Carolina Panthers: Grading the draft

Carolina Panthers

 

Round 1, 28th overall:

The Carolina Panthers reached in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft Thursday night to get a weapon for franchise quarterback Cam Newton. For the first time since taking Rae Carruth in 1997, the team’s third year in existence, the Panthers used their first overall pick on a wide receiver, taking Florida State Seminole star Kelvin Benjamin. At 6’ 5” 240 pounds Benjamin is a rare physical talent. Few receivers from the draft, if any, have the potential Benjamin has considering his size, athleticism, and speed (4.61 40). It’s a reach in the sense that Benjamin has notable issues – specifically dropped passes, poor route running skills, and sub-par run blocking abilities.

Going into the draft the Panthers had specific needs: wide receiver, offensive linemen, and defensive back, specifically cornerback, all of which were available at the 28th spot. Among the notables were safety Jimmie Ward (NIU), cornerback Bradley Roby (Ohio State), guard Xavier Su’A-Filo (UCLA), offensive linemen Joel Bitonio (Nevada), and probably most notable, wide receiver Marqise Lee (USC). Once considered a top-10 draft pick a year ago, injury concerns kept Lee out of the first round, and off of the Panther’s draft board. My colleague Scott Braswell explains the possible reasoning behind the Panther’s passing on Lee.

Higher rated players were certainly on the board when the Panther’s number was called, but considering Benjamin’s ceiling – literally – he may have been the player with the most potential.

B

 

Round 2, 60th pick:

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

The Panthers drafted Ealy because he was available, simple as that. Many draft analyzers had Ealy billed as a first-round talent, perhaps the best defensive end in the draft besides Jadeveon Clowney. At 6’ 4” 273 pounds Ealy possesses athletic ability similar to Jadeveon Clowney, and despite a relatively poor 40-yard dash at the combine, he excelled at his pro day. Considered the best pass rusher in the draft besides Clowney and Khalil Mack, the supposed poor combine and questions about the work required to refine Ealy are the only things imaginable keeping him out of the first round, which couldn’t have worked out better for the Panthers. As Gettleman said, “You can never have too many pass rushers.”

A

 

Round 3, 92nd overall:

Trai Turner, OG, LSU

Both of the Panther first two draft selections in 2014 could arguably have been early first round selections if not for a few minor details; Trai Turner is no exception. Had Turner stayed in school he may have been the Panther’s first selection in 2015; instead, his off the charts athletic abilities forced him to declare for the draft early and he fell to the Carolina Panthers in the third round. Turner posted the best 40-yard dash, 10-yard split and 20-yard shuttle times of all the guards at the combine and will immediately compete for a spot at right guard. Just as with the Panther’s first two draft picks – much work will be required of Turner, but the sky is the limit with this player.

A-

 

Carolina Panthers

Many of the Panther’s draft picks will compete for starting positions in 2014.

 

Round 4, 128th overall:

Tre Boston, SS, North Carolina

The Panthers added depth to their defensive backfield by selecting Boston, a safety with decent size (6’ 204 lbs.), good athleticism (7.04 second 3-cone drill*), and great strength (18 225-lb. reps*). Although Boston dominates aspects of the combine and is an above-average tackler, scouts question his instincts and cover skills. Boston is a fine defensive back and will add needed depth to the Panther’s secondary, but selecting him with the 128th pick may been a reach.

*Top combine performer

C

 

Round 5, 148th overall:

Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State

Carolina moved up 20 spots in the draft to get Benwikere by trading their 5th and 7th round draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings. In exchange the Panthers were able to draft the little-known small school cornerback they had been secretly scouting. Benwikere isn’t the biggest or fastest cornerback, but the senior possesses great athleticism (40.5 vertical jump*), and unlike Boston, has great instincts and incredible ball skills. Benwikere was a two-time all-conference player (WAC and MWC) and should immediately compete for a starting position at slot cornerback. The Panthers may have used two picks on Benwikere, but they got “their man”, which is a credit to the organization considering the additional time they invested in scouting him.

*Top combine performer

A-

 

Round 6, 204th overall:

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford

Many draft experts had the 220-lb. bruising tailback billed as a 4th/5th round selection, which may explain why the Panther’s decided to draft him. Value seemed to be the name of the game through the first five round of the draft and Carolina certainly got value drafting Gaffney so late. The problem is that the Panthers backfield is already loaded, and a short-yardage back is the last thing they need with Jonathan Stewart and Pro-Bowl fullback Mike Tolbert on the roster. Besides value, perhaps depth and insurance for Tolbert, a large part of their running game, are the reasons for drafting Gaffney, but the Panthers selected running back Kenjon Barner in the sixth round of last year’s draft, making the selection even stranger.

C+

 

Overall the Carolina Panthers had a great draft. They added a potential big-time weapon for Newton, added much needed depth to their secondary, including a guy they specifically targeted in the late rounds (Benwikere), secured a potential top-notch guard to compete for a starting position, and landed the best defensive end not named Clowney in the second round. The players selected will not handicap the Panther’s salary cap if they sign; in fact, if signed they’ll compete with players making significant money against the salary cap. Overall, a great Panther’s defense got even deeper, while the potential for the Panther’s offense in 2014 could reach new heights.

Overall grade: B

 

For more player analyses on the Panther’s draft picks and to get the list of Panther’s undrafted free agents signings, check out Scott Braswell’s article.

Click here for more Carolina Panthers news, rumors and opinion.

 

  • Panthers/Truth

    These were my grades for the Panthers Draft, shortly after it happened, after a 2nd look.

