Carolina Panthers: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
The Carolina Panthers completed their 2014 draft, and for the most part, it was a success. Every need was filled, although an argument could be made that an offensive tackle was more important than offensive guard. There were a couple of surprises—some pleasant and others leaving fans scratching their heads.
Dave Gettleman maintained the same strategy as he did last year and assembled the best draft class he thought could immediately help the team. If he succeeds, he will be looking at another late-round pick in the 2015 draft. Until then, a whole season needs to be played first.
Which draft pick was the best? Which was the worst? With the upcoming camps and the homestretch until the regular season begins, what is next for Carolina?
All of those questions will be answered in this 2014 draft wrap-up.
Here is an overview of the Carolina Panthers' 2014 draft class.
- Round 1 (28th Overall): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
- Round 2 (60th Overall): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
- Round 3 (92nd Overall): Trai Turner, OG, LSU
- Round 4 (128th Overall): Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
- Round 5 (148th Overall): Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State
- Round 6 (204th Overall): Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
Carolina felt first-round selection Kelvin Benjamin was the perfect fit, and despite the hangups many fans may have about his flaws, Benjamin has the makeup to be Cam Newton's best friend. These two should develop great chemistry during the summer and leading into camp. Of course, they can't get started until Newton is cleared to practice following his ankle surgery.
Kony Ealy's selection raised a few eyebrows, but the pick was great. He will be afforded the opportunity to work alongside members of a great defense and learn the pro game from Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
The offensive line got a bit of an upgrade (on the inside) with Trai Turner's selection. Since an offensive tackle wasn't taken, it appears the Panthers are going to use the resources that are currently on the roster. Regardless, Turner provides the kind of push off the line that can open holes and make running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart very appreciative.
The fourth and fifth picks saw additions to the secondary with the additions of safety Tre Boston and cornerback Bene Benwikere. The latter came to the Panthers as part of trade with Minnesota. Both will compete for playing time, but it might be as a backup or situational role. These guys could be the core of the secondary's future in a couple of years.
Carolina's final pick saw Tyler Gaffney come to the team. While shoring up running back was not among the team's needs this year, his selection could be setting the table for the future. The tandem of Williams and Stewart is not what it was, and Gaffney could be the new blood that is infused in the offense. He still figures to be used on short-yardage situations, but it's worth keeping an eye on him during camp and the preseason games.
Best Pick: Kony Ealy, DE
While it probably should be Benjamin, the best player for the Carolina Panthers in this draft was Ealy. The Panthers may be set at the defensive end position, but that is for just this year. Hardy was given the franchise tag earlier this year, and after the season is done, he will expect a big payday. His contract demands may be too much for Carolina to even consider, and since it is getting ready to emerge from salary-cap hell, Ealy provides an affordable, effective solution.
It is not to say the front office wouldn't want to keep all of the talented defensive ends, but Gettleman does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past and have millions invested into two players, especially with the team needing to extend Newton and preparing to do the same for Luke Kuechly.
Gettleman was surprised as anyone about Ealy still being on the board, and he did not hesitate to snatch him up (Carolina didn't really hesitate picking anyone in the draft). He should add another level of intimidation to an already-talented defense. Not too many teams can brag about possessing three quality pass-rushing defensive ends from the SEC (Ealy, Missouri; Hardy, Ole Miss; and Charles Johnson, Georgia).
Ealy may not start this year, but he will see the field a lot and be a part of the defense's plans in a variety of situations. This will allow him to get experience and prep him to take over starting duties in 2015. Depending on how much playing time he gets and how much he contributes, he could be a candidate for AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Worst Pick: Tyler Gaffney, RB
Running back was not a necessary need, but then again, the running game is not what it use to be. Williams is still a serviceable running back, but the ineffective blocking up front limited him from reaching his full potential. The injury to Stewart didn't help, and it put a lot of wear and tear on Williams.
The solution from the front office standpoint was to bring in a featured back from college. Enter Gaffney.
Considering the available players left on the board, it's hard to fathom Carolina taking a running back for the sole purpose of being a blocker or special teams player. He can be much more than that.
It is kind of difficult to label him the worst player in the team's draft, but this is purely from a needs standpoint. Gaffney is a tough rusher and has strong legs that are capable of breaking tackles. This quality will help the Panthers offense on short-yardage and goal-line situations. With that in mind, he could spell Mike Tolbert when the offense is in one of the situations that were mentioned.
