Following a 23-10 win against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Panthers are 4-8 after 12 games. With five games remaining, the Panthers are primed for a top-10 pick, even if they pull off some upset wins down the stretch.
As of this week, the Panthers are currently positioned with the fifth overall pick. A lot can change in the next six weeks, but the Panthers are likely to benefit from what has been a mostly miserable campaign.
Here’s a look at the current top five picks in the first round:
1. Houston Texans (1-9-1)
Remaining matchups: vs. Browns, @ Cowboys, vs. Chiefs, @ Titans, vs. Jaguars, @ Colts
The Texans have become the NFL’s annual punching bag during the past few years. No longer capable of winning in one of the worst divisions in professional sports, Houston is tanking, with or without trying. So, the Texans will almost assuredly get their pick of the litter in March, which probably means that Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are hoping to avoid first overall status.
2. Chicago Bears (3-9)
Remaining matchups: vs. Packers, vs. Eagles, vs. Bills, @ Lions, vs. Vikings
The Bears are struggling in their first season under Matt Eberflus, but that is actually by design due to a radical rebuild. With Justin Fields proving to be an NFL-caliber quarterback, the Bears are likely to take the best trench player on the board, knocking a quarterback down the pecking order, barring a trade out. The Bears could surprise some teams down the stretch, if they can win a couple of their remaining divisional matchups.
3. Detroit Lions (via LAR, 3-8)
Rams’ remaining matchups: vs. Seahawks, vs. Raiders, @ Packers, vs. Broncos, @ Chargers, @ Seahawks
The Los Angeles Rams traded quite the haul to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford’s services in 2021. It all worked out, as the Rams sold out for a Super Bowl win. But now the Rams are flailing in the wind like an inflatable tube man at a local car dealership, and the injuries are piling on in the process. The Lions, who need a long-term answer at quarterback, could luck out here and find Stafford’s long-term successor within the top three selections.
4. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN, 3-8)
Broncos’ remaining matchups: @ Ravens, vs. Chiefs, vs. Cardinals, @ Rams, @ Chiefs, vs. Chargers
In hindsight, the Russell Wilson trade might be one of the most lopsided trades in American sports history — and not in favor of the team acquiring Wilson. The Broncos traded a treasure trove of picks and players to Seattle for Wilson, and now they sit ugly at 3-8 through 11 games. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have surprised most observers by starting the season 6-5 with Geno Smith at quarterback. No matter how well the Seahawks play down the stretch, they can probably bank on a top-10 pick from the Broncos.
5.Carolina Panthers (4-8)
Remaining matchups: @ Seahawks, vs. Steelers, vs. Lions, @ Buccaneers, @ Saints
If the Panthers landed the fifth overall selection in March, they’d probably need to devise a plan to either trade up to select a top-tier quarterback prospect or try to land a veteran — like the Las Vegas Raiders’ Derek Carr — on the trade market. The issue for the Panthers would be determining who needs a quarterback in front of them.
If the current order stood throughout the remainder of the season, the Texans, Lions and possibly the Seahawks would be on that list. While re-signing Smith makes sense for the Seahawks, the franchise could keep its options open with two Day 1 selections on deck.
The Panthers are likely to want one of the three top-tier quarterback prospects — Young, Stroud or probably Kentucky’s Will Levis — so the front office might need to be creative with a trade-up possibility. Still, a top-five pick is a very important chip to own in the draft, and if the Panthers were to land someone like Carr, they could bolster the offense around him with that selection. The Panthers could also consider adding to their defensive front, which currently houses standouts like Derrick Brown and Brian Burns.
The rest of the top 12:
The rest of the projected top 12, as of now, features teams — like the Panthers — with four wins. So, if the Panthers keep winning, they could easily knock themselves out of an ideal range for a potential franchise quarterback. The New Orleans Saints, who traded their first-round pick to the surging Philadelphia Eagles in March, have an identical record to the Panthers, as do the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.
With the current top 12 populated with a handful of traded picks, the first dozen selections could end up featuring some double dips. The Seahawks — following the Wilson trade — currently own the fourth and 16th overall picks. The Texans already own the first overall pick, but also currently possess the Cleveland Browns’ selection, which is positioned at 10th overall.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (via NO, 4-8)
7. Arizona Cardinals (4-8)
8. Green Bay Packers (4-8)
9. Las Vegas Raiders (4-7)
10. Houston Texans (via CLE, 4-7)
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-7)
Here’s a look at the picks that the Panthers own in 2023:
▪ First-round pick (CAR)
▪ Two second-round picks (CAR/SF)
▪ Third-round pick (SF)
▪ Two fourth-round picks (CAR/SF)
▪ Fifth-round pick (CAR)
▪ The Panthers traded running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers for 2023 second-, third- and fourth-round picks. The Panthers also acquired a 2024 fifth-round pick in the deal.
▪ The Panthers traded their original 2023 third-round pick in a deal with the New England Patriots during April’s draft to move up to select quarterback Matt Corral.
▪ The Panthers traded their original 2023 sixth-round pick to the Patriots in 2021 in a deal for cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
▪ The Panthers traded their original 2023 seventh-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for wide receiver Laviska Shenault.