    D – #28, WR Kelvin Benjamin – Every one of Benjamin’s Combine workout numbers are below average for all WR’s tested at the Combine in the last 14 years (1999-2012). He also had a high drop rate of 9.68%, and the only thing about him that is above average (except his drop rate) is his size.

    A (now a B-) – #60 DE Kony Ealy – Upon 2nd look Ealy’s Combine numbers don’t seem as good. His Combine workout numbers are both good and bad. The good, his 6.83-3 cone drill, and 1.66-10 are above average for all 3 year starting DE’s tested at the Combine in the last 14 years (1999-2012), as is his Pro Day 4.56-40, 2.75-20, 1.95 flying 20, and 121″ broad jump. The bad, at the Combine his 4.92-40, 2.14 flying 20, 4.45-20 yard shuttle, 22 bench reps, 31″ vertical, and Pro Day 32″ vertical are below average for all DE’s tested at the combine over that 14 year period. Mixed results, 116″ broad jump is above average for all big DE’s that started for 3 years or more, but is only above average for all small DE’s drafted, and 4.45-20 yard shuttle is only above average for the big DE’s who were drafted, but below average for all small DE’s. Ealy is something of a tweener, “small” DE’s weighing less than 270 pounds, and “big” DE’s weighing 270 pounds or more, while Ealy weighed 273 pounds at the Combine, but dropped down to 265 pounds for his Pro Day. Ealy’s weight loss probably played a large part between his Combine and Pro Day timed speed. Ealy’s workout results are rather mixed. UDFA DE Jackson Jeffcoat had better workout numbers than Ealy.

    B (now a C) – #92 OG Trai Turner – He’s a little under sized at 6’2 5/8″, 310 pounds, and 9 1/2″ hands are a little under sized for a G, but he has good arm length at 34″, and is only 20 years old, so he could still grow bigger. He has great straight-line speed (followed by the average for all G’s tested at the Combine, who started at least 3 years in the NFL, a 4.93-20 (5.21-40), 1.72-10 (1.80-10), and 2.81-20 (3.01-20), but very slow change of direction speed, a 4.77-20 yard shuttle (minimum 4.77), tied for the average of all G’s tested at the Combine, and a 8.10-3 cone drill (minimum 7.94), way below average for all G’s tested at the Combine during the 14 years covered by the study. I personally feel the change of direction speeds are more important for G’s. His 25 bench reps (minimum 25.7) and 27 1/2″ vertical (27.7″) are below the average for all G’s tested over the, but his 102″ broad jump (102.1″) is just very slightly below the average for all G’s tested who started for at least 3 years. UDFA OG Ryan Groy had better workout numbers than Turner.

    D – #128 S Tri Boston – He was a big reach at this point, 110 spots above his ranking by cbssports.com (#238). His “official” Combine 4.59-40 (minimum 4.57-40), 1.60-10 (minimum 1.58-10), and 2.03 flying 20 (20 to 40 yards) (minimum 1.93), 35 bench reps (minimum 35.7″), 118″ broad jump (minimum 119.7″), 4.33-20 yard shuttle (minimum 4.19), and 7.04-3 cone drill (7.04), are all below (or tied, the 3 cone drill) the average for all S’s tested at the Combine during the study’s 14 year period. The only events where Boston was above average were his 18 bench reps (17.3) and his 2.56-20 yard split (2.64). S Lonnie Ballentine, the last player drafted had better workout numbers than Boston.

    F- + F- – #148 CB Bene Benwikere – In a total panic move (seeing a run on CB’s, that they should have seen at pick #128), the Panthers traded their #168 and #225 picks to the Vikings, to move up 20 spots to #148. Then to compound one bad decision with another, when they drafted Benwikere at #148, 211 spots higher than he was ranked by cbssports.com, at #359. That’s why I give both the trade and the pick each an F-. Benwikere is a short CB at 5’10 3/4″, with short 30″ arms, and the Panthers needed a tall CB to match up with the big WR’s in the NFC South. He’s very slow. an “official” 4.63-40 (minimum 4.49-40), 1.64-10 (minimum 1.56-10), 2.62-20 (minimum 2.60-20), 2.01 flying 20 (minimum 1.89), 4.38-20 yard shuttle (minimum 4.15), and 10 bench reps (minimum 14.6), are all below the average for all CB’s tested at the Combine from 1999-2014. His 122″ broad jump and 6.94-3 cone drill are tied for the average of all CB’s drafted, and his 40 1/2″ vertical (max 36.9″) is above average for all CB’s tested who started for 3 years in the NFL. For anyone wishing to overlook his poor speed numbers at the Combine, his Pro Day numbers were even worse (4.67-40, 1.70-10, 2.71-20, and a 1.97 flying 20), and the 2 best predictors of future NFL success for a CB are his 40 time and his 10 yard split (according to the NFP 14 year study.

    B- (now C+) – #204 RB Tyler Gaffney – He’s a good pick for 2015, when D-Will and J-Stew may well be gone, but for now he creates a logjam at RB for this season. The Panthers only carried 3 RB’s last season (D-Will, J-Stew, and Barner), not counting FB Tolbert, so it will likely take up another roster spot, unless someone goes on IR. Gaffney has pretty good speed, a 4.49-40, 1.53-10, and a 6.78-3 cone drill, and good size at 220 pounds.

    The study I referred to a few times, which include the event averages were done by nationalfootballpost.com last year. They compiled the average Combine scores for all players tested, in each event, and to determine which events are the most predictive of future NFL success.