Carolina Panthers: Draft Grades and Recap

Carolina Panthers: Draft Grades and Recap

by April 30, 2019 0 comments

During this week’s NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers built up assets to help construct the future of their franchise.

The 2018 Carolina Panthers raced out to a 6-2 start before their lack of depth at defensive end, safety, offensive tackle, and quarterback were all exposed for the world to see. This led to a dismal 1-8 finish and a 7-9 overall record, giving Carolina to a middle road draft pick. Now, with their weaknesses laid bare to all, they approached the off-season with a mindset to rush the passer on the defensive side of the ball, and protect the passer on the offensive side. The off-season was a productive one, where fans saw Eric Reid and Daryl Williams both return with team-friendly three and one-year deals, respectively. Their biggest acquisitions were a former foe in Bruce Irvin and the best center of the free agent class in Matt Paradis.

Having addressed several weaknesses, the Panthers attacked the NFL Draft. Many pundits speculated that Carolina would target trench warfare early and would exit the draft with a top prospect at both tackle and defensive end. They were also expected to address both their needs at free safety and backup quarterback, while finding Christian McCaffrey a partner at running back. When the smoke cleared, the Panthers had made seven picks, one in each round, and had addressed every hole with the exception of free safety. They would prove their resolve to attack opposing quarterbacks and protect their own, by doubling down at both offensive tackle and defensive end before all was said and done.

 

Round #1, Selection #16

BRIAN BURNS, DEFENSIVE END/OUTSIDE LINEBACKER, FLORIDA STATE

Grade: A

 

Arguably the Carolina Panthers’ top 2019 NFL Draft need was an edge rusher, and Florida State’s Brian Burns fell into their laps at pick 16. While the talk of the draft in terms of edge rushers was centered around Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Kentucky’s Josh Allen, there honestly wasn’t a prospect with a more refined skill-set at rushing the passer than Brian Burns. In what was an otherwise lost season for Florida State, Burns was one of the best players and highlight-makers for the Seminoles, who went 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the first time in 36 years. Burns, or Spider-Man as he likes to be called, finished the season as a First-Team All-ACC performer with 15.5 tackles-for-loss and 10 sacks. Over his three year career with the ‘Noles, Burns totaled 23 sacks and 38.5 tackles-for-loss.

He has great speed and agility and a knack for attacking whoever has the ball. Much like 2017 first round pick Christian McCaffrey, his size is his biggest knock. For the combine, he already proved he could add some bulk without losing his speed. With Carolina, he can employ the same diet and workout plan McCaffrey did in the 2018 off-season to increase his size and power without sacrificing his speed and agility. The Panthers started with a home run pick who projects to be an immediate starter at defensive end and as a bonus can play outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme the Panthers reportedly want to employ. Burns has a high floor and an even higher ceiling.

 

Round #2, Selection #37

GREG LITTLE, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, OLE MISS 

Grade: A+

 

The 2019 Carolina Panthers had two massive needs heading into the draft: edge rusher, which they got in round one with Brian Burns, and offensive tackle. The mantra going in was “protect our quarterback, get pressure on theirs.”  Ever since Jordan Gross retired in 2014, Left Tackle has been one of the largest question marks and handcuffs for the Carolina Panthers. Several quality tackles fell due to the defensive star-power of the draft, and early in round two, offensive players became more desired. When Carolina used one of their two third-round picks to jump up from pick 47 to 37, the pick was certainly about to be one of two players, Nassir Adderley or Greg Little.

Little is built like a franchise left tackle, with good size, arm length, and athleticism. In addition, he only allowed one sack against the SEC. At one point he was projected as a mid-to-high first round pick, so losing a third-round pick to acquire Little was a small price to pay.  Acquiring a top left tackle in the second round has outstanding value, especially with the talents of Carolina’s offensive line coaching staff. If Little develops into the franchise left tackle for the Carolina Panthers, that third round pick won’t be missed.

