As practically the only “sports event” that went as planned – okay, online instead of with thousands of people attending in Vegas – the NFL distribution of new talent was this past weekend.
Off the top, let’s believe that yes, Coach Ruhle and the Panthers might have done what’s necessary to right the Carolina franchise over a three day weekend. Nobody else in the common draft era (since 1967) has used all their picks on that side of the ball, but there’s not a feeling they’ve blown it, or taken any great risks.
That All-American defensive tackle Derrick Brown will play immediately is almost a given. Panthers were the worst (5.2 per rush) against the run last year, and with Dontari Poe gone, he’ll have every chance to prove he’s The Deal. So will edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos (6’5″, 265 lbs., Penn St.), Jeremy Chinn (safety, Southern Illinois), fourth-rounder Troy Pride, Jr. (CB, Notre Dame), Kenny Robinson (safety, West Virginia), and Bravvion Roy, a 330 lb. chunk of DT who played for Rhule last year at Baylor.
Some pundits, including this one, have suggested that an offensive lineman at #7 instead of CB Stantley Thomas-Oliver (Fla. Int’l) would have been legitimate, but GM Marty Hurney and Rhule both maintain they held to their draft boards. For Panther fans who still worry about Christian McCaffrey getting worn out (only if the carries that $21.4M signing bonus around), the other three running backs on the roster, including Reggie Bonafon, are no better than average.
As many note, nobody plays game until September (if then), so changes on the O-line and somebody who can catch a swing pass or two while CMC gets a cup of water can still work out.
If we’re being catty, the Panthers might have improved just by letting Eric Washington go. He was defensive coordinator the last two years, when they clearly couldn’t stop anyone, and rejoins Sean McDermott in Buffalo as defensive line coach, the position he held for six years with the Panthers.
New guys with backstory ‘blemishes’
During the long reign of Mr. Richardson as owner, the question of personal character was often a criteria, with Greg Hardy being suspended and shipped after allegations of physically abusing a girlfriend as an example.
While Tim Biakabutuka (6 seasons, 611 carries/2,530 yds./17 TDs) was a better choice of character than the collegiately productive Mike Rozier in the draft, a Christian McCaffrey’s dazzling goodness that makes you want a chocolate chip cookie and glass of milk just watching him, isn’t available every year.
Derrick Brown is such a leader and quality citizen by all metrics, and #3 pick Jeremy Chinn is often referred in favorable terms as “Simmons Lite” (Clemson’s versatile safety-linebacker Isiah) size and speed, but a couple new faces have overcome youthful transgressions admirably.
Give Chinn an extra check mark for being a three-time Academic All-American, Brown one for becoming president of Auburn’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and SEC leadership council after deciding to return to Auburn for his senior season.
#2 Yetur Gross-Matos was a consensus All-Big 10 (or 14, actually) in 2019, with 40 tackles, 15 for loss, and 9.5 sacks, compared to 54 tackles, 20 for loss, and eight sacks in 2018, which looks like teams ran to his side less last year.
The “blemish” is he and a Penn St. teammate were suspended for disciplinary (but still undisclosed) reasons the summer before his junior season, and in today’s reality, if it didn’t even generate a police report, “live and learn” seems to work. His physical up-side and football IQ aren’t in question, “whatever” from 2018 should be allowed to die quietly.
#5 Kenny Robinson was cut loose by West Virginia for “academic fraud,” and had a good year in the XFL instead of a senior season, which seems a trade-off both he and the Panthers can view as a positive. Recognizing that safety was a sore spot for Panthers the last two years, although Eric Reid was a solid pickup last year (and has moved on), careful vetting and his own written explanation of events should help close that factor as a negative once the pads go on.
That’s not meant as a dusting of hands “boys will be boys” attitude, but in the history of the WORLD, twenty year old boys are more often guilty of “uh-oh, Mom and Dad are going to be upset about this” acts than becoming Alexander the Great world beaters.
#4 Troy Pride, Jr. shouldn’t be considered “blemished,” especially when the Notre Dame product feels he didn’t fall so much as land where he’d be able to succeed. Pride has what is always called “elite speed” based on his track background. In hoops they say, “You can’t teach seven feet tall,” and in football, saying someone runs well is the criteria, and 4.3 is valid on that count. For those that say “burners who can’t catch play D,” or track guys can’t tackle, we shall see – Deion Sanders had a pretty good run.
Speaking of running, at some point Pride and Donte “Action” Jackson will have to lace it up and go. Jackson came to the Panthers saying, “I’ve always been the fastest guy as soon as I got out of bed,” and while he’s definitely got the make-up for mistakes afterburners, he often made tackles after the catch. Coaching will help Pride work on any small deficiencies he might have, and he’s got a professional attitude about his Next.
Competition comes later, but right now, the Panthers draft looks like a hand of Texas hold ’em –
any two cards can be good until you see the flop.
If WR Robby Anderson chose the Panthers as a free agent because of Coach Rhule, and Teddy Bridgewater can distribute the ball, and puh-leeze throw lead and touch pass like the departed Kyle Allen gave Moore (87 catches/1175 yds./4 TDs as a rookie), all these new defensive helpers could indeed be the difference.