Other NFC South teams drafted too. I know, crazy! In this brief series, we’ll harshly critique each one of their draft classes, starting with the least objectionable one.
The Carolina Panthers are at a bit of a crossroads. They didn’t fire Ron Rivera and they didn’t ease out Marty Hurney, their once-and-present GM, and the building blocks of the franchise (Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, roughly 3,000 pounds of defensive tackle) are still here. Yet this is not a team that can stand pat, and they were all too aware of that.
The Panthers, in case you missed out on their delightful 2018 season, started the year 6-2 and looked like they’d seriously challenge the Saints for the divisional crown. From there, they lost seven of their final eight games, including a second loss to the also struggling Falcons, and finished the year 7-9 and reeling. They went into free agency and snagged the market’s top center in Matt Paradis, added some veteran pass rushing help in the form of Bruce Irvin, locked up some of their better free agents, and perhaps most importantly fired Matt Kalil into the sun. Going into the draft, they had the look of an improved team, albeit perhaps only a slightly improved one.
The draft class, to be truly successful, would need to patch over other holes and add at least a couple of impact starters, plus depth to help down the line. Did they accomplish that?
- DE Brian Burns
- OT Greg Little
- QB Will Grier
- LB Christian Miller
- RB Jordan Scarlett
- OT Dennis Daley
- WR Terry Godwin
What to make of this class? The Panthers did what they often do and crushed their first couple of picks, landing a potential top-flight pass rusher in FSU’s Brian Burns and a legitimately talented tackle prospect in Greg Little. You can forgive the roll on Little considering the run on tackles and his upside, even if he’s not necessarily going to be a masterful starter in year one. This Panthers team is starved for that kind of help, and these two join the likes of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Donte Jackson, Taylor Moton, and James Bradberry as potential early impact players drafted in the early rounds.
Then the Panthers did what they also often do and deliver mixed results the rest of the way. The chronic failing of this Carolina team in recent years, aside from inking unimaginably bad players like Matt Kalil to long-term contracts, has been consistently nailing the mid-to-late rounds the way the Falcons have made a recent habit of doing. After Round 3 since 2015, the best players Carolina has landed are Daryl Williams, Tre Boston, and Harrison Butker, and only one of those guys is still a Panther today. Most of the players Carolina has landed have been either not so great or don’t have a clear path to playing time, or both.
Take this year’s class. Jordan Scarlett is an intriguing running back but is behind one of the league’s true workhorse backs in McCaffrey, and Terry Godwin is similarly interesting but joining a crowded (if not overly gifted) group of receivers. Dennis Daley is going to probably top out as a swing tackle, if he ever makes it there, and Alabama’s Christian Miller has athleticism and talent but only one season of legitimate production on one of the best defenses in college football. Only Miller and Godwin figure to have a shot to turn into anything over the short-term, leaving the Panthers once again casting about for depth at some key positions.
Then there’s Will Grier. The Panthers have a million receivers but only a couple of starting-caliber players, surprisingly shaky depth at a defensive tackle position they’ve frequently prioritized as well as defensive end, and some question marks in the secondary. They are a good football team, don’t get me wrong, but there were holes that a fourth rounder could have helped fill. Instead, they took a QB prospect who might turn into a quality backup a little down the line, considering the spotty hit rate for quarterbacks this late, and is glued to the bench behind Cam Newton unless Newton gets hurt, in which case this team is already in a lot of trouble. I’m in favor of teams addressing their backup QB job with a young player, but not when you have bigger fish to fry.
I love Burns, I like Little, Scarlett and Miller fine, and the rest of the class is meh. If Burns and Little work out in spectacular fashion it’ll hardly matter what the rest of the class does, but this is yet another Carolina draft that may not deliver the depth and infusion of youth this roster legitimately does not. They’ll be dependent again on their stars and their (admittedly savvy) free agent signings to propel them forward in what promises to be another tough year in the NFC South.