One thing that we know for sure is that some players drafted might not live up to their high expectations, while some of the other players may exceed their expectations.
In a lot of ways, determining whether Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney drafted the right guy is like predicting whether or not the Panthers are going to make the playoffs next season; we just don't know until the time has come.
Still, it's always interesting and especially entertaining to discuss who was drafted and speculate about how the new members of the squad will perform.
I've prepared a list of all the new Panthers with a brief analysis of each one of the players.
The first couple of rounds include players that are definitely more well-known than the players that went in the last few rounds. Although the players chosen in the fourth-seventh rounds were not top-ranked players in the draft, they are still pretty interesting to learn about.
You never know if these late-round picks could make a great impact on the roster. But I guess you can say the same thing about the players that were picked in the first couple of rounds.
The Carolina Panthers selected linebacker Luke Kuechly, out of Boston College, for the first-round pick.
Though most people would have thought that Rivera and Hurney would’ve gone with a defensive tackle, such as Fletcher Cox or Dontari Poe, they went with a linebacker instead.
One thing to note about this guy is that he’s fast—really fast. Kuechly's 40-yard time (of 4.58) at the NFL combine was faster than Jon Beason’s and Thomas Davis’.
Kuechly is also a great tackler. He averaged 15.9 tackles a game last season. For his overall defensive performance, he also earned two awards—Bronko Nagorski Award and the Butkus Award—both awarded to players who are among the top defensive players in the NCAA.
Kuechly was definitely a draft favorite, not just for Carolina, but for other teams as well. If Carolina had not picked him, he would have for surely gone right after.
It’s unsure what role Kuechly will fill on the team, however.
Kuechly played middle linebacker mostly at Boston College, a position that Beason mostly played before his season-ending injury last year. But Hurney said Beason’s and Davis’ injuries last season are not the reason why Kuechly was selected. Thus, it’s not the case that Kuechly is there to take someone else’s job—at least, according to Hurney.
There has also been a lot of talk about the Panthers possibly changing their 4-3 defense to 3-4. I’m not entirely sure if the Panthers have mentioned this. There's one more important thing to note about Kuechly, though: both Rivera and Hurney believe that Kuechly can play whatever linebacker position they assign to him.
In the second round, the Panthers selected offensive guard Amini Silatulo (6”4’, 311-pounder from Midwestern State).
While most believed that Panthers would definitely select a cornerback, defensive tackle or even a wide receiver in this round, the Panthers decided to go with a guard.
However, the Panthers didn’t just go with any typical guard; they went with a guard who is known for being a very aggressive player, something the Panthers need, especially for their developing run game.
Silatulo will more than likely take over the position the Travelle Wharton had. Hurney and Rivera hope that Silatulo's presence will quite the impact to their offense.
Hurney told Panthers.com, "When you're trying to evaluate a player that's playing on the Division II level, you look for him to dominate his competition. That's exactly what he does. When you put on tape of the guy, you see it."
Hurney also explained that he and Rivera were really concerned about their offensive line situation, even more than the other positions (including the defensive line). Hurney said that if that position gets hit with injuries, then this could have the most effect on the team's ability to win games.
Unfortunately, the Panthers did not have a third-round pick.
The Panthers gave up this third-rounder before the start of last season, where they traded with the Chicago Bears for Greg Olsen.
I don’t think many Panther fans (or any) have a problem with that trade. Olsen is definitely a fan favorite.
Though there were some rumors and claims that the Panthers were trying to make a trade to get in to the third round, this never happened.
Joe Adams was selected in the fourth round by the Panthers.
In the fourth round, the Panthers selected defensive end Frank Alexander (from Oklahoma) and wide receiver Joe Adams (from Arkansas).
In order to get Alexander, the Panthers had to trade one of their sixth-round picks and their third-round pick in next year's draft. According to Panthers.com, Hurney said that the Panthers were willing to make that trade only if they thought they could get Alexander in the fourth round. Luckily, they did.
