The 2018 NFL Draft marked the beginning of Marty Hurney‘s second stint as the general manager for the Carolina Panthers and he did not disappoint. Despite finishing 11-5 last season, Carolina entered this draft with quite a few holes on their roster. Not to forget, the Panthers have an older roster and had to address getting younger at certain positions such as safety, offensive line, and defensive end. Hurney was not the most active of GMs trying to move up or down, but he did make a couple of trades this past weekend:
Traded away the 88th overall pick to Green Bay Packers for the 101st and 147th pick
Traded away the 147th and 197th overall picks to the Los Angeles Rams for the 136th pick
Carolina made selections in every round except for the sixth round and added eight new players to their roster.
First round, 24th overall: D.J. Moore, Wide Receiver, Maryland
Second round, 55th overall: Donte Jackson, Cornerback, LSU
Third round, 85th overall: Rashaan Gaulden, Safety, Tennessee
Fourth round, 101st overall: Ian Thomas, Tight End, Indiana
Fourth round, 136th overall: Marquis Haynes, Defensive End, Ole Miss
Fifth round, 161st overall: Jermaine Carter, Linebacker, Maryland
Seventh round, 234th overall: Andre Smith, Linebacker, North Carolina
Seventh round, 242nd overall: Kendrick Norton, Defensive Tackle, Miami
Carolina Panthers 2018 Draft grade: 8.2/10 B-
Carolina Panthers 2018 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: D.J. Moore
Since the Panthers released Steve Smith in 2014, they have yet to find a true number one receiver for Cam Newton. But Smith believes that Moore is capable of filling the void that he left as he proclaimed on NFL Network live at the draft. Moore was an electrifying player at Maryland despite playing with seven different quarterbacks. In his final season with Terrapins, Moore recorded 80 receptions, 1,033 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns.
The scouting report on Moore is that he is a wonderful player in open space. He caught a good amount of screen passes while at Maryland and was terrific at creating yards after the catch. At 6’0″ and 210 pounds, Moore runs a lot like a running back with the ball in his hands and breaks through arm tackles with ease. Moore played both in the slot and on the boundary and was a dynamic deep ball threat as well for the Terrapins.
The addition of Moore to a receiving corps that lacked open-field playmakers was huge for Carolina and left Panthers fans feeling ecstatic after round one.
The Head Scratcher: Not Drafting Any Offensive Lineman
Starting center Ryan Kalil is 33 and announced 2018 will be his final season. Starting offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams are both in contract years and are considered average at best. Carolina lost starting left guard Andrew Norwell in free agency this off-season to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Do you see a common theme?
The Panthers’ biggest off-season need might not have been a year one offensive line starter, but they did need to address the position and add guys that they could develop. Carolina has prior success developing undrafted free agent offensive linemen such as Norwell, but banking on repeating that is risky.
The Surprise: Not Drafting a Running Back
The Panthers decided to part ways with veteran Jonathan Stewart this off-season and in doing so, they created a need for a between the tackles runner that can get yards in short yardage situations. Second-year running back Christian McCaffrey was productive in his rookie season, but as a pass-catcher rather than a runner. He totaled up 435 rushing yards and added 80 receptions for 651 yards last year. At 5’11” and 205 pounds, I do not think McCaffrey is the guy the Panthers want to feed the ball 20-25 times a game or hand the ball off up the middle to on a fourth and goal situation.
While the Panthers do have Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker on their roster, neither guy has shown the capability of being a reliable spell back. Expect the Panthers to bring in some undrafted free agents or a cheap veteran free agent to come in and compete during training camp.
The Steal: Ian Thomas
Tight end was another position the Panthers needed to get younger at. 11-year veteran Greg Olsen contemplated retirement this off-season and audition for a spot in the broadcast booth for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Instead, he signed a two-year extension to stay with Carolina but Hurney has to assume that his tight end’s playing days are numbered.
The Panthers selected Thomas with the first pick of the fourth round and many analysts considered that a steal. A majority of big boards had Thomas ranked as the fourth best tight end in this draft class and mocked him going in the third round.
