Coming into the 2013 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers had two gaping holes on their team; defensive tackle and wide receiver. They took a sledgehammer to the former and took both Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short that were able to help them immediately, giving them one of the most imposing front seven’s in the NFL. In 2014, it seemed natural that wide receiver would get similar treatment as the position would be even worse after losing Steve Smith to the Baltimore Ravens after releasing him. The Panthers did address receiver, but the choice they made was extremely questionable. They rallied to make a few really good value picks that could contribute quickly as well as logical draft picks overall, but their highest picks all have boom or bust potential.
When the Panthers went on the clock with their pick, wide receiver was a pick many were looking for them to make. It was surprising when they took Kelvin Benjamin with their pick. Physically, he is outstanding and has a ton of potential, but he is still an incredibly raw prospect and needs a significant amount of seasoning before he is likely to be able to give the Panthers the results and help for Cam Newton they were hoping.
Benjamin is an explosive athlete with tremendous size. There have been some that suggested he could move inside and play more of a slot tight end position than being a true receiver. A lot of what he did at Florida State was in the middle of the field, taking advantage of his size and strength.
The bread and butter involving Benjamin was a clear out slant where an inside receiver would pick the corner covering Benjamin, getting him the ball with space in the middle of the field and it was a track meet that he showed he could win. He has outstanding size, strength and explosion.
Benjamin fits many of the prototypical traits a team would love and the Panthers basically confirmed that by saying that his size cannot be taught. The problem for the Panthers is they are going to have to teach him just about everything else. His route running is relatively limited, he drops far too many footballs and he does not have a great deal of experience. Benjamin declared as a redshirt sophomore, but he was in high school until he was 20, so he is inexperienced and older than preferred.
Benjamin gives Newton a huge target on the outside, but it stands to reason that it will take a lot of time and development before they are doing much with him outside of the basics. Now, if that results in a number of big plays and touchdowns over the top, the Panthers can live with those growing pains. Nevertheless, for me, the pick was a reach and Jordan Matthews or Marqise Lee would have been substantially better choices.
The Panthers may have fully intended to take another receiver in the second round, but they were fortunate when Kony Ealy fell into their laps. Ealy, for me, warranted a first round pick with his combination of size, strength and his incredible motor. Like everyone else on the Missouri front, they never stop coming and with his natural gifts, that is a fantastic player to develop.
Ealy has a lot of work to do when it comes to operating as a pass rusher off of the edge and was far more successful working inside as a rush tackle on passing downs. He can be a big asset on running downs though. Both situations are great for the Panthers.
Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are arguably one of the top tandems of defensive ends in the league. Having Ealy as a rotational option that can rush from the inside in nickel would be a terrific set up as an option. Hardy, unfortunately, also has some off field issues that could make this pick more prescient than the team would have hoped and if it calls or a suspension, Ealy will need to contribute earlier than perhaps they had anticipated.
The Panthers would have one of the best and deepest groups of defensive linemen in the league and the rich would only get richer as Ealy was able to compete and develop with players like Frank Alexander behind that group, giving them a fantastic amount of length and strength up front both against the run and the pass. Not only was the pick fantastic on its own merits, but there might not have been a better situation for Ealy to find himself than in Carolina.
In the third round, the Panthers took their third extremely high ceiling athlete in a row when they selected Trai Turner in round 3. Turner is an incredibly gifted athlete with power that can help at either guard spot. His body looks pretty frumpy, which makes his potential pretty remarkable considering what he is already able to do.
Turner has shown he can be an enormous asset as a run blocking lineman, able to get a substantial amount of push at times. The issue with Turner is consistency. When he’s right, he is able to do some serious damage. The fact the Panthers have him slated to be depth for now is probably an ideal situation for him.
It would not be a surprise if Turner was able to beat out Garry Williams out for that right guard spot on his raw ability, but if he can develop quickly, he could give them a huge boost. More likely, he needs a year to develop, but if he can do it and become a consistent player, he can be not only a good player but a Pro Bowl caliber talent for them.
In round four, the Panthers picked up a ball hawking safety in Tre Boston. Boston has been one of the better center fielders in college football the past two seasons. The problem is while he is an aggressive hawk when the ball is in the air, he has been a dove when it is on the ground. Boston can also be too aggressive at times going for the big play, which can do more harm than good.
The Panthers picked up former Falcon Thomas DeCoud to play their free safety spot for the time being, but Boston has a good chance to take over that spot relatively soon. The Panthers have built themselves such a dominant front seven, they want the secondary able to cause turnovers. Boston needs to get more consistent with knowing when he can make plays on the football, but the Panthers want exactly what he does. So for him, this is a great fit. And if he can become more active and care more about tackling and playing the run, he can be a complete threat.
The Panthers took another ball hawk in round five by selecting Bené Benwikere from San Jose State. Benwikere has played both corner and safety, but really was at his best in nickel. Like Boston, he was productive when it came to causing turnovers. It remains to be seen how soon he will play there, but it stands to reason that he will find himself playing in nickel or dome quickly.
With their last pick, the Panthers took a running back in Tyler Gaffney. Gaffney was regarded as a system back because he was productive at Stanford but not regarded much beyond that in spite of his production. He put on an athletic display that really made teams go back and take a second look at him. Gaffney will need to adjust to playing in a more conventional offense with more splits, but at the same time, he should have more space to operate in the NFL.
The Panthers view themselves as a power running team and Gaffney has shown he can do it and keep doing it over the course of a game and season, which has been an issue for them with various injuries over the past few years. If Gaffney can prove to be effective, he will get a lot of carries for them.
On the whole, the Panthers took some really high upside, boom or bust type prospects headlined by one of the biggest in that category in Benjamin. That certainly is not the pick I would have made, but he does have the size they would like in a true #1 receiver for Newton. This draft has the potential to vault the Panthers to the top of the NFC South if it can pan out, but the question is how long will it take to get there if it ever does.