However, Carolina may have benefited from targeting an offensive tackle or maybe another wide receiver. The first five picks will all be in a position to compete for a starting job or rotational backup role, but with the crowded Panthers backfield, Gaffney may not be utilized except as a last resort.
The hope here is that he does get more time on the field than that of a third- or fourth-string running back. He will enter camp and should compete against Kenjon Barner for the third-string role, but Barner may be best served as a return specialist.
Gaffney will be a player to watch in camp and in the preseason. Who knows, maybe he turns this worst pick label into one of brilliance.
Undrafted Free Agents
This is the list of current undrafted free agents signed by Carolina. The tracker for the team's free agents will update with each new signed player.
Corey Brown, WR, Ohio State
The Panthers could use as much help at receiver as they can get. They have got an assortment of veterans and locked up a big target in Benjamin to make up Newton's arsenal. Corey Brown was a go-to receiver at Ohio State and led his team in receiving the past two seasons.
Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
It is amazing the University of Texas did not see a single player from its roster drafted this year. That hasn't happened since 1937. That being said, there should be plenty of talent to tap from the former players who entered the draft and subsequently, free agency.
Carrington Byndom was solid at Texas, and he will find himself competing for a job with the other defensive backs on the team. The task won't be easy with the starting right and left corners being comprised of Charles Godfrey and Antoine Cason. Don't forget about Melvin White, Josh Thomas and Josh Norman.
The cornerback competition will be stiff this summer.
David Foucault, OL, Montreal Carabins
It's not too often you see too many Canadians on an NFL playing field, but here is David Foucault who hails from Quebec. He is a big man standing at 6'7” and 300 pounds. He figures to be competing for a job at offensive tackle, and his size will make him a big obstacle for defenders to get around.
Jared Wheeler, OL, Miami (Fla.)
Jared Wheeler should be competing for a job as a backup to Ryan Kalil at center. However, he can play at offensive guard, so he will have show which position is his strong suit. The Panthers need to keep linemen on the field, and the influx of rookies could solve the problem.
Marcus Lucas, WR, Missouri
Marcus Lucas is another big target who may be added to it. He is slightly shorter than Benjamin, but he could develop into a serious outside threat on the field. He has soft hands and can haul in a lot of passes. Imagine having three targets (Benjamin, Brown and Greg Olsen) who stand at least 6'4” for Newton to find in the end zone.
Denicos Allen, OLB, Michigan State
Denicos Allen should be fun to watch in camp. His size be damned, he proved to be a solid linebacker in college. If he can learn to get around the hulking offensive tackles, tight ends and backs tasked with blocking him, he could be a welcomed asset to an already-stout defense.
Shaq Rowell , NT, West Virginia
There is no telling if Nate Chandler will stay on offense or return to the defensive line. If the former happens, Shaq Rowell should be playing for a chance to fill the vacancy left by him or the one that will be made by Dwan Edwards when he leaves. Of course, he needs to have a good camp and show he can handle pro competition.
Andrew Norwell, OL, Ohio State
He was a left guard at Ohio State and could add some necessary depth if he turns out to be a solid player. The Panthers were decimated by injuries at the guard position last year, and Andrew Norwell is another guy who can resolve the problem.
What's Next for the Carolina Panthers?
Now, it is time to go to work. Ron Rivera and his staff will use minicamp, OTAs and training camp to work with their players, mentor the rookies and bring together a team that will be defending its NFC South title and become the first team in the division to successfully do so. Of course, there is the obstacle of putting together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in team history.
The draft picks will be counted on to do their part. It doesn't matter if a pick was first or last for the team, each man must play to his potential to help the Panthers compete in 2014. The same goes for the undrafted rookies who should be playing with a chip on their shoulders for not being selected in the draft.
Bottom line: Everyone has something to prove.
Rivera has done of great job of holding his team together, and the players love him. Each season has been a testament to how much each player respects his coach. Three consecutive strong finishes at the end of each season proves that.
The 2014 season should be an interesting one to say the least.
Newton will be expected to take the reins of the offense that is now his. Kuechly will command the defense and maintain its reputation as one of the league's best. Both men will need to take the rookies under their wings and help bring them along in their development.
The offense may feature many new faces, but the talent is there for it to rebound and return to the top unit it was in 2011. Defensively, the team is intact with a few new faces in the secondary. However, each man is a proven player on the field.
A good season will prove that Gettleman has a strong grasp on the football world and that Rivera is a capable coach who can string together more than one winning season.