General manager Dave Gettleman knew that in order to compete in the NFC South, the team needed to refresh their identity on offense. A group that was once best known for attacking teams via multiple power run formations had to change gears by getting faster and more athletic on the perimeter. With a focus on speed an versatility lets take a look at their draft haul from last week.
Fifth Round, 152nd Overall: CB Corn Elder (Miami)
Sixth Round, 192nd Overall: FB Alex Armah (West Georgia)
Seventh Round, 233rd Overall: K Harrison Butker (Georgia Tech)
Panthers 2017 Draft Grade: 8.0/10
Carolina Panthers 2017 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey’s versatility will provide an immediate impact throughout the offense. Initially presumed to be a smoke screen, the team’s interest in McCaffrey proved to be genuine. Whether he takes the hand off out of the shotgun or leaks out in a pass pattern, the defense will need to keep their eyes on McCaffrey at all times. And that is just the tip of the iceberg when discussing the various ways that McCaffrey can impact a game. Should the defense begin to dedicate extra personnel in the box, a simple shift will put him out in space one on one with a linebacker. And not to be overlooked, one of the league’s best special teams units receives a dynamic return specialist capable of flipping field position any time he touches the ball.
The Head-Scratcher: Alex Armah
It’s difficult for me to truly harp on the Alex Armah choice, especially after releasing Mike Tolbert. The team clearly felt the need to replenish the fullback position. But rather than Armah, why not go with a more highly regarded prospect like Freddie Stevenson of Florida State if they wanted to replicate Tolbert’s bruising style and add a throwback style lead blocker? Or if they were looking to continue with a more contemporary fullback that can also pitch in as a receiver out of the backfield, Sam Rogers from Virginia Tech was an option. I don’t knock the choice to add a fullback but I do wonder if the team bit off more than they can chew with a potential project player like Armah.
The Surprise: Daeshon Hall
Daeshon Hall brings the ideal size and strength of an edge rusher and if he can pickup subtle nuances from Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson he could end up being an absolute steal. This pick was a surprise because the Panthers felt the need to jump up in the third round to select him. Time will tell if the move was worth it but they surrendered an additional pick this year to even make the move possible. The Panthers either knew that a run on pass rushers was imminent or were content with starting the run as three defensive ends were selected between picks 13 and 19.
The Steal: Taylor Moton
Whether it is inside at guard or outside at tackle, Taylor Moton appears to be a day one starter for the Panthers. He can provide an immediate boost if slated for a guard spot and can even cycle outside if Michael Oher continues to battle injuries. Moton is athletic enough to pull as needed and displays the strength and drive to win right off the snap. While becoming faster on the perimeter at the skill positions was the focus, the Panthers did well to not pass on a mauling offensive lineman that can help them grind out the run game.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Curtis Samuel
While I think the quickness and agility of McCaffery will easily grab attention of the team and media, I expect Samuel to be the biggest surprise with his flat out speed. Watching Samuel at Ohio State reminded me of how Percy Harvin was used both in college at Florida (under Urban Meyer) and in the NFL with Seattle. With Kelvin Benjamin demanding attention on the outside and Greg Olsen occupying the middle, Samuel should see plenty of single coverage and be able to show off his 4.31 40-yard dash burst.
Corn Elder projects to be a nickel corner for the Panthers and could even push for immediate starting time. Alex Armah as mentioned above was an interesting choice at fullback but can eventually become an effective part of the running game while occasionally catching passes out of the backfield. Previous seasons have shown that Carolina is more than willing to deploy and feature all of their backs to keep the defense on tilt. After an impressive showing at the Combine, kicker Harrison Butker was the team’s final selection. With their usual placekicker Graham Gano dealing with an injury part of last season it is important for the team to have another option in place to push Gano should he have a shaky start to the year.
The Bottom Line
The Panthers addressed their primary needs on the roster with the additions in the secondary, on the offensive line, and with a pass rusher. But beyond that the team’s focus on complementary weapons around Cam Newton were the highlights of the weekend for Carolina. Just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance the Panthers did a great job adding variety to their offense. Not only can McCaffrey and Samuel line up all over the field but both players provide a complimentary speed element to the possession styles of Benjamin and Olsen. The name of the game is to limit the amount of punishment inflicted upon Newton, with these first two picks the team can also keep up with the more dynamic offenses in the division. Carolina set themselves up to be right back in the mix for the division title in the NFC South in 2017.