David Newton breaks down the Carolina Panthers' 2017 draft class.
Round 1, No. 8 overall: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
My take: Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren told me McCaffrey was “the perfect football player." He was the perfect pick for the Panthers, who filled three needs with one selection. He’ll be a great change-of-pace back to complement Jonathan Stewart and give Carolina a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield. McCaffrey could start at slot receiver, even if he didn’t play running back. He also can return punts -- filling arguably the biggest hole left after Ted Ginn Jr. signed with New Orleans. And McCaffrey is fast, running the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds at the NFL combine. The Panthers needed to add speed. They also were looking for a player to take the pressure off quarterback Cam Newton, and they couldn’t have gotten a better one than McCaffrey. And according to Bloomgren and others who coached McCaffrey, he's also the perfect role model in terms of the example he sets in practice, games and off the field. He is everything owner Jerry Richardson looks for in a player.
Slot receiver: Because of what he can do as a slot receiver, McCaffrey might have been a better pick than LSU running back Leonard Fournette in terms of what Carolina needs. The Panthers haven’t had a bona fide slot receiver since Jerricho Cotchery in 2015, when Newton put up MVP numbers. Cotchery was hired during the offseason to specifically work with slot receivers in an attempt to give Newton more weapons after a disastrous 2016. McCaffrey can line up in the slot, as well as wide, when not in the backfield. He legitimately could get 15 to 20 snaps a game at receiver, in addition to 10 or more snaps a game at running back. It’s hard to imagine Fournette getting that many overall touches playing behind Stewart.
Bypassed a "Hog Molly": General manager Dave Gettleman loves big men, particularly ones who can rush the passer. He affectionately calls them “Hog Mollies." He passed on a good one in Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen. He also passed on Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, showing just how badly he wants to upgrade the offense and give Newton help. In doing so, he got a player new Carolina wide receivers coach Lance Taylor -- McCaffrey’s position coach at Stanford the past three seasons -- compared to Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in terms of his work ethic. Any player who gets compared to the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year on any level will get your attention.
Round 2, No. 40: Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio State
My take: The theme of Carolina’s draft so far is versatility and speed in an effort to take the pressure off Newton. Like first-round pick McCaffrey, second-round pick Curtis Samuel is a jack-of-all-trades. Unlike McCaffrey, Samuel has been slated specifically to play slot receiver with the flexibility to shift into the backfield. This pick makes sense in that the Panthers need a dynamic slot receiver, and Samuel definitely showed he was dynamic at Ohio State. No other college player had more than 700 yards both rushing and receiving in 2016. Samuel also is super fast. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds, which will make him a candidate for the fastest player on the team now that Ginn is in New Orleans and Philly Brown is in Buffalo. While I thought the Panthers might go safety with NC State’s Josh Jones here, Carolina’s reasoning for taking Samuel is sound.
Speed kills: The Panthers really had no choice but to look for more speed on offense after losing Ginn and Brown in free agency, although Brown was more by choice. They also needed to find receivers who could separate and open the field for tight end Greg Olsen and the running game. McCaffrey and Samuel do that. That the Panthers went wide receiver this high after adding receivers Russell Shepard and Charles Johnson in free agency comes as somewhat of a surprise. But neither Shepard nor Johnson have proven to be consistently dynamic. Newton needs dynamic players around him. Drafting players with this capability is long overdue. The Panthers should have invested more around Newton sooner after he was selected with the first pick of the 2011 draft.
Round 2, No. 64: Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan
My take: The continued effort to surround Newton with talent. The first two picks were playmakers (McCaffrey, Samuel). Taylor Moton (6-foot-5, 315 pounds), the final pick of the second round, can bring much-needed depth at tackle with Michael Oher's future in question due to a concussion. Moton won’t be asked to start right away even though he made a school-record 52 starts between right tackle and right guard. But if Oher doesn’t play, Moton will be in the mix to compete with Daryl Williams at right tackle; he might be regardless. That Moton can slide over to guard adds to his value. The Panthers like linemen with versatility. Judging by this draft, they like players at all positions with versatility.
Raiding the cupboard: Former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, now the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, wasn’t here when Carolina set its draft board. But it certainly felt like it. The Bills selected East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones three picks ahead of the Panthers at the top of the second round, then traded to move one spot ahead of the Panthers at the end of the second to take Temple guard Dion Dawkins. Both were on Carolina’s draft board and potential targets in this round. It could make the conversation fun before these teams meet in Week 2 at Carolina.
