Northwestern v Rutgers

Source: Corey Perrine / Getty

The Carolina Panthers shook up several NFL Draft boards by trading for NY Jets’ QB Sam Darnold earlier this month. While the team won’t need to take a gamble on a quarterback with the eighth overall pick, they’re likely to add some depth on the offensive line to protect the former Southern Cal prospect.

A handful of NFL experts have weighed in on who they believe the Panthers will snag as their first round pick. Here are some of the projections a little over a week before the opening night of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Slater leads most projections 

An overwhelming majority of pundits say Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater will be Carolina’s top pick in 2021.

The 6-foot-4, 304 pound battle-ready workhorse would anchor the Panthers’ offensive line with the top priority of protecting Darnold. A lot of teams are high on Slater because of his ability to take contact and has shown he’s able to “operate with confidence;” especially against last year’s No. 2 overall pick Chase Young.

“Over his last two seasons of action, he ranks above average in every stable metric compared to recent NFL-caliber prospects.” -Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus

“Now, they elect to bring in a stud tackle in Slater to protect Darnold going forward.” -Tyler Sullivan, CBS Sports

“The Panthers do the smart thing and draft a blind-side tackle.” -Maurice Jones-Drew, NFL.com

“Sam Darnold gets a left tackle. Frankly, though, I can’t help but think Carolina could trade back and still nab Slater.” -Charley Casserly, NFL.com

“I foresee the Panthers fortifying their offensive line with this pick.” -Charles Davis, NFL.com

“I could see this coming down to a decision between drafting a cornerback or offensive lineman. The Panthers go with the latter in this scenario.” -Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com

What about Sewell? 

Four of the five NFL.com analysts think Slater is bound for the Queen’s City.

Although, the only one to disagree is Peter Schrager, who believes another offensive lineman could potentially drop to the Panthers. He has Oregon’s Penei Sewell being taken off the board by Carolina in the first round.

“The Panthers can look to add the best player on their board. Sewell is a prime talent and would be a tremendous value at eighth overall.” -Peter Schrager, NFL.com

He wasn’t alone in saying there’s a possibility this year’s top offensive lineman falls further than expected.

“Sewell is a freakish athlete, even at 6-4 and 331 pounds, and should even widen the holes All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey is accustomed to seeing.” -Nate Davis, USA Today

The Outliers 

Three NFL experts broke away from the pack, including ESPN’s top NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., who says the Panthers will not address either of their top need positions in the first round.

“Mr. Big Board” sees Carolina taking the best available with Alabama’s wide receiver DeVonta Smith selected eighth overall in the draft. A surprise projection that would make Smith the third Heisman winner drafted by the Panthers in franchise history.

“Smith is a stellar route runner who just gets open. Put him alongside DJ Moore and Robby Anderson and this is a top-10 offense.” -Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN

The two other analysts moved towards the Panthers stocking up in the secondary with different prospects in their respective mock drafts. A possibility could feature Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley filling the void at one of the corner spots.

“They do need a cornerback help to complement Donte Jackson, and a flyer on big fading former Bronco A.J. Bouye won’t cut it. Farley can develop into a big, longer-term shutdown solution.” -Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News

Another big time playmaker who’s likely to be available is South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn.

“While he is a versatile talent, he will thrive in a press-man scheme. Horn answered questions about his athleticism with an incredible performance at his Pro Day.” -Cory McCann Ezring, Sports Illustrated

The NFL Draft starts with coverage of the first round from Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, April 29 at 8 p.m. ET.