The 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl is set to kick off on January 25, and already, the NFL has made its presence felt with the attendance of many team scouts and representatives. The Carolina Panthers have their scouting department on hand to evaluate the next crop of rookie talent and will use those reports to determine which players will best help the team in the future.
Carolina has plenty of needs, and it makes sense they will focus primarily on those players who play at wide receiver, offensive line and defensive back. Of course, it is possible they will be looking at other positions too. General manager Dave Gettleman proved he isn't hesitant about adding depth to other positions that really didn't need any upgrade as evident from the 2013 draft.
Between the North and South rosters, there are plenty of seniors for the Carolina scouts to grade between now and the time the game ends. With any luck, they will have a preliminary idea of how their big board will shape out going into the combine.
The key to building a successful team is finding the right player whether it's a first-rounder or a mid-round gem. The Panthers have a good history of landing quality players who meet both criteria. Here are 10 players Carolina should keep a close eye on during the Senior Bowl practices and games.
All stats provided via Sports-Reference.com.
Weight: 205 pounds
Carolina is not hesitant about drafting players from small schools. The selections of Amini Silatolu (Midwestern State) and Edmund Kugbila (Valdosta State) are proof of that. Another player who could catch the attention of Panthers officials is wide receiver Jeff Janis.
Janis played his college ball at Saginaw Valley State and has already made quite an impression on some scouts during the Senior Bowl practices.
Not many small-school guys here at @seniorbowl but WR Jeff Janis of Saginaw Valley State just caught nice TD in 7-on-7 drills.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) January 21, 2014
According to his player profile during his sophomore year, Janis started in eight of 11 games for his team and recorded 968 receiving yards. The most impressive stat was his 20.2 yards gained per catch. His second year at Saginaw Valley was good enough to earn him an honorable mention for All-GLIAC.
He followed up that season with some impressive numbers and accolades during his junior and senior years. In 2012, he was second in the nation with 106 receptions and led all FCS (Division II) players with 1,635 receiving yards. Both were records at Saginaw Valley State.
He has the size and physicality to be a force inside the red zone, but it will ultimately come down to whether or not the Panthers want to find a guy who can stretch the field and help take the focus off of Steve Smith. However, if Ted Ginn Jr. re-signs with Carolina, it may pay off well to have a physical receiver for Cam Newton to throw to on certain situations.
Currently, Janis is a fourth-round projection who could allow the Panthers the ability to address all of their pressing needs and be the type of player to add depth at the receiver position.
Weight: 335 pounds
The Panthers are going to need to improve their offensive line, and, with the questions surrounding Jordan Gross' future and the inconsistency of the unit as a whole, it may be time to start building toward the future.
Enter Morgan Moses.
The offensive tackle was instrumental in helping Virginia achieve its first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. Moses earned spots on many preseason awards watch lists, along with being named to multiple preseason All-Conference lists.
Considering the fact Carolina hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2009, the addition of Moses would be a nice little bump on the offensive front.
The big offensive tackle has even garnered comparisons to Baltimore tackle Michael Oher.
He has certainly caught the eyes of the scouts this week, too.
Moses has proven durable, starting all 12 games for Virginia this past season. He is versatile as well, as he played both tackle and guard in 43 career starts. This could bode well for Carolina who may need to move players around if it is bit by the injury bug at offensive guard again.
Right now, he projects as a third-round selection and could be the kind of player Carolina would gamble on if it were to wait until the third round to select an offensive lineman. The Panthers would be wise to select an offensive tackle in this draft, so Moses would be an excellent selection if they chose to address other needs first.
Chris Davis (11) has a lot of potential to be a great NFL defensive back.
Weight: 200 pounds
Two things are a given about Chris Davis. First, he will be heavily watched by many scouts during the week and secondly, the Carolina Panthers could use some lightning in their secondary and on special teams.
Davis fits the bill for both.
The explosive Auburn cornerback who shocked both Alabama and the nation with his 108-yard touchdown return to propel the Tigers to the SEC title game has been named to nearly every team imaginable per his player profile. It's hard to fathom that he only rates as a third-round projection. Of course, that could change after the combine and the Auburn pro day.
In 42 games with Auburn, he recorded 192 tackles and defensed 24 passes. There is a glaring absence of interceptions, but as he showed in the regular-season finale, he can be very opportunistic when given the chance.
Perhaps his stock may rise following the conclusion of the Senior Bowl.
Chris Davis Jr. wants to use Senior Bowl opportunity to show he's "one of the elite cornerbacks in the country." http://t.co/iJZVcpWZ4N— James Crepea (@JamesCrepea) January 22, 2014
The Panthers could benefit from having someone like Davis on the roster. He can help shore up their secondary (he led Alabama in tackles with 74 in 2013) and can give Carolina yet another special teams weapon capable of returning any kick or punt for a score.
