Mel Kiper Jr.: Panthers can fill needs without reaching at 24

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The way ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. sees it the Carolina Panthers could have their pick of three players who would fill a need and not be a reach with the 24th pick of Thursday’s draft.

Kiper had the Panthers selecting Stanford safety Justin Reid in the first round of his last two mock drafts. Reid is regarded by some analysts as the third-best safety behind Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James.

Reid definitely would fill a need as the Panthers don’t have a guaranteed starter at free safety opposite Mike Adams at strong.

But Kiper just as easily could see the Panthers choosing between South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst and Iowa’s James Daniels, arguably the best pure center.

He also could see the Panthers selecting Hurst over Reid if both were available, which he expects could happen.

The top wide receivers, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and Maryland’s D.J. Moore, also could be available according to some mock drafts. But Kiper isn’t convinced Carolina will go in that direction after all the effort made in the offseason to improve the receiver position through free agency.

Kiper, in his latest three-round mock draft, doesn’t have the Panthers selecting a receiver until the first of their two third-round picks.

So let’s take a look at Reid, Hurst and Daniels through the eyes of Kiper:

If it’s between Reid and Hurst: “That’s a tough call," Kiper said. “Hurst is a really good player. So is Dallas Goedert [South Dakota State]. If you want more of a pass-catching tight end, Goedert can stretch it down the field probably a little bit better than Hurst. But Hurst is the more complete tight end. It just depends on which direction to go.

“Hurst, he’s a throwback. He’ll be like Heath Miller. He’ll be an in-line blocker. He catches the ball. He’s got a great attitude and approach. Justin Reid, there’s a mixed opinion on. He didn’t have a consistent year. He had a couple of games where he missed tackles here and there. He can get in the backfield. He’s a guy they utilized in a lot of different ways at Stanford."

If it’s a center, a long-term replacement for Ryan Kalil, who is retiring after this season: “James Daniels would be that guy," Kiper said. “He would be the center-guard to be a good hole-filler down the line and be an heir apparent. He gives you great versatility. When he’s healthy he can play both spots at a high level."

On if the Panthers reach for a defensive end as a potential long-term replacement for Julius Peppers: “Worst position in draft is pass rushers, be it defensive end or linebacker."