The Carolina Panthers entered the 2014 draft with a lot of needs and questions. Let’s take a look at their draft picks.
1st round (28th overall)
Selection: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Comment: Coming into the draft, wide receiver was a huge question mark for Carolina. Many experts and pundits alike thought the Panthers were going offensive tackle here given the retirement of longtime left tackle Jordan Gross. But by the time the team was on the clock, they had two great options at the wide receiver position in Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin.
You can make a great argument for Carolina taking either of those guys, but given Benjamin’s size at 6-5 and his raw athleticism, the Panthers took him over the more polished Lee. Historically receivers from USC haven’t exactly worked out for the Panthers (see Dwyane Jarrett and Keary Colbert), which may have been in the minds of Carolina’s brass.
I like the pick. Benjamin hasn’t even began to reach his potential and can become a dominant receiver in the league once he has time to get acclimated. When I watch him on film he can at times remind me of a Calvin Johnson or Anquan Boldin. He does struggle with route running and occasionally has the case of the drops but he’ll have some great mentors in Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery who can help him with that. Expect to see him compete for reps right away.
Side note: Benjamin caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the National Championship game to defeat the Auburn Tigers, Cam Newton’s alma mater. That’ll make for a good conversation starter when Benjamin and Newton meet for the first time.
2nd round (60th overall)
Selection: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Comment: Even though the Panthers have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and didn’t have a need here, I love this pick. Ealy was a projected first rounder on many draft boards and fell into Carolina’s lap towards the end of the 2nd round. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman is all about drafting the best player available and he followed through on his strategy with this pick.
Ealy will have a chance to learn from one of the best pass rushers in the game, Greg Hardy. Ealy can be insurance if the Panthers aren’t able to reach a long with Hardy, who received the team’s franchise tag this offseason. As Gettleman said, “You can never have enough pass rushers. It’s impossible.” This pick proves that line of logic.
3rd round (92nd overall)
Selection: Trai Turner, OG LSU
Comment: In the 3rd round Carolina finally addressed it’s offensive line problems with snagging Trai Turner. A lot of people had the Panthers taking Morgan Moses a tackle from Virginia in the first or second round but the team never seemed interested in Moses.
Turner brings a nastiness the team lacks on the offensive side of the ball. Not only does Turner give Carolina another “hog molly” as Gettleman likes to call them, he gives them an athletic and quick guard. Turner ran one of the fastest times at the combine among offensive linemen. I can easily see Turner getting some starts this upcoming season.
4th round (128th overall)
Selection: Tre Boston SS UNC
Comment: Call me skeptical on this pick. I understand the Panthers need depth in the secondary, one of their weak spots from last year. I’ve followed ACC football for years and have seen Boston play over the years. The former Tar Heel is very physical and a competitor no doubt but when I watched some of his game film, I saw him get beat a good bit in coverage and sometimes get lost in coverage. A lot of that can be contributed to the North Carolina coaching staff moving him around different positions. The learning curve for Boston will be steep but he’ll get to learn from some of the game’s best in Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud.
5th round (148th overall)
Selection: Bene Benwikere CB San Jose State
Comment: This is the sleeper in the Panthers’ draft class in my opinion. Benwikere is a great ballhawk who had 12 interceptions his last two seasons for the Spartans. To go along with that, he also had the best vertical jump among defensive backs at the combine at 40 inches. Given his 5-11 height, that vertical jump will be key when going up against the big physical receivers of the NFC South like Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones, and Jimmy Graham.
Scouts loved his instincts and athletic ability but had some concerns about his tackling ability. If Benwikere can improve his tackling and physicality he could step in and contribute right away. With the loss of Captain Munnerlyn, he may have to learn fast.
6th round (204th overall)
Selection: Tyler Gaffney, RB Stanford
Comment: This is a head scratcher. Carolina already has a deep backfield that includes DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and even little-used Kenjon Barner. There were still some decent offensive tackles on the board at the time of the pick. This isn’t to say that Gaffney isn’t a great running back. He’s a great physical back that reminds you of another former Stanford running back, Toby Gerhart. He’ll be a great backup who can spell Williams or even fill in if Stewart has more injury issues. His biggest asset according to scouts is his pass blocking ability.
Final Thoughts: Overall, the Carolina Panthers were able to address some key areas in this draft and get some steals in the process. These draft picks will have to grow up fast as there is a good chance most of them will be asked to contribute right away.
– Dave Gettleman said during his post draft press conference that Byron Bell and Nate Chandler will both compete for Jordan Gross’ old spot at left tackle. Gettleman also reiterated that he felt the offensive line was in good hands. For his sake let’s hope so.
– The Panthers also announced that Charles Godfrey will move to cornerback from his old safety position. This move makes the Tre Boston selection make a lot more sense.
– Carolina wasted no time in plucking a few free agents shortly after the conclusion of the draft. The names are below.
Texas CB Carrington Byndom
Ohio State WR Corey Brown
Montreal Carabins OL David Foucault
Miami OL Jared Wheeler
Missouri WR Marcus Lucas
Michigan State LB/S Denicos Allen
West Virginia DL Shaq Rowell
Ohio State OL Andrew Norwell
UAB RB Darrin Reaves