After a 6-2 start to the 2018 season, the Carolina Panthers went on to lose seven of their last eight games, exposing some glaring weaknesses on the roster. With star players Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton nearing the tail ends of their prime, the window for the Panthers to win a Super Bowl is getting smaller by the year.
Due to a couple of players retiring and the Panthers deciding to move on from a handful of free agents, the lists of needs grew this off-season. However, they were able to fill some needs in free agency after the signings of Bruce Irvin and Matt Paradis. Head coach Ron Rivera stated their goals this off-season was to get younger on defense, give Newton better protection and surround their quarterback with more weapons. Carolina’s front office had a lot of pressure to fill those needs via the draft and these are the players they selected.
Panthers 2019 NFL Draft Class
- First round, 16th overall, Brian Burns, Edge rusher, Florida State
- Second round, 37th overall, Greg Little, Offensive tackle, Ole Miss
- Third round, 100th overall, Will Grier, Quarterback, West Virginia
- Fourth round, 115th overall, Christian Miller, Edge, Alabama
- Fifth round, 154th overall, Jordan Scarlett, Running Back, Florida
- Sixth round, 212th overall, Dennis Daley, Offensive Tackle, South Carolina
- Seventh round, 237th overall, Terry Godwin, Wide Receiver, Georgia
Carolina Panthers 2019 Draft Grade: 8.8/10
Carolina Panthers 2019 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Brian Burns
The Panthers announced earlier this off-season that they are going to feature more 3-4 looks on the defense and try to diversify the fronts they run. But, in order to do that they need athletic edge rushers that can drop back in coverage and rush the passer. Burns is capable of doing both and the Panthers lucked out the edge rusher was available at 16 overall.
Burns is a natural bender and was the lone bright spot on a bad Florida State team last year. The edge rusher recorded 10 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. At 235 pounds, many thought he was too small to play edge in the NFL. But he proved the doubters wrong after weighing in at 250 pounds for the Combine and still displaying great athleticism. His explosiveness and instincts are a great fit for what the Panthers are trying to do defensively and with veterans Mario Addison and Irvin on the roster, he will have great mentors to get him acclimated.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) April 26, 2019
The Head-Scratcher: Not Drafting Any Defensive Backs
Carolina’s defense really struggled against the pass last year allowing the fifth most passing touchdowns and the seventh best completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. Free safety was a huge area of need as the roster consists of safeties that primarily play strong safety. The Panthers could have also used depth at the corner position after injuries last season exposed their lack of depth in the secondary. Despite this draft class being loaded with defensive back prospects, the Panthers elected not to draft anyone.
The Surprise: Will Grier
Technically this was not a surprise if you followed the Panthers closely throughout the draft process. However, Carolina drafting the talented quarterback out of West Virginia certainly surprised a few members on the national sports networks. Grier is a North Carolina native so the Panthers have had the chance to scout him multiple times since high school.
Nonetheless, Grier is a good insurance pick that solidifies the backup quarterback position. Newton has taken a beating during his career and his shoulder injury last year has to raise some concern about his ability to throw with consistency going forward. While Grier did make plenty of highlight-reel plays in college, he still has plenty of areas to work on before he can consider himself a starting-level quarterback in the NFL. He will battle it out with Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen for the backup position next season.
The Steal: Christian Miller
There are a few candidates for this category but Miller may have the greatest potential of the remaining picks. The edge rusher was a former five-star high school recruit out of South Carolina but never got the opportunity to reach his full potential while at Alabama. He finally got the chance to start his junior season but an arm injury forced him to miss 10 games. Miller played in 14 games last year and recorded 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Like Burns, Miller has great athleticism and length to serve as an edge in a 3-4 defense. He is technically sound and if he can stay healthy, he and Burns could make for an effective pass-rushing duo in the near future.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Jordan Scarlett
They don’t give out the nickname “Beast Mode Jr.” to just anybody. Scarlett is an interesting prospect because his career at Florida is highlighted by off-the-field issues that kept him on the sidelines. However, when he was on the field, there are few running backs that are capable of doing what he can.
— x – Tr1pp Morgan (@Tr1ppMorgan) April 28, 2019
Scarlett has a knack for breaking tackles thanks to his combination of elusiveness and strength. He’s smooth at changing direction and always keeps his feet moving which allows him to break off for big runs. Scarlett is a liability as a pass catcher but he could be the spell running back to Christian McCaffrey the Panthers have been needing. If he can stay out of trouble he might earn himself a spot as the number two running back on the depth chart.
Depending on who you talked to, scouts and teams either loved or disliked Little. Some teams considered Little as a first-round prospect and believe he has the potential to be a future All-Pro at the tackle position. He had the longest arms of any offensive lineman in this year’s class and is considered the second-best pass-blocking tackle of the class after Andre Dillard. However, some scouts considered Little as very inconsistent and teams did not like the way he interviewed. Nonetheless, the Panthers made protecting Newton a priority with Little’s selection in the second round.
While Daley did give up his fair share of sacks, he made improvements every week in both of his seasons at South Carolina. The former JUCO product will have to polish up his technique in pass protection but he has the size and strength to be an immediate impact in the run game. In two to three years, he has the potential to become a starting right tackle or even a guard for Carolina.
Thanks to a very deep wide receiver group at Georgia, Godwin was underappreciated and often forgotten about during this entire draft process. He had a big day at the East-West Shrine Game winning MVP and solidified himself as a receiver who has a knack for making big plays. Godwin is electric in the open field and runs very crisp routes, which should allow him to find a spot on the Panthers 53-man roster.
The Undrafted Free Agents
The Panthers signed four undrafted free agents to round out their draft season acquisitions. Carolina signed Elijah Holyfield, son of former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, who played running back for the Georgia Bulldogs. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2018 and will give Scarlett and Cameron Artis-Payne a run for their money as the number two running back on the depth chart.
Corion Ballard played safety at Utah for two years and was used in a number of different roles. His versatility and his size – 6’3″ 200 pounds – will allow him to compete for a spot as a special teamer.
Damion Jeanpiere Jr. was a three-year starter at Nichols State. He made big play after big play in college and is exciting to watch when he has the ball in his hands. Jeanpiere also has experience returning punts which gives him an extra edge to make the roster.
Linebacker Jordan Kunasyzk had a very productive senior year recording 148 tackles for Cal’s defense. The linebacker has a nose for finding the football and had a 22-tackle game against UCLA last year. He could come in and provide inside linebacker depth for the Panthers defense.
Jordan Kunaszyk may have signed with the Carolina #Panthers as a UDFA, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. He showed consistent improvement in the Pac-12, raising his overall, coverage, run-defense, and pass-rush grades in each season. #KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/iVINAxMsa3
— PFF CAR Panthers (@PFF_Panthers) May 1, 2019