The Carolina Panthers traded for the chance to pick No. 1 overall in Thursday’s NFL Draft, and Alabama’s QB Bryce Young is the overwhelming favorite on the NBA odds board to be that pick. He is a no-brainer and the best QB talent available by a mile.
I wanted to take a crack at predicting who the Panthers will choose with their six picks, assuming they don’t make any trades or somehow pick somebody other than Young first.
Bryce Young, QB Alabama, No. 1
Unless there is some severe shift of opinions, a scandal, or a bus crash between now and Thursday night, Bryce Young will be the first pick off the board.
The Panthers have a shot at securing a franchise quarterback, something missing since Cam Newton eventually broke down and was released. Newton resulted from the last time the Panthers had the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Young has elite playmaking skills that feel more like natural talent than anything he picked up along the way. He is a team leader with a fantastic football IQ and top-tier pocket awareness.
Young has some risk attached due to his size and rather pedestrian arm. Despite not having a cannon attached to his shoulder, the Panthers’ A+ offensive coaching staff will have a lot with which to work.
Jalin Hyatt, WR Tennessee, No. 39
Tennessee wideout Jalin Hyatt is one of the most intriguing players in the 2023 NFL Draft class. As a freshman, he was invisible with 276 yards and two touchdowns. Somehow, he took a step back as a sophomore with 226 yards and two touchdowns on 36 targets.
But, in 2022, Hyatt had a breakout season with 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns on 67 receptions. He had a better single game than each of his previous two seasons with five touchdowns and 207 yards against Alabama.
Receiving yards % by route for Jalin Hyatt, JSN, Jordan Addison and Quentin Johnson (2021-22, via PFF) pic.twitter.com/ZmwXMnSCHe
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) February 15, 2023
Is he a one-hit wonder or a late bloomer? Somebody is going to find out in 2023.
Antonio Johnson, S/CB Texas A&M, No. 93
The Panthers need to spruce up their secondary, and former Texas A&M safety/cornerback Antonio Johnson would fill that gap nicely. He was forced into action early due to injuries to teammates in 2020 and played 159 snaps as a freshman cornerback for the Aggies. He finished with 12 tackles and six stops but a poor rating when targeted at 144.6.
His best season was as a sophomore, where he dominated the secondary with over 800 total snaps. He made 58 tackles, 26 stops, and 18 assists while holding opposing QBs to a rating of 71.2 when targeted.
Johnson was a 2021 first-team All-American and won the Defensive Playmaker Award and Mr. Dependable Skill Award from the Aggies.
Johnson has the size to challenge larger receivers and is very fast for being 6-foot-3. He is willing to make contact but is a below-average tackler for his size. His overall athletic ability makes him worth a look.
Mike Morris, DE Michigan, No. 114
Mike Morris started to turn heads as a member of the Michigan Wolverines during his sophomore season with 13 tackles, three assists, and nine stops. He pressured quarterbacks 14 times, hurried right, hit four, and recorded two sacks.
As a junior, he recorded 11 tackles, 17 stops, and nine sacks on opposing quarterbacks in 11 games.
Michigan EDGE Mike Morris in 2022:
〽️ 86.6 Pass Rush Grade
〽️ 37 QB Pressures
〽️ 20% Pass Rush Win Rate pic.twitter.com/55d4lJEmy6
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 19, 2023
His instincts as an edge rusher will be an asset for the Panthers, who struggle to get to the quarterback. He has excellent hands and beastly-upper body strength with long arms to swat away blockers. Morris can play too high at times and lose balance, but that is something the Panthers can coach out of him.
Zach Pickens, DT South Carolina, No. 132
Along with Morris, Zach Pickens would bolster the Panthers’ defense for the 2023 season. As a member of the South Carolina Gamecocks, Pickens broke out in his junior year with five sacks and 28 tackles in 13 games. As a senior, he amassed 31 tackles, 12 assists, 22 stops, and three sacks in 12 games.
Pickens is shockingly quick for a guy who weighs over 300 pounds and can chase down opponents in the open field. He has a thick body with the frame to succeed in the NFL, especially his lower body.
Pickens needs to get more aggressive with his hands and doesn’t move well laterally, but he can still help Carolina as a late pick.
Dontay Demus Jr., WR Maryland, No. 145
With a rookie QB, you can never have too many qualified receivers to throw to. Dontay Demus Jr. may not be a lottery pick or talked about much outside of Maryland, but if Brock Purdy can lead the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game, Demus can make a difference in Carolina.
Dontay Demus Jr. is a WR prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 7.84 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 659 out of 3048 WR from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/dKzGdJizyU pic.twitter.com/7vX4CR1BIQ
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 15, 2023
Demus played in just five games in 2021 due to tearing his ACL but had 28 catches and 507 yards in that span. The talent is there, with an average of 18.1 yards per catch and three touchdowns in those five games.
Scouts say he has excellent timing, strong hands, and a massive frame at 6-foot-4. His size alone makes him a nightmare for smaller defenders and a big target for a rookie quarterback.
Demus needs to work on his route-running, especially since his speed won’t allow him to outrun NFL cornerbacks.