The Panthers took full advantage of their picks, drafting all defensive players to fill needs along the line and the secondary. Read my opinion of Carolina's incoming rookies below.
Derrick Brown DT Auburn
This was a great pick for the Panthers, as it filled one of our biggest needs and also provided us with an immense amount of character. Though this was a safe pick by all means with the versatile Isaiah Simmons still on the board, I think this was the pick that ultimately should've been made. Brown has all the tools to eventually become an All-Pro at the position, with potential in the pass rushing department. Kawann Short and Derrick Brown are the type of players you need on your defensive line what with the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan playing in the division.
Yetur Gross-Matos DE Penn State
While the pick was somewhat surprising, Gross-Matos completes a new look defensive line with both veterans and youngsters alike. This was a great value pick since many analysts pegged Yetur as the second best defensive end in the draft behind No. 2 pick Chase Young. His athletic ability provides him with the opportunity to stand up as an outside linebacker and stick his hand in the dirt as Phil Snow installs a multiple defense. The Draft Network gave him an NFL pro comparison of Carlos Dunlap, a long-tenured productive Cincinnati Bengal. Gross-Matos is a character guy who has faced a lot of adversity, and he is ready to bring his sack production to the NFL.
Jeremy Chinn S Southern Illinois
Chinn is arguably the best pick of our draft class. His versatility and athleticism is off the charts, standing at 6'3 220 lbs. He could be utilized to play safety, nickel, outside corner, and/or linebacker, much like Clemson's 1st rounder Isaiah Simmons. In fact, Chinn has been referred to as "Simmons-lite." He could serve as one of the team's cornerstones moving into the Rhule Era.
Troy Pride Jr CB Notre Dame
After fixing run support by drafting Derrick Brown, the Panthers finally turned their sights to the cornerback position. This might have been a steal by many draft analysts, one who could've snuck into Day Two. Nonetheless, the Panthers got a great value pick with Pride. The recurring theme of this class is athleticism and character, and Troy doesn't break the trend. Though the odds are unlikely that he will develop into a No. 1 corner, Matt Rhule's staff is known for their ability to develop players. Time will tell if passing game coordinator Jason Simmons and cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper can mold Pride into a star.
Kenny Robinson CB/S St. Louis Battlehawks
A true pro, Kenny spent his spring with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the recently bankrupt XFL. He recorded 21 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions through 5 games until the coronavirus outbreak lead to the league's closure. His versatility playing at corner and safety should serve him well with the Panthers sufffering from a talent poor cornerback group. It is evident that Robinson has learned from his past (academic fraud at West Virginia) after writing an emotional letter in the Players Tribune to NFL GMs. He was also a teammate of Will Grier for a couple years. Kenny was a very underrated safety in this class who should've went higher.
Bravvion Roy DT Baylor
Finally, Matt Rhule got his guy from Baylor! Roy, a enormous run stuffer, slid a bit farther in the draft than expected. The Panthers are shoring up the defensive line depth, which is much needed after most of our 2019 starters sustained multiple injuries throughout last season (including Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, & Gerald McCoy). Roy has great character and can help teach his teammates Phil Snow's system.
Stantley Thomas-Oliver III CB FIU
Stan was the player that completed the Panthers all-defensive class, the first time for any team to do so with at least seven picks. Thomas-Oliver III is a long and tall rangy corner who knows how to tackle even though he's not the most willing tackler. Someone once compared him to a less developed Kristian Fulton, one of the most highly rated corners in this year's class. There is a chance Stan will get his chance this year without many quality cornerbacks this season.
**For the undrafted free agents, I will just be adding my opinion on the signings and whether I think it's likely they'll make the final 53 or snag a spot on the practice squad. There will be no grades provided.**
Chris Orr LB Wisconsin
Orr probably has one of the highest chances of making the 53-man roster. He racked up lots of sacks as a linebacker during his time at Wisconsin, 11.5 his senior season (15 total). Though a bit undersized for a middle linebacker at 6'0, Orr is a tremendous run stopper, something the Panthers have needed to acquire due to Luke's departure this offseason. He also brings leadership to the table, something the Panthers value very much.
