The NFL Draft is officially over, and the Carolina Panthers have come out with some pieces they believe can be difference makers in this team’s quest for a Super Bowl title. In this year’s draft, the team took a running back, a wide out, an offensive lineman, a defensive end, a cornerback, and a safety. The goal of this piece is to illustrate how I would have drafted if I needed contributors at those six positions. With each pick, I am going to grade the actual selection, point out the benefits and problems of the pick, then make my own selection, starting with the first pick.
The Pick: First Round, WR Kelvin Benjamin (6’5, 240 pounds, 35 inch arm length, 10.25 inch hands, 4.61 40 yard dash, 32.5 inch vertical, 7.33 second 3 cone drill)
I personally closed my eyes in frustration for a few seconds when Carolina made this selection, because they came so close to what I wanted them to do at selecting a receiver as I described in an article a few weeks ago. In that article, I explained why Carolina needed to pass on smaller receivers like Marquise Lee (kudos to the team for doing just that) and instead opt for bigger receivers, who are statistically more likely to succeed. However, in the last paragraph of that article, I stated why I believed the team should pass on Benjamin. While speed isn’t as important as size for receivers, a 4.61 40 is still pretty slow for a primary target. More importantly, his vertical and broad jumps weren’t overly impressive, so he isn’t an explosive athlete off the snap. The last reason to be concerned, as pointed out by Mike Mayock, is that Benjamin was only really productive for one year, similar to a lot of other big-bodied busts like Greg Little and Stephen Hill. Overall, Benjamin has a high ceiling and could be successful for Carolina, but I think my pick would have been a better fit.
Re-Draft Pick: WR Jordan Matthews (6’3, 212 pounds, 33.25 inch arm length, 10.375 inch hands, 4.46 40 yard dash, 35.5 inch vertical, 6.95 second 3 cone drill)
Fourteen picks after the Panthers grabbed Benjamin, the Eagles made a great addition by snagging Jordan Matthews. Matthews isn’t as huge as Benjamin, but still has elite receiver size at 6’3. Both guys have huge hands which contribute to their ability to make great catches, but Matthews has the speed to blow past corners and stretch the field, a trait Benjamin can’t be taught. Matthews’ vertical and broad jumps speak to his explosiveness, and with a vertical three inches taller than the two inch taller Benjamin, theoretically Matthews would win in a jump ball situation between the two. Another thing that is often overlooked by football junkies is the 3 cone drill, which is a great indicator of how well receivers are able to accelerate out of cuts. Matthews destroys Benjamin in this category, indicating he can come in and be a better route runner immediately. The nail in the coffin when comparing these two is that while Benjamin only exploded his last year in college, Matthews has been dominant for the last two years, and was pretty productive the year before that.
The Pick: Second Round, Defensive End Kony Ealy (6’4, 273 pounds, 34.25 inch arms, 4.92 40 yard dash, 22 bench reps, 31 inch vertical, 6.83 3 cone drill)
Reasoning: The selection of Kony Ealy looks even better in light of the recent arrest of Greg Hardy, but I didn’t take that into account for my grade or re-draft because the team didn’t know this was going to happen at the time of the pick. Looking at just the player, Ealy is a huge steal at this point in the draft. He has ridiculously long arms, which are the biggest indicator of success as a defensive end. Add on a combine-leading 3-cone drill time, a big indicator of his ability to turn the corner as a pass rusher, and you have a player with the entire physical make up to be a great defensive end for the Carolina Panthers. The downside with Ealy is that he was only productive his last year in college, which, like Benjamin, is never a good sign when drafting a player early.
Re-Draft: Offensive Tackle Morgan Moses (6’6, 314 pounds, 35.375 inch arms, 5.33 40 yard dash)
While Ealy was a great pick in my opinion, offensive tackle was a much bigger need than defensive end. While Gettleman stated he didn’t think any of the offensive tackles after the first round were any better than the tackles they currently have, I disagree. If Ealy is a freak of nature with his arm length, Moses is an alien with over 35 inch arms. There isn’t a pass rusher in the league with arms long enough to overpower Moses if he keeps his technique straight (admittedly something he can struggle with). The bottom line is, with a few year of good coaching; Moses could be one of the league’s premier tackles.
The Pick: Third Round, Offensive Guard Trai Turner (6’3, 310 pounds, 34 inch arms, 4.93 40 yard dash, 22 bench reps)
Turner should have been an early second round pick at latest. Long arms, especially for a guard, thickly built yet one of the most agile guards in the draft, and dominated in college despite being young. There is very little to not like about Turner. His negatives are minor. Per NFL.com, “lacks ideal length” (he has incredibly long arms), “fleshy midsection” (yeah he’s heavy, but he is also very fast for a man his size), “technique needs work”. Technique is the only thing keeping this player from becoming a great guard.
Re-Draft: Offensive Guard Trai Turner
I wanted to pick running back Jerick McKinnon here, the most athletically gifted back in this draft. And he would have been a great pick, but I can’t justify taking a developmental running back, no matter his ceiling, over a guard who I believe could anchor this line for the next decade. Give Turner a few years and with his arm length, I wouldn’t rule out a move to tackle.