leg strength averaging over 46 yards each season he was in college and he has a career-long of a ridiculous 85 yards. He is also will be one of the more athletic punters in the NFL having run the 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds. It is also worth noting that he had a better hang time and allowed fewer yards per punt than Bryce Baringer who other people have rated as the top punter in the class.

— Every year we see a player who is getting top-ten talk, yet falls in the NFL Draft. This year that player could be Kentucky’s Will Levis. While Levis has regularly been mocked in the top five of the NFL Draft, look for him to fall towards the middle or even the end of the first round. The main reason for this is how unpolished his game is. He struggles with reading defenses at times and seems to be of the mindset that he doesn’t need to throw with any touch. It also has to be concerning how much his game regressed last season, even though his supporting cast was not at the same level it was in 2021.

— With this being the last regular NFL Draft Notebook of the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, it is becoming clear that my top-rated player in the 2023 NFL Draft will be Texas running back Bijan Robinson. When watching Robinson it is clear he has all the skills to be a franchise running back, showing a great combination of speed and power. While it is extremely unlikely Robinson will be the number one pick or even a top ten selection he is one of the few players in this draft who can be the best at his position in the NFL. To see how the rest of the players in the 2023 NFL Draft grade out make sure to check out next week’s article as it will include all of our final position rankings.

Quote of the Week

“He is an absolute dude. He’s the guy who people listened to on that defense. Worst-case scenario, he will be a great special teams guy.”

-A regional scout to on LSU’s Jay Ward