This past weekend was an exciting week in the NFL as we saw several big upsets including the Arizona Cardinals knocking off the Dallas Cowboys and the Texans winning their first game of the season over Jacksonville. However, one thing that didn’t change is the Carolina Panthers ability to find the win column. In this week’s Inside the War Room, we look at what the Panthers might do with their second-round pick, which also happens to be their first selection in the 2024 NFL Draft.
In addition to identifying a few players, the Carolina Panthers should target next April this week’s article also talks about ten NFL Draft prospects who had outstanding performances last weekend. We also preview a matchup in the Colorado and USC game all NFL Draft fans should be watching this coming Saturday, and much more.
Three wide receivers who make sense for the Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are off to a disappointing start this season losing their first three games of the season. One of the biggest reasons for this is a lack of playmakers on the Panther offense, which has resulted in Carolina currently being 24th in points per game. This lack of high-quality skill players has led Bryce Young to struggle having just averaged just 4.2 yards per pass attempt, which is the fewest in a quarterback’s first two career starts in the Super Bowl era according to NFL Research.
The biggest weakness on the Panther offense currently is wide receiver, as they have struggled to get any type of separation all season long. This position could also be an even bigger question mark this offseason as well with starting wide receivers DJ Chark set to be a free agent, and Adam Thielen turning 34 next season. The team’s only young and upcoming player at this spot is 2023 second-round pick Jonathan Mingo who has a total of eight catches this season.
The lack of production and uncertainty at this position will make adding a wide receiver in the 2024 NFL Draft a top priority. Unfortunately, for the Panthers, the top wide receivers will be out of reach since the team traded their first-round pick to move up and select Bryce Young last April. However, there are a couple of prospects Carolina could add who would instantly upgrade their offense.
One of the top players who could be available when Carolina has their first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft which will likely be a top 40 pick is Washington’s Rome Odunze. Odunze is a 6-foot-3 215-pound wide receiver who has elite speed for a player his size, running the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds. In addition to his elite measurables, he produced at an extremely high level already catching 27 passes this season including catching eight passes for 180 yards against Michigan State earlier this month.
Another wide receiver the Carolina Panthers would be wise to consider in the second round especially if Rome Odunze is off the board is Malik Nabers of LSU. Like Odunze, Nabers has put up strong numbers this season including having the top NFL Draft performance of Week 3 when he caught 13 passes for 239 yards against Mississippi State. While Nabers doesn’t possess the size Odunze does he is one of the more physical wide receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft, displaying both the ability to break tackles after the catch or outmuslce defenders to make the difficult catch in traffic.
If the Panthers decide to wait until day three of the 2024 NFL Draft South Carolina’s Xavier Legette would make a ton of sense. This season has been a breakout year for Legette who already has more receptions than he did last season. This includes accounting for 178 yards in the season opener against North Carolina, and 189 yards this week against Mississippi State. Legett would also be able to help out on special teams. This is due to his dangerous ability as a return man averaging 29.4 yards per punt return in 2022 which broke the school record that was formerly held by current San Fransico 49er Deebo Samuel.
While it is impossible to predict which wide receiver the Carolina Panthers will take next April, one thing that is certain is that the Panthers will be keeping a close eye on these receivers for the rest of the college football season.
Top NFL Draft Performances of Week Four
The following is a list of pro prospects who shined during week four of college football
1. Maxwell Hairston, CB, Kentucky: One word Kentucky cornerback Maxwell Hairston uses to describe himself is greedy, and he was just that in his game against Vanderbilt. Against the Commodores he picked off not one but two passes and returned both of them for touchdowns. Hariston is the first player in school history to have two pick-sixs in a game.
2. Kyle Kennard, DE, Georgia Tech: A player who has quietly had a strong start to the season is Georgia Tech defensive end Kyle Kennard. He was named the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week earlier this year when he collected five tackles, one forced fumble, and also picked off a pass against South Carolina State. He had another impressive week this week as well being just the fourth player in school history to have four sacks in a game.
3. Jonah Elliss, DE, Utah: Another defensive end who is improving his NFL Draft stock this year is Utah’s Jordan Elliss. Elliss already has 5.5 sacks on the year which leads the nation. This includes the 3.5 sacks he had against UCLA on Saturday. In addition to being a dominant pass rusher in this game, he also was a force vs. the run picking up five tackles for loss and helped hold the Bruins to just nine rushing yards.
4. Naiem Simmons, WR, South Florida: Naiem Simmons had his first big game at South Florida after transferring from Wagner this offseason. He was able to haul in eight passes for 272 yards and one touchdown against Rice. This includes five receptions that went for over 40 yards. His 272 receiving yards are a school history and was also the second most in American Athletic Conference History.
