Grade : C+
Round 1 Pick 28 – Kelvin Benjamin WR
Round 2 Pick 60 – Kony Ealy DE
Round 3 Pick 92 – Trai Turner G
Round 4 Pick 128 – Tre Boston S
Round 5 Pick 148 – Bene Benwikere CB
Round 6 Pick 204 – Tyler Gaffney RB
After winning the NFC South last season the Panthers endured a tough free agency period as wide receivers Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn all departed. Whilst in the secondary both free safety Mike Mitchell and corner back Captain Munnerlyn moved on. The Panthers also need to find a new offensive tackle. Going into the draft then Carolina outfit had a lot of work to do.
With their first pick of the 2014 draft the Panthers took wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin is the definition of a boom or bust prospect. At 6'5'' and 240 pounds Benjamin will probably have a bigger catch radius than any wide receiver playing or retired in the NFL. Last season he put these skills to impressive use as he picked up 1011 yards at an average of 18.7 yards per carry 15 touchdowns
Plus in the red zone Benjamin could be a impossible target to cover and a match winner. Playing against Auburn in the BSC title game Benjamin was effectively shut down for much of the game but his two yard grab in the dying seconds of the game delivered the Seminoles victory.
On the other hand though Benjamin is a really raw route runner who struggles explode out of cuts due to his difficulties in sinking his hips. Even more worrying though is his propensity to drop catches.
Overall, is there that much difference between Benjamin and a later round pick like Allen Robinson? I don't think so. There are two really troubling things about the Benjamin pick. Firstly, he is going to be expected to deliver immediately. He isn't going to be able to get any time develop and learn the routes. Secondly, by taking a wide receiver the Panthers overlooked the need at left tackle. Nate Chandler is currently the starting at left tackle for the Panthers. That is far from ideal.
The Panthers second round pick is much better though. Late in the second round the Panthers they picked up defensive end Kony Ealy. Last season the Panthers were one of the toughest defenses in the NFL as they hulk-smashed their way to an NFL high 60 sacks. In 2013 Ealy picked up 9.5 sacks, 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, six passes broken up and an interception so he makes the Panthers front four even more formidable.
Perhaps the best thing about this pick though is that it has one eye on the future. Next season the Panthers will be placed into a tough salary cap position that makes keeping both Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson near impossible. By drafting Ealy then they have grabbed someone who can contribute in his rookie year before stepping up and being a starter in the 2015 season.
The Panthers draft continued its upwards trajectory in the later rounds. Third round pick Trai Turner is a strong choice to play at guard. It would have been better if he had stayed another year at LSU to improve his pass protection but as a run blocker he is excellent.
Given that the Panthers no longer seem to be giving Cam Newton any targets other than red zone targets they are going to be a run first offense. Turner should clear up the running lanes and give the ground and pound offense the best possible chance to succeed.
In rounds 4 and 5 the Panthers added bodies to the secondary with safety Tre Boston and corner back Ben Benwikere. At 6'0 and 204 pounds Boston has all the physical requirements to be a solid safety in the NFL. He fell to round 4 due to his struggles to read plays and his consequent taking of false steps. With the Panthers front seven though this shouldn't be too big of a problem.
By contrast cornerback Benwikere reads the play well and aggressively targets the ball carrier. He also has a huge vertical leap and has the tools and ability to be a ball hawk. He can only really play zone defense though as in man coverage his lack of defensive back speed is troubling. He also hasn't been tested against strong opposition. The quality of competition in the NFL could be a shock to him.
The Panthers draft has taken a lot of criticism for taking Benjamin so high in the draft and failing to strengthen the left tackle position. Whilst there is some truth in these criticisms selections like Kony Ealy and Trai Turner do at least show an overall strategy is at work
of building a hard as nails defense and utilising the running game.
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