5 critical Carolina Panthers observations entering the 2023 NFL Draft
LB is not a big Carolina Panthers need
Entering the offseason, the Carolina Panthers faced a potential reality where they might've had to let go of their veteran linebacker and defensive team captain, Shaq Thompson. Instead, the ninth-year starter from Washington will be sticking around after reworking his contract to clear more cap space.
With a new defensive front installed by defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Thompson's role is clear. However, some have questioned who the No. 2 inside linebacker would be next to him in a 3-4 base.
The answer? It's Frankie Luvu, not a draft pick.
Some fans have suggested a potential move to edge rusher for Luvu, given his explosiveness and aggression downhill. I don't think he fits that role as well as people may think, though.
Luvu fits better as an off-ball second-level defender who should be allowed to roam around that level of the defense while being used as a penetration rusher in blitz packages.
The need for a starting linebacker is overblown to a point. Luvu and Thompson make for a formidable duo in the middle of the Panthers' defense along with the quality depth featuring recently-signed Kamu Grugier-Hill and 2022 Day 3 draft pick Brandon Smith. Yet, I do think that drafting one should still be on the table on the third day of the draft.
TCU's Dee Winters and Auburn's Owen Pappoe are two projected Day 3 players that could be potential targets for Carolina. Both fit what Scott Fitterer is looking for at the position; athletic linebackers that can be seen as future starters in the right situation.
Is linebacker off the table at No. 39? I don't think it is, but I do believe the need to lower on the list of possibilities at that spot, with edge rusher and cornerback being the two more significant needs on the defensive side of the ball.