Brandon Hodge: Who should the Panthers take with their 6 draft picks?

Apr. 19—The 2023 NFL Draft is now just days away and the Carolina Panthers are currently on the clock; but, the Panthers have more picks in the draft besides the top overall selection, with six total picks throughout the first five rounds.

Here's a breakdown of who I believe the Panthers should take with each selection and why they should do so.

First-round (No. 1 overall) — QB C.J. Stroud — Ohio State

The hype with Bryce Young can be justified, and this could be a player the Panthers regret not taking if they wound up selecting C.J. Stroud, but Stroud would be the safer choice for a franchise that has gambled, and lost, in the past few years.

Young will be tied with Doug Flutie and Kyler Murray as the third shortest quarterback in NFL history when he plays his first down of football this fall. But Stroud, at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, is a guy who would fit in with Frank Reich's history of taller quarterbacks and wouldn't have issues seeing over the offensive line or having balls batted down often.

He also has the intangibles and has nearly everything a team would want in a quarterback.

The selection between Young and Stroud for the Panthers could be one that's the difference between winning their first Super Bowl ever or not in the upcoming years.

Second-round (No. 39) — WR Josh Downs — North Carolina

The Shi Smith experience has been underwhelming and Terrace Marshall Jr. isn't a prototypical slot receiver, which is why the Panthers getting their future starter here in Josh Downs makes sense.

Downs is a player who could contribute immediately and build rapport with a rookie quarterback. At 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds, Downs has below-ideal average, even for a smaller receiver, in the NFL and won't have an effect in the blocking game, but is physical when making contested catches, can be electric after-the-catch, and would give Carolina an upgrade in the punt-return game over Smith.

This pick is more so looking toward the future for Carolina as they look to rebuild their offense.

Third-round (No. 93) — CB Darius Rush — South Carolina

With one South Carolina cornerback on the roster already in Jaycee Horn, why not make it two?

Darius Rush is a tall, fast, and physical corner who has been overshadowed a bit by South Carolina's other starting corner, Cam Smith.; however, Rush can still have a very productive career in the NFL with the right team.

C.J. Henderson has been an inconsistent piece for Carolina ever since they traded for him back in 2021, which is where Rush would fit in, with the potential to be a better, and cheaper, piece to the Panthers' cornerback depth.

Rush had a great NFL Combine showing with a 4.36 40-yard dash time, a 1.51 10-yard slip time, and a 10-foot-1-inch broad jump, which helped his draft stock rise.

Rush has a good chance to surpass expectations in the league with his combine results and could also make an impact in his rookie season with Donte Jackson likely out for the beginning of the upcoming season, after he tore his Achilles in week 10 of the 2022 season.

Fourth-round (No. 114) — EDGE Andre Carter II — Army

As a player who was mocked to be a first-round selection just months ago, this feels like it'd be a steal if Carolina selects Andre Carter II in the fourth-round.

Carter II would be a perfect fit in defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero's 3-4 scheme, as he's projected to be a 3-4 rush linebacker in the league, and could be a future replacement for Yetur Gross-Matos if he has another subpar year. Carter II also has the type of production that NFL teams like to see, after recording 15 1/2 sacks in his senior year at Army.

But, Carter II isn't exactly ready to take on a large role in the NFL. With only 11 reps on the bench press during the NFL Combine, Carter II will have to get bigger and stronger in order to reach his ceiling.

It's a pick that Panthers fans, and ownership, won't know how to feel about for a couple of years down the road.

Fourth-round (No. 132) — OG Andrew Vorhees — Southern California

One area that the Panthers will seemingly look to improve on during the offseason is with guard depth along the offensive line, which is why Andrew Vorhees makes sense here as a guy who could become a starter within a couple years.

A once projected late second-to-early third-round pick, Vorhees tore his ACL during his NFL Scouting Combine workout, which has dropped his draft stock down. But, make no mistake about it, Vorhees is a player who would bring starting experience and a polished game once healthy, as he started five seasons at Southern California along the offensive line and has been called "solid" by multiple NFL scouts.

And with Brady Christensen not panning out well at left guard, Vorhees could fill that void, as he's started 19 games at left guard the past two seasons in college.

As another pick for the future, this would be one where the Panthers could get really good value with Vorhees in day three.

Fifth-round (No. 145) — OT Wanya Morris — Oklahoma

Wanya Morris is a former five-star prospect who is versatile at tackle, starting at both left and right tackle at Oklahoma, and would be a good depth piece for the Panthers this late into the draft.

With only three tackles currently on the roster, it's almost certain Carolina will take a tackle at some point during the draft. But tackle depth is pretty steep in this year's draft class, which allows the Panthers to address other needs and take a tackle later.

Morris has some good tendencies, such as inside hand, but has trouble with his power and consistency. His starting experience in college will help him in camp and against NFL defensive linemen.

As a fifth-round prospect, Morris could deliver if he cleans up his game and can get stronger in certain areas of his body, such as his core.