Davis can very well bring an explosive dynamic to the Panthers secondary, and his upside should warrant a lot of attention and consideration by the Carolina scouts and front-office brass.
Weight: 335 pounds
A couple of things bode well for Cyril Richardson being drafted by the Panthers in May. First, he has experience blocking for mobile quarterbacks (Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty). That kind of athleticism will aid Cam Newton in maneuvering in the pocket and give him some extra time to find an open receiver.
The other thing is Richardson's draft projection. He looks to be a good late-first-round to early-second-round pick, with the combination of Carolina's draft position, their need for help on the line and the depth of the draft based on the record-98 players who declared early.
Additionally, Richardson is very strong. He can bench 400 pounds and recorded 32 reps on the 225-pound bench. His lower body is just as strong as he squatted 665 pounds to lead his team. Taking into consideration his size, strength and Dave Gettleman's fondness for stacking his lines with “hog mollies,” Richardson could very well be the Panthers' first choice in the draft.
Despite his athleticism and accolades, Richardson has struggled a bit this week during practice.
#Bayloe's Cyril Richardson struggling when forced to adjust laterally. Not quick initially, over compensates slide, then plays off balance.— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 21, 2014
However, there is a lot of time between now and draft day for Richardson to correct his mistakes and become a quality NFL blocker. If he is still available when the Panthers are on the clock, expect him to be the next pick.
Matthews (87) has the potential to be a quality NFL receiver.
Weight: 206 pounds
There is no question the Carolina Panthers need another quality wide receiver to eventually replace Steve Smith. However, the elite receivers in the draft will most likely be gone by the time the Panthers are on the clock. That doesn't mean they will overlook the position in the first round.
Jordan Matthews is the kind of receiver Carolina would like to have in their stable. Not only is he a big receiver, but he also has long arms that measure out at 32.625" and big hands (approximately 10"). Those kind of measurements make him a threat to bring anything down inside the red zone.
Matthews recorded back-to-back seasons with at least 1,300 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Those final two years at Vandy helped boost the school to prominence and ushered in an era of good Commodore football. His contributions no doubt aided in that rise.
He ended his career as the SEC's all-time leader in receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759). Additionally, his 24 career touchdowns is a school record. Needless to say, this young man knows a thing or two about being a playmaker.
One thing to like about Matthews is his work ethic. It seems as though the young man takes extra time to work with some of his teammates after practice. This is the kind of intangible that has made players like Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton grow into the players they are today.
Once again, it's Jordan Matthews and Derek Carr working together after practice. pic.twitter.com/NTxojeyU0T— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) January 21, 2014
Draft analyst Dane Brugler has projected Matthews to the Panthers as the 28th overall pick. Assuming Carolina is set on going after a receiver first, odds are they could focus on Matthews, the Senior Bowl participant or pursue the junior out of Penn State, Allen Robinson.
Either way, both men could fill a major need for the Carolina receiving corps.
Weight: 254 pounds
Arthur Lynch may not register much attention on the Carolina scouts' radar, but he is worth a look because he is an exceptional pass-catching tight end who can help the offense if the Panthers don't draft a wide receiver early.
Remember that Newton threw for a career-high 4,051 yards in 2011. Part of that success can be attributed to the combination of Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. There is no reason to believe that Lynch cannot be just as effective, if not better.
The only obstacle about taking Lynch is how the Carolina offense lines up. The Panthers didn't use a two-tight end set that often in 2013. That doesn't negate the fact the Panthers should give the young Georgia product some attention.
The Panthers could help themselves become more innovative and perhaps draw on the success the New England Patriots offense experienced in 2012 by employing two tight ends in the majority of their formations.
Much of Lynch's contributions took place during the last two years of his collegiate career. During that span, he appeared in 25 games, caught 54 passes for 890 yards and scored eight touchdowns. While those numbers aren't staggering, Lynch has solid pass-catching ability. Unfortunately, he won't break too many tackles, but if he can help convert on 3rd-and-short, it really doesn't matter.
Already, Lynch is drawing some very favorable comparisons to one the league's best at the position.
Arthur Lynch reminds me so much of Jason Witten.— Draft Cowboys™ (@DraftCowboys) January 22, 2014
That's pretty impressive praise for a player projected to go in the fourth round.
Carolina showed last season it's not afraid to go in a different direction regardless of need. It shouldn't be shocking if the Panthers pulled a similar move in the mid rounds and land a player like Lynch. If he were to be selected, the combination of the coaching staff and guidance from Olsen should be enough to mold him into a good receiver in the NFL.
