Team needs and NFL prospect fits for the Panthers, Broncos
The dust is still settling on what was a fantastic defensive battle in Super Bowl 50, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead to the offseason, and see how these teams go about putting themselves in position to continue to compete for the Lombardi trophy year after year. The draft is key in that regard, and here are three prospects who could fill a need for both teams:
Jack Conklin, offensive tackle, Michigan State
It’s no surprise after watching yesterday’s game that the biggest need on the Panthers offense, and realistically the whole roster, comes at both offensive tackle spots. Both Mike Remmers and Michael Oher struggled in 2015, with Remmers proving to be Von Miller’s victim in his Super Bowl showing. Jack Conklin (+38.9) was our third-highest graded offensive tackle in all of college football last year, and has allowed just four sacks in the past two seasons. There’s a strong possibility that he’ll be higher than 30th on our draft board when we release it next week, but he doesn’t seem to carry the same hype as players like Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley, so it’s not out of the realms of possibility that he could slide. If he did, the Panthers would be wise to draft him and upgrade their offensive line.
Aaron Burbridge, wide receiver, Michigan State
The Panthers were also plagued by drops in the Super Bowl, and despite hoping that Devin Funchess will progress, and the return of Kelvin Benjamin from injury next year, it’s definitely a position that warrants an upgrade this offseason. Outside of the top players at the position, someone like Aaron Burbridge would make sense as a later round draft pick. At 6-1 he isn’t short, but doesn’t possess the prototypical size teams look for in a number one receiver, and he’s unlikely to blow anyone away with his 40 yard dash time. He is however, someone who produced at a high level for the Spartans this year. Evidence of this was his game against Michigan, when he picked up seven catches for 109 yards against Jourdan Lewis, our highest-graded cornerback last season.
William Jackson III, cornerback, Houston
Josh Norman had a tremendous season, but the Panthers were hurt significantly by cornerback depth in the postseason. If someone as talented as Jackson was to be there in the late first round, he’d make a lot of sense as an upgrade as the team’s third cornerback immediately, and someone who can develop into a top cornerback. Jackson had five interceptions and 13 pass breakups this year, including two of each in the bowl game against Florida State. His ability to make plays on the ball could be just what the Panthers need to add to an already talented defense.
Brandon Allen, quarterback, Arkansas
It’s rare for a team to win the Super Bowl and have their quarterback situation be so up in the air for the following season. It looks highly unlikely that Peyton Manning will be back in Denver, and Brock Osweiler didn’t establish himself as a future star in his limited time as the starter, though he certainly didn’t put himself out of the running either. Picking 31st in the draft, the Broncos won’t have a shot at Carson Wentz or Jared Goff barring a hefty and unlikely trade up, so it makes sense to look so guys who require a little more work. Allen has taken some bad press recently for having small hands, but he had our eighth-highest grade of all college quarterbacks last season and finished the season strong. He stood out in the Senior Bowl game, and would benefit from working with a head coach like Gary Kubiak.
Kenyan Drake, running back, Alabama
C.J. Anderson had a strong performance in the Super Bowl, and while he’s likely to return as a restricted free agent, they could definitely do with upgrading at the position and adding someone to share the load with him. Drake doesn’t come with the hype of his Heisman-winning partner in Derrick Henry, but it’s not unreasonable to think that he might actually have a better pro career. From his time at Alabama we know Drake can fly, including on that kick return for a touchdown in the National Championship game, and he forced an impressive 22 missed tackles on just 77 carries this year. He could provide a welcome boost to an offense that will likely have plenty of question marks given the quarterback situation.
Kentrell Brothers, linebacker, Missouri
Danny Trevathan is the hot name for the offseason right now, coming off his best season as he gets ready to hit free agency. With the chance at a big pay day, it’s unlikely he’s back in Denver, creating a need next to restricted free agent Brandon Marshall. There are plenty of talented linebackers in this draft class, and Denver could be the perfect team to take a chance on Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith if injury concerns push him way down draft boards but Brothers is another player who would make a lot of sense, particularly as a second- or third-round pick if he fell that far. He might not be the perfect prospect, but he was incredible against the run, finishing the year with the second-highest grade in that regard. Additionally, he totaled 78 defensive stops — the most of any linebacker in college last year.