Carolina Panthers 2023 Draft Grade

Quarterback one and the number two overall prospect on The Sunday Slate big board was the safest bet to be made by a QB-hungry team last week, and the Carolina Panthers played it safe.

Playing it safe on draft week is not always the most exciting way to go about it, but when considering the cornerstone of a franchise, playing it safe is always the way to go. It is for good reason that a couple weeks worth of rumors tying the Panthers to CJ Stroud was as far removed from QB1 as they ever got. Bryce Young’s prestige dates beyond his tenure with the Alabama Crimson Tide; he was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation and No. 2 overall player in his 2020 high school draft class, and he won the Heisman Trophy Award a year later. It’s never been a secret that Young would be QB1, regardless of the rumor mill. His ability outside of the pocket and his awareness within it are unique to this class, and he brings the potential for a run at the NFC South title to Carolina immediately.

Carolina Panthers Draft Grade: B

Panthers 2023 draft grade

After the first overall pick, the Panthers were trending towards an A+ grade on this year’s draft. While they didn’t fall apart by our standard, they strayed away from playing it safe across their remaining picks. Some flyer selections in the middle rounds were made in relation to our big board, starting with the eighth pick in the second round (No. 39 overall).

In need of a bonafide WR1 after shipping DJ Moore to the Bears—opportunity cost to acquire the No. 1 overall pick—Carolina selected Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo. He was WR13 in the class on our board, and was ranked 94th overall. There was plenty of steam around Mingo as an early day-two pick, and a substantial defense can be made for a team “reaching” on anyone who is in the top-100. Mingo checked that box, but the gamble on his upside is what makes this intriguing. Ole Miss wideouts have established quite a reputation over the past five years with AJ, Brown, DK Metcalf, and Elijah Moore all being drafted over that span. Mingo is between Brown and Metcalf in size, and as a result, he earned those comps throughout the draft cycle. He also falls somewhere between his predecessors production wise in their time at Ole Miss, so the steam kept building.

Cedric Tillman (Tennessee) was prospect No. 39 on our board, and would have been a bullseye pick from The Slate’s perspective. A.T. Perry and Rashee Rice were the other big-bodied receivers that we ranked higher than Mingo, but would have warranted the same criticism from a perspective of reaching on the selection. All things considered, if Jonathan Mingo comes close the ceiling of his draft cycle comps, the Panthers and Bryce Young should be thrilled with his addition. He will be a starter on day one in Carolina, and will be interesting to track throughout his rookie campaign.

The most significant strike on the Panthers’ draft was their third-round selection of Oregon defensive end D.J. Johnson. The 80th overall pick in the draft was spent on prospect No. 165 on our board, with YaYa Diaby, Dylan Horton, K.J. Henry, and Nick Hampton—the lowest of which was ranked as prospect No. 128—all still available. The Panthers were in need of second-level depth in their base 3-4 defense, so the positional choice was right, but the prospect was wrong. Had we been in the Carolina war room, the table would’ve been pounded for Diaby. YaYa matched Johnson’s career sack total in 2022 alone, and he tested as the second best athlete in the position at the combine. Watch the tape of these two, and you’ll struggle to find an advantage for Johnson. He will be a rotational player at best in year one, and their was a major negative surplus on this pick per our metrics.

Redemption—and likely the reason that the Panthers retained a B grade—came early on day three when Carolina selected Chandler Zavala (NC State) with the 114th pick of the draft. This was a robbery in our eyes. Zavala was OG3 on our big board, and prospect No. 77 overall. We had a third-round grade on him, and ranked him above Jon Gaines (UCLA). If you’ve kept up with us at all, you’d know that is saying something. Moreover, Zavala is the former teammate of the Panthers’ top pick in the 2022 draft and current left tackle, Icky Ekwonu. Zavala is currently ranked as OG3 on the Carolina depth chart, but that is subject to change quickly. Much like the Philadelphia Eagles love of the Georgia Bulldogs defense, it would seem as if the Carolina Panthers have taken a keen liking to the NC State Wolf Pack offensive trenches. Icky and Zavala back in tandem to protect Bryce Young is a giant step towards sustained competitiveness.

The Panthers rounded out their draft class with another win in the fifth round. By selecting Jammie Robinson (prospect No. 114 on our board) with the 145th overall pick. In doing so, Carolina almost completely corrected their negative surplus value—per our pre-draft rankings—in the draft. The only complaint you’ll hear about the Robinson pick here is that Antonio Johnson (prospect No. 58) and JL Skinner (prospect No. 102) were available in this spot. We were dramatically higher on both Johnson and Skinner than the NFL, and the Robinson pick was still a positive surplus for the Panthers. Expect him to play a fair share of defensive snaps, but to build his reputation on special teams in his rookie season. Xavier Woods is a top-25 safety in the league on a contractual basis, and will all but certainly maintain his role ahead of Robinson in the early days of his professional career.

Following metrics driven by our rankings vs where prospects were actually selected in the draft, had the Panthers made another DJ Johnson-esque pick in the fifth round, it would have been hard to rank their class above a C. Taking Bryce Young at 1.01 can only carry this class so far, but considering team needs, finding depth at high-value positions, and hitting a home run on Chandler Zavala, the Carolina Panthers receive a B grade on their 2023 draft.

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