 

Round #3, Selection #100

WILL GRIER, QUARTERBACK, WEST VIRGINIA

Grade: B-

 

For this pick it is important to keep an open mind, and also to recognize that this is a pick to add quarterback depth, NOT to replace Cam Newton. Still, Carolina needs a quality safety, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was still available at the time; he was picked up by hated division rival the New Orleans Saints in the next round. Many felt it was a mistake to make this pick.

At the same time, Carolina had not drafted a quarterback since 2011. Cam Newton had been instead relying on veteran Derek Anderson. Initially, that paid off, as he was able to sustain the Panthers offense in spot duty for Cam Newton in 2012 and 2014, but by 2016 it became obvious Anderson had regressed. Carolina then turned to undrafted players, who gave the team somewhat expected results. Panthers fans need to remember, this is not a replacement at quarterback, it is about enhancing the quarterback depth. Grier has great accuracy, ball placement, and timing, traits Norv Turner likes for his offensive scheme. Grier and will more than likely surpass both Heinieke and Allen as the top backup quarterback in the depth chart.

The pick also represents phenomenal value, as he was projected as a top 50 player. However, Grier should not be really considered the future for the team at quarterback. He should develop this season under a hopefully healthy Cam Newton, and will be an above average talent in comparison to other league backups. He could be traded in the future to a quarterback-needy team, or could remain depending on Newton’s health and his success.

Grier’s 2018 stats: 266 completions out of 397 attempts, for 3,864 yards, 37 touchdowns to eight interceptions, 67 percent accuracy.

 

Round #4, Selection #115

CHRISTIAN MILLER, DEFENSIVE END/LINEBACKER, ALABAMA 

Grade: A-

Carolina proved their commitment to placing more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the selection of Christian Miller in the fourth round. They also pretty much made clear their intent to move to the rumored 3-4 style. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the second most effective pass rusher in the SEC conference, behind only first-round selection Josh Allen.

There are two positions the Carolina Panthers seem to have a knack for developing: running backs and linebackers. There is a litany of top rushers and linebackers drafted by the Carolina Panthers throughout the years, and Miller could be another. Carolina’s backup linebackers end up as starters elsewhere.

The team suddenly found linebacker a secondary need this year, with longtime starter Thomas Davis Sr. first considering retirement and then being released and being signed to a small deal with the Los Angles Chargers. In spite of his mid-round draft status, anticipate the Panthers to utilize him as a starting outside linebacker with the threat of being an additional pass rusher. He does everything an outside linebacker is expected to do: rush off the edge, set the edge, play the run, and drop into coverage. This could be the steal of the draft for the Carolina Panthers, as his injuries were the only thing keeping him from being drafted in the first two rounds. Carolina looks to again have a top linebacker corps.

 

Round #5, Selection #154

JORDAN SCARLETT, RUNNING BACK, FLORIDA

Grade: C- to B+

 

Jordan Scarlett is probably the weakest pick of this draft class, and also a reach, but he has upside because of what the Panthers specifically want. Scarlett had horrible off the field decision making in college, first missing a bowl game due to marijuana use, and then missing his entire sophomore season due to credit card fraud. He was allowed to return among the eight other players who committed the misdemeanor, and was the only player from the scandal who did return instead of opting out, which shows accountability, responsibility, and maturity, and he showed sincerity and remorse, which Hurney stated echoed with him and made him a possible late-round selection.

He made the most of his second chance as a Gator, posting up 777 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2018 while splitting carries with Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce. There’s a reason there is a grade scale for this pick. First, he is admittedly a reach based on what he has shown in college and he does carry the red flag of past character issues. Second, he’s a fifth-round pick. By the time you get past rounds three and four you are mostly getting depth rather than starter status, otherwise, most of those players would have been selected higher. Keep in mind however, there are several success stories of running backs who were taken late but made significant contributions to their team, even as a rookie.

Watching his film, he is a perfect compliment to Christian McCaffrey, who was due for a lightened workload. Scarlett is a hard runner who works best inside the tackles and constantly breaks through tackles, never going down on the first contact by constantly keeping his legs churning. With his size and power he breaks through to the second level and then using his sub 4.5 speed he leaves defenders in his dust. If he gets cut in training camp, he was a late round pick and the grade is a C-. On the other hand, if he works his way up the depth chart and becomes the power and strength piece for the next rendition of “Double Trouble” for the Carolina Panthers, then this grade moves up to B+. Running backs can make an impact even when drafted late, and I think he will vulture several short yardage carries and touchdowns from both Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey.

