The Carolina Panthers went into this year's NFL Draft without a first round pick, but walked away with a player they never thought they would land. The Panthers traded San Francisco next year's first round pick for a chance to draft Everette Brown, a defensive end from Florida State, with the 43rd overall pick.
Brown had a first round grade on the Panthers brain trust's draft board and when the opportunity came knocking, they took a page from last year's playbook and invested the 'then' for the 'now.' Panthers GM Marty Hurney acknowledged the team's risk in trading yet another first round pick for a player they felt they couldn't let slip through the cracks.
“Sure it is, every time you do it,” Hurney said. “But you do it for players you think can come in and help you right away. When you look at giving up next year’s first for a guy like Everette Brown, you have him for a year and he’s that much better in 2010.”
The move pleased Brown, who grew up about 30 miles from where current Panthers problem child Julius Peppers was born and raised.
“If I had one team that I could have went to it would have been the Carolina Panthers,” Brown said. “I didn’t think I had a chance of playing for the Panthers. That is my hometown team and the team I grew up watching.”
Brown will likely have a chance to make an immediate impact with the Peppers saga continuing with no end in sight. This will give Brown a good chance to get some reps in with the first team in the mini-camps and perhaps even training camp, assuming Peppers declines to participate in both. In the event that Peppers sits out the 2009 season, Brown will be an important part of the Panthers' pass rush.
Brown chose to forgo his senior year at Florida State after posting 23 sacks in 25 games to rank him fifth all time in the storied program's history.
The Panthers continued to upgrade their defense with their next two picks. Cornerback/safety Sherrod Martin from Troy was selected sixteen picks after Brown with the 59th overall selection. Martin will likely start at the nickel back position, replacing Richard Marshall who will start at the second corner in place of the departed Ken Lucas.
Martin recorded nine career interceptions at Troy, and has a knack for making those interceptions appear on highlight reels.
With the 93rd overall pick, the Panthers took Georgia defensive tackle Corvey Irvin. This pick is a little bit of a mystery, seeing as how Irvin started only one year for the Bulldogs after a starting tackle went down in the season opener.
With his limited experience, however, comes a great attitude. Scouts portray Irvin as a locker room leader--something Big Cat and Furney take very seriously.
Irvin still has a lot of room for improvement, which could go either way for the Panthers. His services will be needed early and often as Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu look for a way to catch their breath.
The middle rounds were geared towards depth on the offensive side of the ball. Speedy running back Mike Goodson from Texas A&M was selected with the 111th overall pick.
Goodson split time in the backfield while in college and will replace Nick Goings as the team's third back on the depth chart. He has solid pass-catching ability and could have the potential to see time at the slot receiver position.
The Panthers got another locker room leader when they selected Syracuse fullback Tony Fiammetta with the 128th overall pick. Fiammetta will back up Brad Hoover and will likely be his successor when the veteran hangs up the cleats.
Fiammetta has a tremendous upside due to his versatility as a runner, pass catcher, or blocker. With the way the Panthers run the ball, he will serve as a good way to get Hoover some breaks, while maintaining intensity on the field.
The offensive line recieved a major boost with the addition of Duke Robinson in the fifth round. The Oklahoma guard was projected as a second or third round pick but fell into the Panthers lap at 163rd overall.
Robinson is a big guy with a mean streak, and is big enough to move to tackle if needed. He could challenge Keydrick Vincent for the starting right guard position if Vincent can't make a full recovery from a groin injury.
The Panthers' Mr. Irrelevant this year was South Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn is an athletic defensive back but has problems with speedy receivers.
Unless new Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and secondary coaches Mike Gillhamer and newcomer Ron Milus can shore up Munnerlyn's weaknesses, expect to see him on special teams and in dime and quarter packages.
The draft doesn't end when the last pick is announced. Teams quickly start to rifle through their scouting reports, seeing which undrafted players would fit into their rosters as they move towards mini-camps and other offseason programs.
There is no such thing as an abundance of players until late August, when the roster cuts begin. Every team searches for that 'diamond in the rough' that will be the missing ingredient for their team in their quest for the Lombardi trophy.
The Panthers jumped into the undrafted free agent market right away by signing a slew of players, a few of whom stand a chance as underdogs. Here they are below:
Anthony Heygood - LB, Purdue
C.J. Davis - C/G, Pittsburgh:
All Big East in 2008. Draft stock hurt by switch to center in senior year, but versatility is an upside entering the NFL.
Larry Beavers - KR/WR, Wesley College:
Could break through as a return man for the Panthers. Averaged 39.5 yards per return last year in college with 10 (yes, 10) touchdowns.
Kevin Brock - TE, Rutgers
Jason Chery - WR, Louisiana-Lafayette
Keith Grey - C, UConn
Gerald Cadogan - OT, Penn State:
Ranked as the #11 tackle in Scott Wright's Draft Countdown. One of the higher ranked UDFAs.
Brit Miller - LB, Illinois
Hunter Cantwel - QB, Louisville:
Widely considered as the best backup quarterback in the nation when serving behind current Green Bay Packer Brian Brohm. Started for Louisville in 08 but was unimpressive, throwing 16 TDs and 16 INTs. Ranked #8 quarterback in Scott Wright's Draft Countdown.
Jamall Lee- RB, Bishop's College (Canada):
4.39 40-yard dash time and a 44 inch vertical at the CFL evaluation camp.
As is the story every year, no team will truly know what they got in this years draft for months, maybe even years, to come. It's not about what they did in college, it's about how that game translates to the pros, and how they respond to professional coaches and their schemes. While the Panthers did not have a first round pick, they got a guy who they never thought would be there when it came their turn.
They did give up next year's first rounder, but if a deal can be made to move Julius Peppers, it's likely that they will regain entry into next year's first round in that fashion. The team addressed some key needs and was also able to get a hold of a couple of long shots after the draft.
Overall Draft Grade: C+