5. DJ Giddens, RB, Kansas State: While it is doubtful that DJ Giddens will enter the 2024 NFL Draft, he showed he is a prospect worth watching. Giddens who was filling in for the injured Treshaun Ward sure took advantage of being the team’s number-one back rushing for 207 yards and picking up 86 yards through the air, both of which led the team. He also scored a very impressive four touchdowns.
6. Lideatrick Griffin, WR, Mississippi State: Mississippi State’s Lideatrick Griffin was known for his return skills before Saturday’s game against South Carolina having led the nation in kickoff return yards in 2022. However, on Saturday he showed he is a dangerous receiver as well. He had a monster first half accounting for 205 receiving yards and finished the game with 256 receiving yards.
7. Peny Boone, RB, Toledo: Peny Boone’s season was off to a slow start rushing for under 40 yards in the first two games of the season. In the last two games though he has rushed for 123 yards vs. San Jose State and 211 yards last Saturday against Western Michigan.
8. Karene Reid, OLB, Utah: Another Utah defender to make this list is linebacker Karen Reid. Reid made the play of the game in the team’s 14-7 win over UCLA picking off a pass in the first quarter, and returned it for a touchdown. In addition to this critical play, he was able to come away with nine tackles and one tackle for loss.
9. Cameron Ward, QB, Washington State: It was just another week for Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward who has now thrown for over 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in three of the four games he has played this year. In his game against Oregon State, he completed 82% of his passes while throwing for 404 yards. He is definitely a prospect who is seeing his stock rise this season.
10. Xavier Legette, WR, South Carolina: South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Legette is a player who has seen his production skyrocket. This season he has already tripled his receiving production from 167 yards in 2022 to 556 yards this year. He has also had more receiving yards in a game twice this season than he did all of last year. This past Saturday he had the best game of his career hauling in five passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
NFL Draft Matchup to Watch in Week 5
Last weekend, was an eye-opener for the Colorado Buffalos as they got their butts kicked by Oregon 42 to 6. This week the Buffalos will face another tough task when eighth-ranked USC Trojans come to Boulder. While there is no doubt the Trojans will be able to put up points in this game the question will be can they contain the Colorado passing game.
This will likely be a difficult task for USC since they have struggled mightily on defense already this year. The Trojans rank 70th in the nation in both total yards and passing yards per game. They have also had trouble not giving up the big play in the passing game with teams averaging over 15 yards per completion. Meanwhile, Colorado is led by Shedeur Sanders who is second in the nation in passing yards per game throwing for 353 yards per game. If the Trojans are to contain Sanders they will need a big game from their highest-rated defensive back Calen Bullock which is our NFL Draft matchup of the week.
There is no doubt Colorado Shedeur Sanders has looked like a high-level college quarterback in his first four starts of the season, although the top ten talk he is receiving is too high in my opinion. One area he has excelled at is throwing with terrific accuracy currently completing 77% of his passes, and consistently throwing the ball right where the wide receiver needs the ball. He has also taken care of the ball this season, having thrown just one pick on 169 attempts.
One of the biggest concerns with him though is his pocket awareness. He has already taken 22 sacks this season, and while a lot of the blame has to go to Colorado’s very average offensive line some of the blame also has to be placed on Sanders. The reason why he should shoulder some of the blame is that he does tend to hang onto the ball longer than he should at times, and also could go through his reads quicker.
This will likely present plenty of problems for Colorado as USC excels at getting to the quarterback averaging four sacks a game. The Buffalo’s will also need to make sure they stay away from USC safety Calen Bullock. Bullock is a ballhawk who picked off five passes last season and already has one this season.
In addition to his ability to create the critical turnover, Bullock also shows impressive range in the passing game which makes him one of the top free safeties in the 2024 NFL Draft. He also is not afraid to come down and support the run but his lack of proper technique in this area causes him to miss some tackles.
Overall, in this matchup, I look for the Trojans to come out with the victory since I don’t think Colorado can stop their offense. However, I also think this will be a way more competitive game for the Buffalo’s than what they showed last week against Oregon since they should be able to put more than six points on the board in this game.
NFL Draft Scouting Notes
— There is no doubt that Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall made the play of the week if not the year with his one-handed catch against Charlotte. On this catch, he showed terrific hands, body control, and also concentration. These are three traits that consistently show up on his film this year as well as he has already caught 26 passes this season and has over 90 yards receiving in all but one game.
— Iowa was dealt a major blow last week when it was announced tight end Luke Lachey will miss the rest of the season due to an injury he suffered against Western Michigan. Lachey was the Hawkeyes’ go-to target in the passing game leading the team in both receptions and yards. As far as his draft grade he was rated as the third-best tight end on my board before the injury.