Round 3, No. 77, Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&M
My take: He’s not Myles Garrett, the first overall pick of the draft out of Texas A&M, but Daeshon Hall is a defensive end the Panthers can develop behind veterans Julius Peppers (37) and Charles Johnson (30). The Panthers had to add a young player at the position, and they felt strongly enough about Hall that they swapped third-round picks with the Cardinals and gave up a fourth-round pick to get him. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder has room to add weight to his frame and be an every-down end who also can play inside. He doesn’t have the sack production that made Garrett the top pick, but he’s a big-time player with 14 sacks over the past two seasons and 36.5 tackles for loss. His 41-inch vertical leap at the combine showed his athletic ability. A solid pickup at this point for a team in need of a young pass-rusher.
Better weather: Garrett was the No. 1 pick, but he has to play and live in Cleveland. Hall gets to live in Charlotte, where it seldom snows and the winters aren’t harsh. “Yeah, I got better weather," Hall said with a laugh. He also comes with less pressure. Garrett has to produce from the get-go. Hall, as mentioned above, can develop. But Hall insists he and Garrett contributed to each other’s successful college careers. “He benefited playing with me and I benefited playing with him," Hall said. Now he will benefit learning from Peppers and Johnson, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on Carolina’s all-time sack list.
Round 5, No. 152: Corn Elder, DB, Miami
My take: General manager Dave Gettleman has proven in the past that he won’t hesitate to stockpile players at a position that appears set. So even though he signed Captain Munnerlyn in free agency to fill the nickelback slot and even though 2016 fifth-round pick Zack Sanchez also is slated as a nickel, look for Elder to compete immediately behind Munnerlyn. This was a good move because there might be times when Munnerlyn has to move outside if 2016 draft picks James Bradberry or Daryl Worley are injured or struggling. And Sanchez remains a question.
How he fits: Gettleman likes taller corners on the outside to match up with big receivers in the NFL. But he’s fine with smaller players like Munnerlyn (5-9) at nickel, and Elder (5-10) fits that mold. Elder also can return kicks in a pinch. He might be best known for being the eighth and last player to take a lateral on what turned into the winning score on the final play of a 2015 30-27 victory over Duke. There were several questionable non-calls on that play, including an illegal block that was overturned. Asked if it was a legal touchdown, Elder paused and said, “We won the game."
Round 6, No. 192: Alex Armah, FB, West Georgia
My take: Talk about versatility, the theme of Carolina's draft. The Panthers took it to another level with Alex Armah, who played tight end and defensive end this past season but is slated as a fullback or H-back in Carolina's offense. He could be a poor-man's Jabrill Peppers in terms of all he can do. You're talking about a load at 6-foot-2, 253 pounds, another way the Panthers want to set up the running game to take the pressure off Cam Newton. He had a workout with the Panthers at school, so this pick wasn't a surprise for a player many haven't heard of. The surprise may be that Carolina worked him out entirely as a fullback, where he hasn't played since high school.
How he fits: The fullback position isn't dead just because the Panthers moved on from Pro Bowler Mike Tolbert, now in Buffalo. Armah can provide a huge blocking presence in the running and passing game the way Tolbert, a load at 5-9, 247, did. Imagine first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey using the Georgia native's bulk to set up a big run. You also can imagine how many nicknames Newton -- who had several for Tolbert -- will come up with for Armah.
Round 7, No. 233: Harrison Butker, PK, Georgia Tech
My take: I can't believe the Panthers didn't take a tight end or a safety with at least one draft pick. That they used their last pick on placekicker Harrison Butker sends a message to Graham Gano, coming off an off year in which he missed several key kicks, to pick up his game. No miss was bigger than the 50-yarder at the end of a 21-20 loss at Denver in the opener. Still, a kicker? The only other specialist the Panthers have drafted was punter Brad Nortman. But still, a kicker? I get that Butker is Tech's all-time leading scorer with 337 career points, but the Panthers likely could have gotten him as an undrafted free agent. This can't be good for Gano.
How he fits: Accuracy is a strength. He ranks third in school history with a career field-goal percentage of 71.7 percent. He was 8-for-8 this past season on field goals from 40-plus yards out. He also has a strong leg for kickoffs. If Gano doesn't bounce back from offseason surgery to fix a broken bone in his plant foot then Butker could be the guy. Still, a kicker?