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Predicting the Panthers' first-round draft pick

Finally, the NFL Draft is here. And with the 24th overall pick, the Panthers need to draft a day-one starter, says Jeremy Igo.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- At last, we have arrived at NFL Draft week as the Carolina Panthers move closer to making the 24th selection.

There has been a fog surrounding the Panthers pick this season due to the new (old) general manager Marty Hurney taking his place by the phone once again. The only thing for certain on Thursday night is that Hurney will need to draft an immediate starter in round one. The following is my opinion on who that will likely be.

I am fairly confident one of the following players will be the selection.

Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Central Florida Knights defensive back Mike Hughes (19) returns a kickoff against the Auburn Tigers in the fourth quarter in the 2018 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

UCF cornerback Mike Hughes would start opposite James Bradberry on day one, thus satisfying the main goal. Throw in the fact that the Panthers face some of the most lethal QB/WR combos in the league and this pick would make a whole lot of sense. Hughes fits the Panthers' defensive scheme perfectly, namely able to cover and close quickly as a zone corner. Bonus: Hughes could also contribute as a return man. Sounds a little like Chris Gamble, one of Hurney’s solid draft choices. He may decide to drink from that well again.

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Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) carries the ball against Mercer Bears linebacker LeMarkus Bailey (16) during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

What about wide receiver? Surely there is room on the Panthers' roster for one. For sure, and as such, I like Alabama’s Calvin Ridley for one big reason. Separation, separation, separation. Ridley gets open, something Panthers fans have longed to see in many an NFL season. Ridley is a pure receiver that is used to carrying a heavy load, something he will likely need to do sooner rather than later in Carolina. With Devin Funchess’ future not certain, the Panthers could quickly find themselves looking into a yawning chasm of receiving ineptitude. Ridley would be a nice bit of insurance and also start immediately. Win-Win.

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UTEP Miners guard Will Hernandez (76) before facing the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Sun Bowl. 

So what if Hughes and Ridley are off the board? Well, the most obvious pick would be a guard to replace the recently departed Andrew Norwell. A guy like UTEP’s Will Hernandez would likely fit the bill. A mammoth of a man with a mean streak looking to punish anyone in his path. Again, a day one starter that would be a godsend for last year’s top draft pick Christian McCaffrey. This would also allow second-year man Tyler Moton to continue to develop at offensive tackle should he need to fill in this season.

So there you have it, my best guess at what the Carolina Panthers are thinking and the direction they will go.

Agree? Disagree? You can sound off right here with thousands of Carolina Panthers fans.