4 Carolina Panthers who might be surprisingly safe after 2024 NFL Draft

Jammie Robinson
Jammie Robinson / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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Ian Thomas - Carolina Panthers TE

After yet another underwhelming campaign that saw his influence diminish again, Ian Thomas seemingly lived on borrowed time. The veteran tight end constantly failed to meet expectations and capitalize on opportunities when they arose. Last season - when involved on the offensive rotation - was arguably his worst yet.

Thomas' future was in doubt this offseason as a result. The Panthers would have likely moved on effortlessly had those in power under previous regimes not opted to hand him a hefty contract extension. Dan Morgan gave him the option of sticking around providing he took a pay cut with no guarantees attached, something he decided to accept with his career going nowhere fast.

While Thomas taking less money gave him a fighting chance, there was no confirmed intent to get him more involved. Dave Canales hinted that the Panthers will be giving Tommy Tremble a legitimate opportunity to establish himself with extra responsibilities. There was also the small matter of another reinforcement potentially arriving via the 2024 NFL Draft to factor into the equation.

This scenario came to fruition when the Panthers kicked off Day 3 of the draft by taking Ja'Tavion Sanders at No. 101 overall. The former Texas standout has the scope to be a potential steal and someone who can provide Bryce Young with another explosive weapon with assured hands in the passing game. And yet, this pick might help Thomas cement his place on the 53-man roster.

Sanders is an outstanding route-runner with the ball skills to match. However, he cannot block effectively enough. Fortunately for Thomas, that's arguably his biggest strength at this stage of his career.

Unless Sanders makes miraculous progress in this key discipline - which does seem unlikely initially - Thomas will still have a role to play. This could also be greater than most fans were hoping for given Canales' desire to run the football purposefully and stubbornly during his first campaign as head coach.