Mel Kiper: A reach for Panthers to take DE over WR at No. 24

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper is convinced the Carolina Panthers would be reaching if they selected a defensive end with the 24th pick of the draft.

“You’d be looking at guys like Sam Hubbard from Ohio State ... Rasheem Green from USC,’’ Kiper said during a Wednesday conference call. “I just don’t think it’s going to fall that way.’’

But Kiper does see value at wide receiver at No. 24. In his latest mock draft, Kiper has the Panthers selecting Oklahoma State’s James Washington, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound speedster who can blow the top off of defenses.

Kiper reminded that when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was the league MVP in 2015, he had receiver Ted Ginn Jr. to keep defenses honest with his speed. Newton didn’t have that last season after Ginn signed with New Orleans and his replacements struggled with injuries.

Kiper also has mentioned Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk and UCLA’s Jordan Lasley as receiver candidates for Carolina in the first round. Kirk is 5-foot-11, Lasley is 6-foot-1. Lasley was suspended for four games last season for unspecified reasons, so he would have to convince teams his character will not be an issue.

There’s no doubt the Panthers need an upgrade at wide receiver. Devin Funchess never proved to be a consistent No. 1 receiver after Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo midway through last season. Curtis Samuel, last year’s second-round pick, and Damiere Byrd were hampered by season-ending injuries.

Samuel and Byrd, when healthy, can provide the speed the Panthers need. But there’s really nobody behind them who is reliable, so taking a receiver in the first round isn’t a reach.

Defensive end also is a need. Julius Peppers, 38, is leaning toward returning for another year, but the Panthers need to find a young player to fill that role regardless. Mario Addison and Charles Johnson also are in their 30s.

“Unless Davenport was there, I don’t think they’d take a defensive end,’’ Kiper said, referencing University of Texas-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport (6-foot-5, 259 pounds).

Davenport is considered a small-school sleeper. He reportedly created pressure on 43 of his 199 pass rush snaps in 2017. Kiper has him going No. 14 to Green Bay.

“I don’t think it’s going to fall that way,’’ Kiper said of Carolina getting an end. “If you look at defensive ends at that point, you’d be reaching a little bit.’’