 

Round #6, Selection #212

DENNIS DALEY, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, SOUTH CAROLINA

Grade: A-

 

The Panthers traded down from pick 187 and picked up an additional pick in the seventh round, improving their grade for this pick. Now think about the fact that they yet again addressed a major need with a versatile player who can slide in at both tackle or guard, and this selection shines. As before noted, the Panthers had a severe need at offensive line, not just for starting tackle but also for depth. Marty Hurney doubled down in a concerted effort to finally repair the Panthers’ most long-standing weakness.

Dennis Daley is a two-year starter at left tackle, a position all teams covet, and he also has the athleticism and versatility to kick inside and play guard. Had he been on a team that had a better schedule, he likely would have been taken much higher, but he is battle-tested against the very best the SEC had to offer and using his strength and anchor ability was able to stonewall Clelin Ferrell who went fourth overall to the Oakland Raiders. However, he tends to struggle against speed rushers which furthers the argument that he may be moved inside to guard at the next level.

Daley admittedly had a tough season, however, he maintains his ability to mature and grow. Alongside his size and technique, this prospect is encouraging. Daley spent just two seasons with the Gamecocks, following a transfer from a junior college. In three years time, we may look back and say Dennis Daley was a draft diamond, after he seasons and develops into a starting left guard for the Panthers. He was projected to be a late day two, early day three pick so to get him not just by trading back but also late in day three is phenomenal value. He is an absolute steal and a deep draft sleeper. He is reminiscent of former versatile Panther player, and  now offensive line assistant Travelle Wharton, who allegedly was banging the table for the Panthers to draft Daley.

 

Round #7, Selection #237

TERRY GODWIN. WIDE RECEIVER, GEORGIA

Grade: C to B-

 

The final pick to round out the draft class is admittedly very average, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. He has nice soft hands and runs good routes. He is able to create separation because of that. His speed and size are either average or below average for the NFL and that is the big reason he is here near the end of the seventh round as opposed to being a day one or two selection. He is a hands catcher instead of a body catcher, and seems to catch every reasonable throw directed his way.

Unfortunately, Godwin may be in a bad situation in Carolina. Had he been an undrafted free agent, he could have chosen the team he felt would be best for his niche ability and played his way to a spot on an NFL roster.

On the Carolina Panthers, however, he is little more than a fourth-string wide receiver at this point in time. They have several slot receiver-style players, who have more experience and more importantly, better speed than Godwin. If he performs well in training camp, there’s a chance we see more of Godwin this season as a depth option, but he will most likely be developing on the practice squad. In time he may grow into a viable slot option, as he is shifty enough to slip underneath defenses and garner valuable first downs. It is worth bearing in mind, this is basically a free pick since this was the pick the Panthers received when they traded down in the sixth round. Because of the lateness of the pick, it would not be the worst thing if he does not pan out.

2018 stats: 23 catches for 385 yards and 3 touchdowns.

 

Final Grade: B+ to A-

 

The Panthers knew what they needed going in, and when all was said and done, they did what they had to do. By draft’s end, they had strengthened multiple weaknesses, including their two largest holes: pass rusher and pass protection. They exit the 2019 draft with three bonafide starters, two potential future starters, and two players who have starter potential at best and shore up depth at worst. However, they could have improved their draft by taking free safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in round three instead of drafting a backup quarterback with fringe starter potential.

Lastly, the safety position is one of the toughest to transition to the NFL as a rookie, and there are several starters already available in free agency that the Panthers have had ties to, like Tre Boston and Eric Berry. If and when the Panthers pull the trigger on a free safety, they will have completed each major task of the offseason. Marty Hurney did an exceptional job this year, and still has time left. Bottom line: The 2019 free agency and draft class will be the ones that get the Carolina Panthers back into the playoffs.

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