Jordan Mack LB Virginia
Mack is an intriguing player to have joined the Panthers, with versatility and toughness being the key words. He arrived at Virginia as a safety, but converted to outside linebacker due to established players already ahead of him. However, Mack decided to make the move inside, where his coverage skills, pass rushing prowess, and speed. Much like Chris Orr, Mack produced many sacks from the middle linebacker position. He has the ability to be utilized as a 3-4 inside & outside linebacker, as well as a 4-3 outside linebacker. With as much versatility and talent he has displayed, he's been injured multiple times, the most prominent one being an ankle injury his senior season. This was a great pickup overall as an undrafted free agent and I believe he'll most likely make the final 53.
Jason Ferris LB Montana Western
After not selecting a linebacker in the draft, the Panthers set their sights on linebacker as a priority position in undrafted free agency. While coming from a small school, Ferris performed spectacularly. Victory Sports Network outlined his stats and accolades, "In 2019 Ferris was named First-Team All-Conferenceand the Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. He led the Frontier with 119 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 7 passes defended, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown and a blocked kick. He finished 3rd in the nation in tackles per game, averaging 11.9 and was eighth in the nation in forced fumbles." I expect Ferris to be a camp body or maybe a practice squadder for the Panthers next season.
Omar Bayless WR Arkansas State
To me, I think it's almost guaranteed Omar will make the team. He was an absolute monster at Arkansas State, and was expected to be drafted due to his production in college. Last season, he finished with 1653 yds (2nd in nation) and 17 touchdowns (3rd in nation). With Seth Roberts and Keith Kirkwood not appearing too special, Bayless could certainly pass them on the depth chart. He will need to expand his route tree after running mostly verticals at ASU. The Panthers could have DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, and Omar Bayless as a quartet. Now wouldn't that be awesome!
Rodney Smith RB Minnesota
Rodney Smith appears to be getting a lot of hype as the Panthers backup, and rightfully so. In 2019, he compiled 1163 rushing yds & 8 touchdowns as well as 7 receptions for 70 yds. From what I've heard, Rodney is a great leader and mentor to his teammates. With Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis, and Jordan Scarlett in his way, I think it's very likely he battles Reggie for the No. 2 spot.
TreVontae Heights WR TCU
Heights does not have much college production at all, but that might work in his favor. Matt Rhule mentioned that he likes height, weight, speed guys. He is 6'3 194 lbs and ran a 4.61 40 yard dash. He recorded 327 yds and 3 touchdowns along with 18 special teams tackles. TreVontae could be a guy to look out for on the practice squad.
Mike Horton OL Auburn
Horton was part of an Auburn offensive line that helped pave the way to a top 25 finish in rushing touchdowns. He received SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week by recording 12 knockdown blocks en route to a 56-23 win over Mississippi State. He could compete for a spot at guard due to the lack of depth there.
Branden Bowen OL Ohio State
The last undrafted offensive lineman we picked up from Ohio State turned into an All-Pro guard named Andrew Norwell who earned a lucrative contract with Jaguars in free agency following his departure. Let's hope Bowen can develop into an All-Pro offensive lineman as many pieces on the o-line are nearing the end of their contracts. Bowen earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after starting 13 games at right tackle in 2019. Ohio State ranked 4th in rushing yards per game last year. With the Panthers having a lot of young talented tackles already, Bowen could try his luck on the practice squad. Perhaps his spot on the final 53 could be at guard.
Myles Adams DL Rice
Myles Adams was a pretty good interior lineman at Rice, where he earned third team honors by PFF and compiled 94 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss. With not much depth behind KK, Derrick, and Bravvion, Adams could make the team as the 4th defensive tackle. On the Panthers website, they list him at DE which is interesting. His versatility makes him a plus to Matt Rhule.
