CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are doing everything they can to bolster their pass rush in the NFL draft knowing they’ll be facing division foes featuring Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan at quarterback.
Carolina selected defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State with the sixth pick in the second round Friday night after taking Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown in the first round.
The Panthers then traded up five spots in hopes of upgrading the back end of the defense, taking safety Jeremy Chinn from Southern Illinois with the final pick of the second round, No. 64 overall. The Panthers gave up their a third-round (No. 69) and fifth-round (148th overall) pick to Seattle to move up.
The 6-foot-5, 266-pound Gross-Matos had 35 tackles for a loss and 17 1/2 sacks in two seasons as a starter for the Nittany Lions.
He was a first-team all-conference selection as a junior at Penn State defense recording 40 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks. He is expected to compete for a starting job with last year’s first-round draft pick Brian Burns and new free agent acquisition Stephen Weatherly from the Vikings.
Carolina previously selected Brown with the No. 7 overall pick, a sign the team is making a considerable effort to upgrade a defensive line unit that was devastated by free agent departures like Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Vernon Butler.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said entering the draft the team’s focus needed to be on upgrading the defense after addressing mostly offensive needs in free agency. Carolina is looking to replace nine starters from last year’s defense that allowed 29.4 points per game, second-most in the league.
Gross-Matos’ childhood was marred by family tragedies that he said have shaped who he became as a person.
When he was 2 years old, he fell off the side of a boat during a family outing. His father, Michael Gross, saved Yetur but drowned in the process. He was 29. Nine years later, Gross-Matos’ brother, Chelal, died after he was struck by lightning while the the brothers were playing outside.
“It put the rest of my life in perspective,” Gross-Matos said on a video conference call. “It’s about taking advantage of opportunities every second, every day. Give your best and love the people around you. Me and my family are a very close group. … I’m just happy to be in this moment with these people and I can’t wait to celebrate with them.”
The 6-foot-5, 326-pound Brown figures to play a big role in Carolina’s defense and will help free up players like Gross-Matos to make plays.
Viewed as a three-down player by new head coach Matt Rhule, Brown give the Panthers a legitimate run-stuffer who takes up multiple blockers and can free up other defenders to make tackles while also making plays on his own.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Friday the Panthers got a “steal” with Brown at No. 7.
“There was a decent chance he would go in the first round last year (but) he chose to come back to get his degree, to finish with his teammates,” Malzahn said. “And his goal was to be a top 10 pick. First of all, I think that’s real special. He accomplished his goal. He came back and is a Top 10 pick.”
The Panthers have had tremendous success in the past with first-round picks, selecting the likes of Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross and DeAngelo Williams, but have had their fair share of flops in the second round including Jimmy Clausen, Everette Brown, Eric Shelton, Dwayne Jarrett and Bruce Nelson.