Now that Carolina Panthers OTAs are coming to an end, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at where the 2017 draft picks. Remember, a roster spot is no longer assured for drafted rookies. Last season Panthers GM Dave Gettleman cut players he drafted only months ago. The same could happen this year.
Of course, first round pick Christian McCaffrey has been absent for OTAs in their entirety. McCaffrey is not eligible to attend until the Stanford semester is over. He has been in constant contact with the coaching staff, but unfortunately has not participated in anything team related at the stadium. He should be present for at least part of the mandatory minicamp next week.
Second round pick Curtis Samuel has been working exclusively as a wide receiver, putting any thoughts to him splitting time at running back to rest. Samuel has seen time with all of the offensive units, from first to third string. Samuel looks as quick and shifty as advertised, but could improve on ball catching. If he can get more consistent in that area, and there is no reason to think he cannot at this point, the sky is the limit for Samuel.
Taylor Moton, the other second round pick, may be the most impressive rookie specimen out there. Moton is a massive human being and looks the part of an ideal offensive tackle in the NFL. Most of Moton’s time has been spent at right tackle with both the first and second teams. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has said Moton will be a dual position tackle, playing on the right and the left. I can’t really tell you how well he looks at the moment. Without pads and full contact, assessing an offensive tackle is nearly impossible. That will have to wait for training camp starting in late July.
Defensive End Daeshon Hall has been spending most of his time with the third string unit, although he has gotten some time in with the twos. Hall looks a lot like Ryan Delaire at this point, with plenty of speed around the edges. Hopefully, Hall will be able to improve on what Delaire has done at this point with the Carolina Panthers. Adding strength to his 6’5 frame will certainly help.
Cornerback Corn Elder has been getting in a lot of work throughout OTAs. Corn has seen time at both nickel and on the outside with every group possible. Elder seems to already have claimed the backup nickel role for the moment, supplanting last year’s nickel draft pick Zack Sanchez. This was not unexpected, but a bit surprising it happened so quickly.
Fullback Alex Armah probably has the biggest learning curve to tackle out of all the rookies. Physically all the tools are there. What is needed now are all the reps he can manage to get. Unfortunately, this is not easy on a team that a) rarely features a fullback and b) has a fullback ahead of him already on the roster. So it is slow going for Armah and will likely remain that way. I suspect it will all come down to his preseason performances when he should get a good long look. I am not convinced his roster spot is assured, if not the practice squad is where he will likely land for future development.
Kicker Harrison Butker has been, well, practicing kicks. Ron Rivera has stated the competition between Gano and himself won’t really begin until training camp. Then you can expect some serious high pressure kicks with the entire team looking on. Should be fun to watch.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
Linebacker Ben Boulware is doing all the right things, namely focusing in on special teams. There isn’t much of a path for him in terms of linebacker, as Kuechly and Mayo are fully entrenched in their roles. But if Boulware can come out and really make an impact on special teams, especially during the preseason, then he has a chance. He seems to have the drive and self motivation to do so. It wouldn’t be wise to count him out.
Though not drafted, Charlotte’s own Austin Duke has been making plays. At this point I can’t see a path for him to the regular roster, but a practice squad position is definitely a possibility and would be a big win for him.