At 6’5″ and 250 pounds, Thomas is almost identical in size and has a very similar skill set to Olsen. While at Indiana, Thomas lined up all over the field and could both block and run routes at a high level. Thomas showcased his athleticism at the NFL Combine this spring finishing in the top five at his position in four different events. Thomas has the luxury of backing up one of the best tight ends in the NFL and in a couple years when Olsen decides to retire, Thomas should be a formidable replacement.
Most Likely to Turn Heads at Training Camp: Donte Jackson
The Panthers secondary was solid at times last season but they really struggled against speedy wide receivers because they lacked speed of their own. Well to address that issue, Hurney selected Donte Jackson out of LSU in the second round. Jackson is one of the fastest prospects in this draft class and ran the fastest 40-yard dash of all the cornerbacks at the combine with a time of 4.32. He also was apart of the 4×100-meter relay team that took first place at the SEC championship in 2017.
Like a lot of the previous defensive backs to come out of LSU, Jackson has the ability to play man coverage at an extremely high level. He possesses great ball skills and breaks on the ball very quickly. Unlike the other corners, however, Jackson has elite speed and uses it to play trail technique and baits quarterbacks into thinking their receiver is open. Jackson led the Tigers last season with a total of 10 pass breakups because of his unique skill set.
With the additions of Moore and Torrey Smith, the Panthers receiving corps has significantly gotten faster this off-season. Jackson will put his speed and coverage skills to the test early and often during camp. And I’m sure there will be a lot of ‘friendly’ races during their downtime to see who the fastest player on the team is.
The Panthers used the third round pick they received from the Buffalo Bills in the Kelvin Benjamin trade on defensive back Rashaan Gaulden. Gaulden lined up at multiple positions for Tennessee’s defense during his career including nickel corner and both safety positions. He displayed the ability to find the football no matter where he lined up on the field. In his final two seasons, Gaulden recorded a combined 133 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, nine pass deflections, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. The Panthers have announced that Gaulden will play safety, a position they desperately needed to get younger at.
Carolina traded up in the fourth round to select defensive end Marquis Haynes out of Ole Miss. Haynes put together quite an impressive collegiate career and finished as the Rebels career leader in sacks (32) and tackles for loss (47.5). At 6’2″ and 235 pounds, many scouts believed he would be too small to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. But current Panther Mario Addison came out of college at a similar size and turned out to be one of Ron Rivera‘s most consistent pass rushers. The coaching staff will have to develop Haynes but with their history, he has a good shot to at least be an effective pass rusher in sub packages.
The Panthers used their lone fifth-round pick on Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter. Carter was a three-year starter for the Terrapins and was teammates with the Panthers first round pick Moore. Carter tallied 90 or more tackles each of his last three seasons but is considered too small to play inside linebacker and will have to learn to play outside if he wants to make the final roster.
Carolina added another linebacker in the seventh round in Andre Smith. Smith missed the majority of his junior season after suffering a season-ending knee injury the second game of the year. Instead of returning to school, he was a surprising early entry. As a sophomore, Smith totaled 113 tackles and six tackles for loss but will have his hands full competing for a spot in a deep linebacker group in Carolina.
The Panthers used their final pick of the draft to select Kendrick Norton, son of Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Norton is best suited as a one-technique and excels against the run drawing plenty of double teams. Howe,ver with a roster that already has Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler and Kyle Love, I expect Norton to fight for a spot on the practice squad.
The Panthers needed to get faster this off-season and did so in this draft selecting one of the fastest players at the wide receiver, cornerback, tight end and defensive end positions. They got younger at defensive end and safety while also drafting an insurance guy if Olsen decides to retire sooner than later. The two linebackers are insurance picks for whenever Thomas Davis decides to retire and if Shaq Thompson leaves in free agency in two years. Both Jackson and Moore have really good chances to be starters and make an impact during their first year. This draft could have been A grade worthy but they failed to address one of their biggest needs on the offensive line and did not select a running back in a stacked class.