Sam Franklin LB Temple
Rhule brings another one of his guys to Carolina. Franklin was awarded a single digit number (#4) his senior season. This is of special importance because they are only given to the toughest players on the team. According to College Stats Reference, he played DB his freshman year. This could help Phil Snow give some interesting looks to NFL offenses in his first year. I think Franklin is definitely someone to keep an eye out for as a sleeper to grab one of the last spots on the team.
Myles Hartsfield DB Ole Miss
To boost their secondary, the Panthers picked up the former No. 1 prep school safety in Myles Hartsfield. He follows the trend of speed after being named a high school All-American in track and field. Playing behind higher ranked players at his position, it made it difficult for Myles to find significant playing time. Hartsfield could acquire a role on special teams, but I think it's truly up to how much he impresses the coaching staff. If he makes the team, he should be one of the fringe players. However, his spot right now seems to be a spot on someone's practice squad.
Frederick Mauigoa C Washington State
Mauigoa was widely regarded as an almost guaranteed to be drafted player. Some people had him as high as a 5th round pick. He could be a Tyler Larsen replacement, or possibly even a future replacement for Matt Paradis. Frederick needs to work on becoming that anchor, keeping defensive linemen from pushing him back each play. I really do think he will make the team as an intriguing developmental prospect.
David Reese LB Florida
In an interview with The Draft Wire, he basically summed himself in one paragraph. "A team should use one of their draft picks on me because they’re gonna get a guy that brings his hard hat to work every single day. I’m a smart guy that’s never gonna cause any problems for the organization. Most importantly, I’m a great football player at the end of the day. I’m excited to bring my leadership skills to the next level." Matt Rhule loves smart, hardworking, and excellent leaders for his football team. He's also not too bad of a player, having been added to watch lists of the Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski awards. With so many young linebackers on the roster already, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Reese on the practice squad.
Giovanni Ricci TE Western Michigan
Injuries should not be a problem for him after receiving the Iron Bronco Award at Western Michigan, which is given to the player who took the most snaps in the season. In 2019, Ricci recorded 51 receptions for 642 yds and 8 touchdowns. He was under the radar as a draft prospect having been a finalist for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the best tight end in college football. He could make the team as a depth tight end, with Joe Brady leaning towards pass catchers over blocking specialists like Chris Manhertz.
Austrian Robinson DT Ole Miss
Though old for a rookie at 24 years old, Robinson still has a lot of tread left on his tires. Along with Marquis Haynes, the Panthers now have two Chucky Mullins Courage award winners. This award was given to an Ole Miss defensive player who displayed the type of influence Mullins once had on the football team. That season, they are given the honor of wearing No. 38 to remember Chucky. Austrian Robinson will most likely be a camp body at the time being.
Cam Sutton TE Fresno State
Having only recorded 9 catches for 154 yds, I have to believe that Matt Rhule values his height weight speed combo. He stands at 6'6 225 lbs with a 4.5 40 time. That is actually an extremely impressive combo, with only Albert Okwuegbunam receiving a faster time at this year's combine (4.49). Early in the draft process, it was reported that Sutton had a facetime with the Panthers. I believe they found a diamond in the rough.
Sam Tecklenburg OL Baylor
Tecklenburg has a very interesting story. Having transitioned from a tight end to guard/center at Baylor, Sam made the decision to retire from football following the 2019 season. Little did he know Matt Rhule would try to lure him into the NFL after being hired as head coach for the Carolina Panthers. Being one of the players left from the Art Briles scandal, Tecklenburg became a very vocal leader for the team, so much so that he was voted as a captain even after he retired. I think he has a somewhat good chance of making the roster due to his leadership and versatility as well as familiarity with the coaching staff.
Well, there's the Panther's rookie class of 2020. Who are you most excited about? Who is the dark horse of the undrafted free agents to make the team? Which player do you think will have the greatest impact in their first season? Let me know below.