Meanwhile, Rivera had this to say about Alexander (also via Panthers.com):
He will play both sides of the defense for you. He can play in critical pass-rush situations. He can play on first and second downs. He’s got the kind of ability that lends to making plays and that’s what excited us about him.
Despite the need for another dynamic wide receiver, Adams was actually picked because Hurney and Rivera believe that he could be a great asset on special teams. Adams was especially productive in college, for his ability to return kicks. Hurney claims that Adams has “big play abilities as a punt returner.”
Having someone like Adams will definitely help out the Panthers on special teams, considering they weren’t that great last year. They tried to rely on guys like Armanti Edwards for punt returns, but Edwards only managed an average of 5.5 yards a return.
According to Hurney, Adams' addition to the team doesn’t threaten Edwards' roster spot. Hurney believes that Edwards still has the potential to become a great wide receiver.
In the fifth round, the Panthers selected cornerback Josh Norman, from Coastal Carolina.
A cornerback is definitely a position the Panthers needed. And most, including myself, expected the Panthers to choose a cornerback earlier in the draft. But Hurney and Rivera found other players they really liked in the few first few rounds.
At the same time, they thought Norman was definitely a good pickup in the fifth round. In fact, Hurney and Rivera were surprised that Norman was still around in the fifth round.
Norman will join other Panther cornerbacks—Chris Gamble, Darious Butler, Brandon Hogan, Captain Munnerlyn, R.J. Stanford and Josh Thomas—to compete for starting positions, or maybe just a spot on the roster.
Panthers traded away one of their sixth-round picks to the San Francisco 49ers but still had one pick in that round. And with that pick, the Panthers drafted punter Brad Nortman, out of Wisconsin.
Earlier in the year, the Panthers released their former punter Jason Baker. Seeing a need for a punter on their roster, Hurney and Rivera felt comfortable enough with Nortman to use one of their draft picks on him.
Of course, no one is more excited about this opportunity than Nortman:
"There were a handful of opportunities, and Carolina is an absolutely great opportunity," said Nortman. "When I got the call just before they picked me, it was an absolute dream come true."
One thing is for sure about this pick: Panthers definitely needed to improve their special teams (based on last season’s performance). With addition of Adams and Nortman, the Panthers hope they are moving in the right direction.
For their final draft, the Panthers selected safety D.J. Campbell (6’0” ,205-pounder from California).
Campbell’s intelligence, speed and strength earned him a draft pick by the Panthers to compete for against the other Panther safeties—Charles Godfrey, Sherrod Martin, Haruki Nakamura, Jonathan Nelson, Jordan Pugh, Reggie Smith and Reggie Sullivan.
The competition is going to be steep at safety. Hopefully Campbell is up for the challenge.
In addition, Campbell will be an important asset on special teams, an area that, although the Panthers have tried to strengthen in free agency, is obviously still a concern for both Hurney and Rivera.
Upon getting drafting by the Panthers, Campbell talked about the importance of special teams:
It really gets overlooked. People only want to see the guys who score touchdowns, but without field position, you can't be in position to score. If special teams can get you to the 50 as opposed to the 20, your offense can open up the playbook and have more opportunities to score.
Even after all the moves made in free agency, it seemed clear after the draft that Hurney and Rivera were still trying to find ways of improving their special teams. Hopefully with the addition of Campbell, Nortman and Adams, the Panthers' special teams will greatly improve.
Based on NFL history, we know that some of the best players are players that may not have been drafted.
The Panthers also signed a number of undrafted players to hopefully fulfill some needs on defense and offense. Here’s a list of the players:
- Brenton Bersin, WR, Wofford
- Will Blackwell, OG, LSU
- Nate Chandler, DT, UCLA
- Derek Dennis, OG, Temple
- Jared Green, WR, Southern
- Wes Kemp, WR, Missouri
- Princeton McCarty, RB, Idaho
- Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU
- Lyndon Rowells, RB, Humboldt State
- Ryan Van Bergen, DE, Michigan
- Rico Wallace, WR, Shenandoah
It will be really exciting to see which of these players (or if any of these players) make the final roster.
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