Weight: 205 pounds
As noted by a recent article by ESPN's David Newton, the difference between the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks is the secondary. The Panthers need to shore up that part of their defense to make the entire unit effective and complete. Drafting Ahmad Dixon could help them do just that.
Dixon has the kind of traits that are welcomed in a dominating defense. He is vocal and fearless. However, he is not without controversy as some of his on-field antics resulted in harsh penalties and an ejection in a game against TCU. The Panthers know the consequences of having a young, emotional and sometimes inexperienced defensive back letting the heat of the moment get the best of him.
While Dixon's antics may not be tolerated, he can put himself in a position to grow with the other young men who make up the Carolina secondary. The coaching staff will just have to preach smart play.
Really like Ahmad Dixon. Just showed nice range getting to pylon from centerfield.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
Dixon is far from a polished NFL defensive back (he recorded 81 tackles and one interception this past year), and while Matt Miller gave him some praise during a Senior Bowl practice, he has made his share of mistakes as well.
Of course, this is the Senior Bowl, and many of these players will have plenty of time to redeem themselves before the draft.
Weight: 254 pounds
It would seem asinine for the Carolina Panthers to even give a quarterback a second look (let alone a first look) this week, but the truth is they do not currently have a backup to Newton at the position. Derek Anderson is a free agent, and assuming he doesn't re-sign with the Panthers (an unlikely scenario), Carolina will have to fill the void through free agency or the draft.
Logan Thomas can give them the type of backup they need.
He has a build and skill set similar to Newton. However, he does lack the productivity that makes Newton a key cog in the offense. Thomas only threw for over 3,000 yards once in college and never threw more than 19 touchdowns in a season.
One thing Thomas has going for himself is his ability to make plays with his legs. Over the course of four years, he rushed for 1,359 yards and 24 touchdowns. His yards per carry leave something to be desired, but he has established himself as a dual-threat quarterback.
Of course, he has a long way to go if he is to take the reins of a professional team on Sundays. He hasn't had a great practice this week, but then again, neither have the other North quarterbacks.
Logan Thomas overthrows Josh Huff, but the two huddled up to work it out. Tajh Boyd hasn't been sharp this morning.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
Then again, there is a reason why Thomas is projected to go in the seventh round if he is drafted at all.
That is not exactly a vote of confidence for a player trying to make a NFL roster. However, the Panthers may be intrigued to use their last pick (or sign him as an undrafted free agent) if they need to find a backup to Newton.
For now, the scouts should see if Thomas can rebound from his poor showing and make the determination about whether or not he can grow into a professional quarterback.
Weight: 181 pounds
Another defensive back the Carolina Panthers should keep an eye on is Jaylen Watkins. The Florida cornerback is projected as a late-third- to early-fourth-round selection. What makes him a valuable commodity is his versatility. Watkins has experience playing safety as well.
As a senior, Watkins led his team in tackles with 53 (31 solo). As a junior, he showed some ball-hawking skills by picking off three passes, returning one for a touchdown.
Watkins has the makings of being a leader both on the field and off of it. He earned Florida's Gene Elleson Community Service Award this past season. He is considered a mature and unselfish player—two traits that will benefit him moving forward.
So far, he has been doing all of the right things in practice, and it has not gone unnoticed.
Watkins is the type of player who can make a positive impact on the team and is one whom scouts and owners need to worry about in terms of character flaws.
Weight: 273 pounds
The Carolina Panthers seem set on their defensive line, especially at the ends. However, the future of Greg Hardy is uncertain even though he will most likely be handed the franchise tag sometime over the next few weeks. Whether or not he will be signed to a new deal remains to be seen.
One solution is to prepare for his possible departure by drafting another defensive end this year. By doing this, the Panthers can use one season to groom a young talent who can step in if Hardy does indeed leave the team. On the other hand, if the latter were to happen, the Panthers could use their first pick of the 2015 draft to find his replacement.
In the best-case scenario, drafting a player like Will Clarke will add depth to an already talented rotation, and his size could be problematic for offensive tackles tasked with protecting the quarterback. The Mountaineer knows his way around an opposing team's backfield as he registered 9.5 sacks over a three-year career.
Granted, that number is a bit underwhelming, but he has plenty of room to grow.
Currently, Clarke projects as a late-third-round to early-fourth-round prospect. It's doubtful the Panthers would use a mid-round pick on a position that is already set, but he could draw some interest if he were to fall to the later rounds.
A more recent tweet has suggested that Clarke has helped move his stock up on the draft boards.
There are plenty of talented defensive ends entering the draft this year. Clarke is among the few seniors who could help himself out with a good showing at the Senior Bowl.
Draft projections courtesy of CBS Sports.