Last month, as NFL free agency wound down, the Carolina Panthers had a shorter, but still imposing, list of roster needs remaining.
“The team will need to focus on corners, safeties and linebackers,” we wrote. “Carolina may also look to add a receiver and/or tight end and perhaps another quarterback to develop.”
With one very prominent exception, the Panthers took care of most of the positions on their list in last week’s NFL Draft.
“We got two tackles and two pass rushers,” GM Marty Hurney said. “So I think protecting the passer and rushing the passer (were priorities). Obviously, we did not draft a safety or really a secondary player, but we feel like we addressed a lot of needs and feel good about the way things went.”
The Panthers added a pass-rushing end, a pass-rushing linebacker, a pair of offensive linemen, a receiver, running back and a quarterback to back up Cam Newton, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery.
Carolina passed on the chance to take a defensive back, but that may have been more an indictment of the choices available in the draft than a neglect of the position.
“It’s just some drafts, it’s just the way the draft is falling,” Hurney said. “If it fell right, and the safety was there, obviously we would’ve taken one, but it just didn’t work out that way. We don’t play tomorrow. You’re never going to have all your needs filled. So you’re just always looking, and we have some guys on our football team that we think can compete and do a good job at safety.”
Here’s a look at the players the Panthers chose in the draft.
First round, 16th pick, Brian Burns, DE, FSU
In a draft loaded with defensive linemen, the Panthers chose the man that will get the chance to replace retiring future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers. Carolina values versatility on both lines, and Burns allows them to use a three- or four-man line and still pressure the passer.
“When you watch the tape, all the games he flashes,” coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s good for at least one-and-a-half — whether it’s one-and-a-half sacks, one-and-a-half caused fumbles. I mean, when a guy has a number like that, you know you’re going to get an impact at some point in the game.”
Second round, 37th pick, Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss
The Panthers traded up to grab a piece for their offensive line — a spot they prioritized going into the draft.
“He’s been a guy that we’ve talked about a lot and had our eye on for some time,” Hurney said, calling the trade “the key of the weekend.”
“To move up and get a guy that everybody thought had a chance … to come in and have a long career for us. That trade up and getting Greg was huge I think for the weekend.”
Third round, 100th pick, Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
The Little trade cost the Panthers their early third-round pick. Near the end of the round, they took Grier, who spent time in Charlotte growing up and watched the draft from a relative’s house in the city. The West Virginia passer gives the Panthers a promising backup to Newton, who is coming off his second shoulder procedure in three years. Rivera compared Grier to Derek Anderson, who was Carolina’s backup for most of Newton’s career.
Fourth round, 115th pick, Christian Miller, LB/edge rusher, Alabama
The linebacker gives the Panthers another versatile piece to the pass rush.
“That’s the neat thing about both Brian and Christian,” Rivera said. “They’re going to line up on the outside. I think with their skill sets, you’re talking about guys that can play either side and contribute as far as a four front as well. I think both of these young guys can come in and compete and give us some more depth.”
Fifth round, 154th pick, Jordan Scarlett, RB, Florida
This pick was a bit of a curveball, as the Panthers appeared to go with the top name left on their board instead of looking at need. Scarlett was productive at Florida, but he didn’t play a large role catching passes. He also had legal troubles at Florida, but the team is confident that he’s moved on from them.
Sixth round, 212th pick, Dennis Daley, OT, South Carolina
More of a project than Little, Daley is raw and relatively inexperienced. But the Panthers are enamored with his size and potential.
“You’re not going to go through him,” Hurney said. “I mean he is stout, he is so stout. He is strong and he is a guy that we think has a ton of upside.”
Seventh round, 237th pick, Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia
The Panthers traded down to get Daley in the sixth round, adding this pick in the process.
“He’s a guy that makes plays and makes things happen,” Rivera said. “He does have some return skills as well that we’re going to take a look at. He’s a dynamic guy with the ball in his hands and can make people miss, and he’s got some speed.”