CHARLOTTE, N.C. – First impressions from the first practice of the Carolina Panthers' two-day rookie minicamp:
Second-round draft pick Devin Funchess – now listed at 6-foot-4 instead of 6-5 – is the real deal. The former Michigan wide receiver lined up at all three receiver positions during the first on-field workout and looked smooth, particularly out of the slot. He definitely has the potential to create mismatches with 6-5 Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina’s first-round draft pick in 2014, on the field. He has good hands and runs solid routes underneath. I can see why the Panthers were willing to trade up to get him.
Fourth-round draft pick Daryl Williams will make a strong push to be the starting right tackle. Mike Remmers will enter training camp with the job, but Williams has the size (6-6, 329) to be a dominant force on that side. He has the work ethic, too. He was the last player to leave the field, working with line coach John Matsko on the blocking sled after everyone else left.
Fifth-round draft pick Cameron Artis-Payne will make fans forget all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, who was released in February. That the Panthers gave Artis-Payne the No. 34 that Williams wore was a strong message this team has moved on from Williams, who said some not-so-complimentary things about the way team owner Jerry Richardson responded to the death of his mother last year. Artis-Payne will be more than an adequate complement for Jonathan Stewart.
First-round draft pick Shaq Thompson and fifth-round pick David Mayo look like a young version of outside linebacker Thomas Davis and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. OK, it’s early and they weren’t in pads. But Thompson, as advertised, has great athletic ability like Davis. Mayo, like Kuechly nicknamed a “tackling machine" in college, is best-fitted to play middle linebacker. Mayo could be a solid backup for Kuechly if Kuechly ever leaves the field. Thompson will be on the field with Kuechly and Davis to potentially make this the best linebackers group in the NFL.
Chris Bonner of Colorado State-Pueblo (San Diego) obviously is the better of the two quarterbacks invited for a tryout. The other, Cole Jaeschke of Upper Iowa, dropped his first snap from center and several others during the 1 hour, 15 minute session. Neither will make this squad.
Former South Carolina wide receiver Damiere Byrd is noticeably fast, but it will be tough for him to crack the roster.
None of the players that worked at left tackle stood out as Canadian David Foucault did last season. That might be a good sign, though, because Carolina’s line was so weak at this point last season that a player like Foucault could stand out.