So it begins: That time of year where everyone tries to play armchair GM for 32 NFL teams and predicts who goes where in Spring’s NFL Draft.
Mock Draft Season has begun in earnest, which means the re-emergence of household media names that specialize in the NFL Draft. The most notable of all of these is ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who released his first 2019 Mock Draft earlier this week.
With the Carolina Panthers sitting at No. 16-overall in the Draft and needing to improve a pass rush that showed its age in 2018, Kiper projects that the team will draft Florida State Seminoles defensive end Brian Burns, pointing to defensive end as a clear area of need for the Panthers given Julius Peppers‘ age.
“The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Burns, who had 10 sacks in 2018, needs more time in the weight room,” wrote Kiper, “But he could grow into a defensive end.”
Should the Panthers draft Burns, one of many stout defensive linemen in a defensive-heavy draft, they would be receiving a player who earned First-Team All-ACC honors in 2018 and led the Seminoles in both sacks and tackles for loss. He finished his college career with 24 sacks and 39 and a half tackles for loss.
Longtime Panthers fans will likely remember, however, that the Panthers have not had great success drafting players out of Florida State: In 2001, the team would draft Heisman Trophy-winning FSU quarterback Chris Weinke in the fourth round, and he would become the starting quarterback for a team that lost 15-straight games after a season-opening victory to finish 1-15 and become the worst team in the league. Weinke would later serve as the backup quarterback to Jake Delhomme for several seasons.
Without a first-round pick in 2009, the Panthers would make FSU defensive end Everette Brown their first pick in the second round. Brown would not pan out, and was released following the 2010 season after recording six sacks in two years. The Panthers’ most recent pick out of Florida State was wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who had over 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie.
However, Benjamin missed the entire 2015 season after tearing his ACL, and he would be traded to the Buffalo Bills midway through the 2017 season after his play following injury left something to be desired (Benjamin also torpedoed any goodwill he had with the Panthers when he blamed Cam Newton for his struggles in a 2018 interview, making him persona non grata in the Carolinas).
Regardless of whether or not Burns ends up being the pick, the Panthers are expected to be in the market for a young edge rusher. No Panthers defensive end besides Mario Addison (nine) or Peppers (five) had more than two sacks, and the Panthers had no defensive ends under the age of 26 record a sack.