With no first-rounder, who might Panthers target in Round 2?

Kool-Aid McKinstry's NFL draft profile (0:37)

Check out some of the top highlights from Alabama CB Kool-Aid McKinstry. (0:37)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The big question at the Carolina Panthers' pre-draft press conference a year ago was whether they would select Alabama quarterback Bryce Young or Ohio State's C.J. Stroud with the No. 1 overall pick.

Although they didn't reveal it that day, it was Young, who had always been the choice in the minds of then-coach Frank Reich and then-general manager Scott Fitterer.

The big question in Thursday's news conference was about how the team will surround Young with enough talent so he won't have another disastrous season.

But in the minds of new coach Dave Canales and new general manager Dan Morgan, that isn't what this offseason and draft are about.

"It's not about surrounding Bryce with great players, it's about building a great team ... and then Bryce can just do his part,'' Canales said on Thursday, as he and Morgan discussed next week's draft. "That's my goal. That's my heart for this whole thing.

"Look at the great teams he was a part of at Alabama. He won a lot of games when they had a good offense and a good defense. He did his part, and he played big in big moments, and I would love to create that here.''

Canales and Morgan will try to do that without a first-round pick, because they traded it to the Chicago Bears last year so they could draft Young. But they have two second-rounders (Nos. 33 and 39), and believe the moves made during free agency will allow them to take the best player available and not specifically the best player to help Young.

They also will consider trading one of those second-rounders for more picks, unless the player they covet -- particularly at No. 33 -- is available. Trading up could also be an option.

"I'm not going to box myself into, 'Hey, we're not going to do this, we're not going to do that,''' Morgan said. "If there's a really good player, we'll take him. Trading up, those are discussions we still have to have. Everything's on the table right now."

With that, here are players at five positions the Panthers need to consider with their two second-round picks:

Wide receiver

Trading for Pittsburgh's Diontae Johnson to play alongside veteran Adam Thielen and 2023 second-round pick Jonathan Mingo took some of the pressure off of adding one at No. 33. But Thielen will be 34 entering the season, Mingo was inconsistent as a rookie and Johnson is in the last year of his contract. So adding a long-term pass-catcher for Young is essential.

Georgia's Ladd McConkey has been a popular choice for Carolina in many mock drafts despite a subpar 2023 season. What sets him apart is his ability to separate -- an issue for Carolina receivers last season -- and his ability to make yards after the catch. He also has the speed to keep teams honest deep.

He joins Texas' Adonai Mitchell, South Carolina's Xavier Legette, Texas' Xavier Worthy and Florida State's Keon Coleman among the second-tier receivers to consider in a very deep class.

Tight end

Morgan says he holds Tommy Tremble in "high regard.'' Canales says he's "excited'' about the 2021 third-round pick out of Notre Dame. But both agree Young would benefit from a dynamic, play-making tight end, and Tremble's 62 catches in three seasons don't suggest he will fill that role.

Georgia's Brock Bowers is projected as a first-rounder, but there could be a few solid options available in the second round in Texas' Ja'Tavion Sanders and Penn State's Theo Johnson. Sanders has 99 catches for 1,295 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two seasons. Johnson didn't get a ton of targets but was valuable in the red zone with seven touchdowns last season. Carolina hasn't had that level of production in a tight end since Greg Olsen in 2019.

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Check out some of the top highlights from UCLA pass rusher Laiatu Latu.

Edge rusher

Jadeveon Clowney, 31, is not an every down player at this point in his career. D.J. Wonnum is coming off a season-ending torn left quadriceps and remains somewhat of a project with 31 starts in 62 games and never more than eight sacks in a season.

Finding a dynamic long-term solution makes sense for a team that depends on pressure off the edge in the 3-4 scheme. Among those who could be available are UCLA's Laiatu Latu, Penn States's Chop Robinson, Alabama's Chris Braswell, Utah's Jonah Elliss and Kansas' Austin Booker. Elliss is a bit undersized, like Brian Burns was as a rookie at Carolina in 2019, but he was productive with 12 sacks. Latu had 13 sacks last season, which could make him a first-round pick unless enough teams are concerned about the neck injury that forced him to miss the 2020 and 2021 seasons when he was with Washington.


Jackson Powers-Johnson out of Oregon likely will go in the first round, but if West Virginia's Zach Frazier or Duke's Graham Barton are available, Carolina has to consider one. As much confidence as the team has in Austin Corbett transitioning from guard to the center spot, he has to prove himself, having played that position in the NFL only during the 2019 preseason, when he took 203 snaps for Cleveland. That he is returning from his second major left knee surgery (ACL, MCL) in as many seasons also has to be a concern. Frazier might be the easier fit, since he was solid there in college. Barton would be transitioning from tackle.


Morgan loved Dane Jackson enough that as director of player personnel for the Buffalo Bills, he fought to take him in the seventh round in 2020. Then, as Panthers GM this year, he signed Jackson in free agency. But with Jaycee Horn's injury history at the other corner spot and Jackson still not totally proven, Carolina could use a dynamic player here.

Among the possibilities could be Alabama's Kool-Aid McKinstry and Iowa's Cooper DeJean. Should Clemson's Nate Wiggins fall out of the first round, it would be tough to ignore the elite speed he showed in the 40-yard dash (4.28) at the combine.