One of the common mentalities the group from the Carolina Panthers maintained for the duration of the week in Mobile, Ala., at the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl was starting over.
The Panthers finished the 2013 season atop the NFC South with a 12-4 record. It was a superb showing for Carolina, but it’s time to get back to work. Spending a week in January scouting college players who are preparing for the draft is proof that it’s time to move forward.
"We're not satisfied, and it would be a huge mistake to think we're just going to show up and be 12-4 again," Rivera told Max Henson of Panthers.com. "It's up to me to make sure that we go forward, get better and continue to grow."
There are 103 days between the Senior Bowl and the NFL draft on May 8. That may seem like a long time for the Panthers to prepare, but the time will fly by. That’s why it was so important to have a productive week of scouting the pre-Senior Bowl practices.
Here’s what Carolina might have learned:
When to Address the WR Position
One of the biggest questions surrounding the 2014 NFL draft for the Panthers revolves around when, not if, they will address their need at wide receiver. Will they do it early?
Carolina’s first pick in the draft is at No. 28. If a go-to receiver who could take pressure off Steve Smith and eventually take Smith’s place on top of the depth chart were available, the Panthers may pounce.
The guy who fits that bill, who also just happened to be in Mobile this week, is Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews.
Matthews is a towering receiving threat at 6’3” and in 51 games with the Commodores caught 262 passes for 3,759 yards and 24 touchdowns. He spoke with Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer and is well aware that he’s on Carolina’s radar.
Matthews had a very impressive week at practices leading up to the Senior Bowl, and if he continues to shine like that throughout the combine and during his pro day, he may rise too high on draft boards to be an option for the Panthers.
Another sizable option at receiver is Jeff Janis from Saginaw Valley State. The 6’3” Janis caught 83 passes last season for 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also has incredible speed, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Janis first appeared on NFL radars at Saginaw Valley State’s pro day last year, when he said he ran the 40-yard dash in times of 4.36 and 4.42 seconds.
Janis is projected as a mid- to late-round draft option, but his combination of size and speed—not to mention his great showing at the Senior Bowl workouts—could push him higher as the draft approaches.
Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis announced on Twitter he won’t participate in the actual game that culminates the week of Senior Bowl festivities because he “tweaked” his hamstring.
Prior to that injury, Abbrederis was drawing heavy praise.
According to Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com, the Panthers interviewed Abbrederis on Wednesday. The 6’2” former Badger caught 78 passes last season for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns.
Defense Still Needs Help
Without a doubt the Carolina defense was its strong point in 2013. But the unit can still get better, particularly in the secondary.
A cornerback is likely what the Panthers could use the most in terms of positions to covet in the draft, but don’t sleep on the safety position. Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward is really climbing draft boards after a strong Senior Bowl week.
Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste shined in Mobile this week, and Bleacher Report’s own draft guru Matt Miller was impressed prior to and during the coaching sessions.
Jean-Baptiste is a 6’3” beast at 220 pounds. He posted six interceptions during his junior and senior seasons combined and 21 pass breakups. If the Panthers are going to target him, it’ll likely be early on Day 2 of the draft.
In 45 games at the University of Florida, cornerback Jaylen Watkins picked off three passes and broke up 21 passes. At the Senior Bowl he was one of the more impressive corners.
Watkins, who spent time at safety because the cornerback depth at Florida was so great, was reportedly breaking on routes faster than the wide receivers in Mobile, according to Brent Sobleski of USA Today.
The Panthers are definitely starting over after a great building season of 2013. There aren’t so much holes on this roster, but areas to improve. If general manager Dave Gettleman pulls off a solid draft and wins in free agency over the next few months, Carolina could be Super Bowl bound in 2014.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.