Panthers go south for Legette

Carolina Panthers first round draft pick Xavier Legette beats the team’s Keep Pounding drum before his introductory press conference (Chris Carlson/AP Photo)

While several first rounders were wearing custom-made suits and shaking hands with the commissioner on draft night, Xavier Legette was at the Mullins, SC town hall with his grandmother.

“It was really the only spot we had in Mullins,” he said.

Legette estimated that 65 people were in attendance at his draft party. That may not sound like much, but it means that more than one out of every 60 people in Legette’s hometown packed into the town hall to celebrate with him. Granted, some of them may have also been dropping off property tax payments or responding to a jury duty summons.

With an accent dripping with peach syrup and Frogmore stew, Legette arrives at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium straight from South Carolina’s version of Mayberry. At his introductory press conference, he described the one Panthers game he attended as a kid, saying, “When we wanted to go someplace big, we either came here (to Charlotte) or Atlanta.”

While Legette may have humble beginnings, it didn’t stop him from developing into a talented pass catcher who captured the Panthers’ attention during the draft preparation process.

“We loved him,” said coach Dave Canales. “I’m not going to sit here and lie.”

Legette lost both of his parents to separate ailments in high school—his mother to cancer as a freshman and his father to a heart attack weeks before graduation. He went on to battle injuries, including a motorcycle crash as a sophomore, while playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks. COVID gave him a fifth year, and he made the most of it. Legette had nine catches for 178 yards in the season opener, at Bank of America Stadium, against UNC, topping his yardage total for each of his previous four seasons in one game. He finished the year with 71 catches, 1,255 yards and seven touchdowns.

“A year ago, I wasn’t on anybody’s board,” he said, “but I never let that get to me. I knew I had another year, I knew this was a do or die season”

Legette’s physical play intrigued the Panthers.

“What really got me noticed were all those 50/50 catches I was making,” he said. “It’s a grown-man’s game.”

Carolina traded into the first round to take Legette, who gives quarterback Bryce Young a target in the passing game, something that was at the top of the Panthers’ to do list entering the weekend.

The Panthers were far from done, however:

Round 2, No. 46 overall: Jonathon Brooks, RB, Texas

The Panthers traded up again in the second round to take the first running back selected in the 2024 draft. Brooks rushed for more than 1100 yards with the Longhorns last season but is recovering from a torn ACL.

He joins a position where the Panthers currently have plenty of depth, with Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders on the roster. So Brooks will have the luxury of making a full recovery before being counted on to make an impact.

Round 3, No. 72: Trevin Wallace, LB, Kentucky

Carolina added a potential replacement for Frankie Luvu, who left in free agency. Wallace is an aggressive tackler who will get the opportunity to contribute as a rookie. GM Dan Morgan said he wanted to bring in “dogs” and Wallace fits the bill.

“So dog mentality, to me—it might sound crazy—is you don’t care if you go out there and hurt somebody,” Wallace said. “It’s part of the game. You go in there and hurt somebody, you be like, ‘I did this and I’ma do it again.’ That’s what dog mentality is. You don’t go in there being soft. You go in there like, ‘I’ma hurt you every play. I want you to be scared of me.’”

Round 4, No. 101: Ja’Tavion Sanders, TE, Texas

In addition to a receiver, the Panthers were expected to add a pass catching tight end, and Sanders was one of the two we highlighted in our draft preview for the team last week. He joins teammate Brooks in the Carolina draft class of 2024 and will also get the chance to play early.

Round 5, No. 157: Chau Smith-Wade, CB, Washington State

Cornerback depth was another priority for the Panthers, and Smith-Wade offers a versatile option at the spot. While somewhat small for a corner, Smith-Wade has lined up inside, outside and even at safety.

Round 6, No. 200: Jaden Crumedy, DT, Mississippi State

Like Legette, Crumedy benefitted from a breakout year in his fifth, COVID season. He provides depth on the Panthers’ defensive line.

Round 7, No. 240: Michael Barrett, LB, Michigan

Like Smith-Wade, he is undersized but versatile. He should provide linebacker depth and special teams play for Carolina as a rookie.