— Speaking of Big Ten tight ends who have seen their draft stock fall another one who fits that category is Minnesota’s Brevyn Spann-Ford. Spann-Ford has had his share of drops including four passes in the first three games of the year. This is quite a disappointment for a tight end who hauled in 42 passes last year. It also raises questions on if he will be just a blocking tight end due to his inconstant hands and lack of overall speed.
— A running back who has gone from a player not even carrying a priority free agent grade at the start of the season to a day three grade currently is TCU’s Emani Bailey. Bailey started his career off at Louisiana and his best season was when he rushed for 642 yards which made him the team’s third leading rusher. This past season he only carried the ball 31 times for the Horned Frogs but did show impressive glimpses leading the Big 12 in yards per carry with an average of 8.1 yards per rush. So far this season though he is one of the leading rushers in college football having already rushed for 483 yards, including picking up 164 yards vs. Colorado. As a pro prospect, he is a smaller back who possesses impressive quickness.
— Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen is finally starting to look like the back people expected him to be going into the season. After starting the season slow being held to under 100 yards in two of the first three games of the season, he looked like a possible day-two pick against Purdue on Friday night. Against the Boilermakers he rushed for 116 yards on just 16 carries and also scored two touchdowns. The most impressive thing about his night was the power he ran with consistently breaking tackles.
— A team that attended the Iowa Penn State game was the Chicago Bears, and a prospect they were likely paying close attention to was offensive tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu. Fashanu is my top tackle in the 2024 NFL Draft due to his combination of impressive strength, high football IQ, and quick feet. He would likely replace Braxton Jones who is a solid but not elite NFL starter.
— One of the more intriguing day-three wide receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft is Jacob Cowing. Cowing has caught at least seven passes in each of his last three games, and while his yards per catch is not overly impressive that is mainly due to very average quarterback play. As a pro prospect, he is a shifty wide receiver who is dangerous after the catch and has the skill set to also help out as a return man at the next level.
— Stanford’s Joshua Karty finally missed a kick this weekend after connecting on 18 of 18 kicks last year and making all seven of his field goals in the first three games. In his game against Arizona, he ended up missing two field goals with both of them coming from 51-yards away. While this was not the type of day Karty was hoping for he is still the top kicker in the 2024 NFL Draft due to his consistency, accuercey, and leg strength. Look for teams to consider drafting Karty in the fifth or sixth round next April.
NFL Draft Quotes of the Week:
“I think Cam deserves to be mentioned with the best quarterbacks in the country, period. I think he continues to show that, and I think nationally we undervalue him and what he’s doing.”
Washington State Head Coach Jack Dickert on quarterback Cameron Ward
“Listen, head coach, quarterback, we’re gonna take the heat, and that just comes with the territory, so you own that, and you understand that when you’re in that position, and Bryce understands that for the position he’s in. I can tell you this, certainly our struggle on offense, it’s not one person. Again, we’ll look at the film, but I thought Bryce did some really positive things, made some plays with his feet, made some good decisions, made good throws, showed plenty of things that we want to see, so I was encouraged by that.”
Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich on quarterback Bryce Young
“He’s the Senior Bowl’s highest graded sub-FBS player based off junior tape and has a chance to join small-school guys like Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Cole Strange, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning and North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch, who became Top-50 picks after strong weeks in Mobile.”
Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy on Yale offensive tackle Kiran Amegadjie via On3
“Forty-four is a manchild but he doesn’t always play with his hair on fire. What he did against Penn State, it was unbelievable, one of the greatest performances you’ve ever seen from that position. But you don’t see it that much.”
A Big Ten coach on Ohio State defensive end JT Tuimoloau via ESPN
“I have a long ways to go. We talk about it every single day, leave a lot of meat left on the bone. I still have so much to grow as a player. I feel like I’m just barely scratching the surface right now.”
Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman
“He’s playing out of his mind right now. I saw that he was 13 of 13 at halftime. It’s kind of like when a pitcher has a no-hitter going. I didn’t want to say anything to him. But he’s a big-time player and then, being able to run for some first downs. He’s a better athlete than people give him credit for. He did an awesome job for us tonight.”
South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer on quarterback Spencer Rattler
“Everything I do, I do it like it’s the most important thing ever in my life. If I’m taking a test, it’s the biggest test I’ve taken in my life. “At the end of the day, if you can look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘I gave everything I had,’ that’s all you can ask for.”
Holy Cross linebacker Jacob Dobbs via Go Holy Cross
“If you said somebody who has had the best offseason, it would be Denzel Burke. He’s almost rededicated himself: his body, his work ethic, his habits, everything has been off the chart. If he continues on this trend, you’re going to see him play at a high level.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day on cornerback Denzel Burke via ESPN
“There is no excuse for not playing Nebraska football. We hear a lot of excuses. You can hear them if you want to. ‘Ah, well, I’m a little banged up.’ We’re a little banged up. We’re a little tired. We’ve been through a lot. Who cares?”
Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule