Carolina Panthers: Why to watch the first three draftees

The idea prepping for this article was to focus on one player heading into camp with the goal of highlighting said player’s progress throughout training camp and predicting what role he might play for the Carolina Panthers in the upcoming season. For this Panther’s team the task was too difficult.

After careful thought it seemed impossible to decide whether to highlight top pick wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, second pick defensive end Kony Ealy, or even the team’s third pick in guard Trai Turner. All three represent interesting stories with intriguing twists, for example Greg Hardy’s legal status, but all three also represent players that could make serious impacts in training camp and beyond.

Benjamin was drafted with the Carolina Panthers first selection, 28th overall, and will essentially be counted on as savior of the Panther’s wide receiving corps after the team unceremoniously parted ways with Steve Smith, the team’s all-time leading receiver, earlier in the off-season. Benjamin is the first wide receiver taken with the team’s first overall pick since Rae Carruth in 1997; it probably goes without saying the Panthers hope for better results this time.

Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin impressed at rookie and mini camp earlier this year.

Ealy was drafted 60th overall and was widely considered a steal by most draft analysts due mostly to Ealy’s tangible assets. However, the pick turned out to be even more valuable after All-Pro defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested for domestic assault, putting Hardy’s status for the upcoming season in question. The addition of Ealy immediately calmed that anxiety and as Hardy’s legal case begins to clear, the added depth at defensive end only strengthens Carolina fan’s convictions of a dominant defense.

Carolina Panthers

Defensive end Kony Ealy (94) looks to stand out at training camp.

Turner was selected 92nd overall and through rookie and mini camps Turner was looking like the best draft selection of any of them. Turner stepped right into rookie and mini camps with solid play and a grounded attitude, making him an instant favorite among line coaches, who almost immediately penciled Turner in as the starting right guard. Like Ealy, the Turner pick in the third round was highly praised by draft analysts as Turner was projected to be an early first round selection in 2015. The worry about Turner in 2014 was that he wasn’t NFL ready yet. Wrong.

Carolina Panthers

Rookie guard Trai Turner, selected 92nd overall out of LSU, is already “turning” heads at the Panther’s camps.

As training camp gets underway these three players will be the focus of many team officials and coaches and even more fans. All three players were drafted to make immediate impacts, and it seems all three will deliver.

The receiving corps isn’t in nearly as bad a shape as people predicted during the off-season. Despite lacking “box office” names the additions of Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood have stabilized the receiving corps and allowed the rookies and other inexperienced receivers to get on board at a reasonable pace. That being said, Benjamin will be counted on for his size and athleticism, especially as a Red Zone threat, something the Panthers still lack at the wide receiver position. Benjamin may not head into training camp as the number one receiver, but such a role is inevitable for the number one pick.

Conversely, the defensive line, especially defensive end, isn’t in nearly as good a shape as predicted during the off-season. Perhaps the most feared defensive line in the NFL last season the Carolina Panthers suffered setbacks during the off-season. In addition to Hardy’s legal troubles the team will also be without defensive end Frank Alexander, suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The addition of Ealy couldn’t have come at a better time.

The offensive line troubles for the Carolina Panthers have been well documented since the retirement of stalwart tackle Jordan Gross at the end of the season; longtime guard Travelle Wharton also retired earlier this month sending the Panthers scrambling to find replacements to anchor the line for quarterback Cam Newton and his surgically repaired ankle. The Panthers have done a nice job patching the line together with reserves, but the situation was so concerning a few weeks ago that Gross lost 70 pounds fretting over it. Enter Turner. Calm restored.

Carolina Panthers

Retired left tackle Jordan Gross left a lot behind when he retired – literally and figuratively. (Image source: SI)

So as training camp gets underway and players begin to stand out, pay attention to these three aforementioned players. Not only will these guys make immediate impacts in training camp, they’re all about to make serious impacts on the field on Sundays, too.

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