Panthers fill needs, add explosive talent in successful draft

Explosive offensive players and defensive depth checks a lot of boxes for Carolina

Jim Dedmon—X02835
Apr 28

Explosive offensive players and defensive depth ‘checks a lot of boxes’ for CarolinaAfter falling from a Super Bowl berth in 2015 to missing the playoffs last year, the Panthers were looking to upgrade several areas on the roster in the offseason.Carolina added potential starters at running back, wide receiver and offensive tackle, added depth at defensive end and nickelback and brought in a kicker to challenge Graham Gano.All told, the Panthers addressed just about every need in the three days in Philadelphia.”Does this draft check a lot of boxes?” GM Dave Gettleman asked. “Yes it does.”The team upgraded its speed at several key positions and gave quarterback Cam Newton several new weapons on offense.”We’re putting the playmakers around Cam, much like we had in 2015,” coach Ron Rivera said.Here’s a pick-by-pick look at Carolina’s draft:First round, eighth overall: Christian McCaffrey, RB, StanfordMcCaffrey posted off-the-charts marks for speed, agility and vertical leap at the NFL Combine. He also showed he can line up at receiver, giving the offense a versatile playmaker. Rivera said that McCaffrey would also be started out at punt returner, giving the rookie three different ways to make big plays. The Panthers needed to bring in young blood at the running back spot, with Jonathan Stewart aging and fighting injuries over the past few years. Grade: A-Second round, 40th: Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio StateThe Panthers lost Ted Ginn Jr. to free agency, and Samuel should be able to step right in and replace the veteran speedster. “In Curtis, we have ‘Oh my gosh!’ speed,” Gettleman said. “We really added an offensive playmaker with him.” Gettleman and Rivera praised Samuel’s ability to “take the top off coverage” with downfield speed, much like Ginn did over recent years. “The first two guys (we drafted) are really explosive players,” Rivera said. Grade: ASecond round, 64th: Taylor Moton, OL, Western MichiganCarolina needs to add front-line talent on the offensive line, and Moton could easily step in and start from day one, possibly at right tackle. The four-year starter is listed as a guard, but he could easily make the move outside. “We just couldn’t resist him,” said Gettleman. Grade: BThird round, 77th: Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&MHe benefitted from lining up opposite top overall pick Myles Garrett at A&M. Hall is still working on his polish at the position, after moving from linebacker. He has talent and size to be a contributor, but he might end up being a project who doesn’t pay dividends until next year. “He has a ton of upside,” said Gettleman. The Panthers’ braintrust admitted to being worried they’d miss out after a mini run on ends and may have reached a bit to make sure they got one. Grade: CFifth round, 152nd: Corn Elder, CB, MiamiThe Panthers were impressed with his speed and toughness but don’t see him as stepping in as a starter this year. “He gives us a backup nickel candidate,” Gettleman said. Rivera added, “He’s a guy that gives us depth.” Grade: B-Sixth round, 192nd: Alex Armah, FB, West GeorgiaThe lottery ticket of the draft. The Panthers could end up looking like geniuses if the Armah experiment pays off. In addition to being from a small school, Armah didn’t play the position the fullback position in college—one of the few he didn’t. “He’s an unusual guy,” Gettleman said. “He played defensive end, linebacker, tight end. He played fullback in high school.” Carolina’s scouts saw enough in him to give him a shot to replace Mike Tolbert. “Sometimes, you’ve got to go outside the box,” Gettleman said. “It’s a conversion. It’s a try. But we feel it’s a really good try.” Grade: C-Seventh round, 233rd: Harrison Butker, K, Georgia TechThe Panthers used a draft pick on a kicker for the first time in team history. Butker will get the chance to beat out the veteran Gano. At the very least, he’ll likely be put on kickoffs this year. “He has a big leg,” Gettleman said. “Very good kickoff guy.” Gettleman said that he felt he had to use a pick on a kicker, because Butker wouldn’t be available as an undrafted free agent. “We thought it was important to get this guy,” he said. Grade: B-OverallThe team added potential starters at running back, slot receiver and tackle, with the possibility of adding a fullback and kicker, if late-rounders pan out. The team also added valuable depth on defense. The draft class seems to be a good mix of gambles and solid by-the-book picks. Grade: B+