Mel Kiper Jr. Predicts Panthers Will Pick CJ Stroud With First Overall Pick in New Mock Draft

CJ Stroud
CJ Stroud / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

The Carolina Panthers are officially on the clock after the clock struck midnight on March 15 and the new league year began, allowing for their trade to the No. 1 overall spot to go through. General scuttlebutt seems to suggest the Panthers know they want to pick a quarterback but are not so obviously set on one that everybody can read the tea leaves. Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft for ESPN+ predicted Carolina was taking CJ Stroud:

Welcome to the top of the board, Carolina. The Panthers went big right before free agency, sending a bevy of picks and wide receiver DJ Moore to Chicago for the No. 1 selection. It's a lot to give up, but the trade gives the Panthers their choice of quarterbacks in this class, which they're still working through. If they hit on that passer, they could have a 15-year starter. If they miss? Well, general manager Scott Fitterer and coach Frank Reich likely won't be around to see the end of their pick's tenure. It's a monumental decision for a team that has missed on recent deals for Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Which way will Carolina go now?

I'm leaning toward Stroud based on what I'm hearing. He's super accurate, has impressed everyone throughout the pre-draft process and is the ideal size profile of recent Frank Reich quarterbacks. He has the slight edge over Bryce Young based on fit.

The size thing is the main reason most seem to believe that Stroud will be the pick. Newly-minted head coach Frank Reich said out loud that Bryce Young's slight frame was a "concern" at the NFL Combine. Anthony Richardson and Will Levis are both big quarterbacks but neither is the kind of pocket passer Stroud was at Ohio State. It is lining up based on what we know of Reich's preferences.

But the draft is over a month away. We thought the San Francisco 49ers were locked in on Mac Jones around this time back in 2021 and he's a Patriot now. Smokescreen season is only just beginning, and even the Kipers of the world are not immune.