Jeremy Igo
I see a lot of excitement out there over a few of the Carolina Panthers undrafted free agents, and rightfully so. Last season safety Dean Marlowe and running back Brandon Wegher was able to claim a roster spot. The year before? Philly Brown and Andrew Norwell made the regular roster. 
This year the buzz is around wide receiver Keyarris Garrett and linebacker Jeremy Cash. 
Here is what needs to happen for them to make the roster, and who their competition is from last season's Carolina Panthers roster. 
Jeremy Cash - Linebacker - Duke
Panthers Roster Competition: Ben Jacobs
The path to the NFL for Jeremy Cash is clear.
First, the training staff needs to put some weight on him, at least 8 pounds this offseason. That sounds like a lot, but with Cash's frame it is very doable in a pro regimen. Trust me, this kid is in for a healthy dose of protein and weights. 
Next, he needs to get excited about special teams, because that is now his bread and butter. The Carolina Panthers will not be calling upon the services of Jeremy Cash on defense this year, just as they hardly ever called on Ben Jacobs last year. But Jacobs, a former rookie camp invitee, cemented himself as an excellent special teams player and earned respect and a paycheck. Jeremy Cash must prove he can shed blocks and get downfield for tackles on the returner. If his performance at Duke is any indication, his natural tackling ability will be a huge asset for him to rely on. 
The Panthers' preseason was never more important for a rookie. He will have a few opportunities to make a real difference. If not, he may be practice squad bound. 
It is Cash vs Jacobs. The Panthers will not be keeping both this season. 
Keyarris Garrett - Wide Receiver - Tulsa
Panthers Roster Competition - Brenton Bersin, Kevin Norwood, Philly Brown, Stephen Hill
The Panthers will likely keep only five receivers this season. There are only three locks at the moment: Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn, Devin Funchess. The rest are competing for 2 roster spots. 
Keyarris Garrett is ranked by most sources as the second most valuable UDFA pickup behind Jeremy Cash. Garrett's path to the Panthers roster has solely to do with his performance at the wide receiver position. 
That's it, that's all. 
Out work, out hustle, and out perform Brown, Bersin, Norwood, and Hill and the job is yours. The good news for Garrett is his drive. He has been very vocal since the draft about his resolve. He plans to prove without a doubt he was the best receiver in the draft, as his production numbers in college would indicate. 
As a result, a swell of support has developed from Panthers Nation. Garrett has his work cut out for him, it won't be easy. 
Making it even more difficult for Garrett is the fact that he is practice squad eligible, when some of the others are not. This gives the Panthers another option to develop him into a future star. Garrett needs to show the Panthers that he immediately can make plays week 1 against Denver. If he fails to do so, practice squad is likely. 
Carolina Panthers Rookie Camp kicks off on Friday, May 13th. I will report back with initial impressions and photos. 
Jeremy Igo
As I sat this morning sipping my delicious Dunkin Donuts coffee, the best coffee on earth, I noticed many on the Huddle were upset over the corners drafted. 
You know, the ones that were not mock draft projected until later rounds. My answer is simply... who cares? 
Dave Gettleman, the best talent evaluator in the NFL, pinpoints with laser sharp accuracy the players he wants the most, and he goes out and gets them. As long as Gettleman gets the players he covets the most, I honestly have no interest in what rounds they came in, and neither should you. 
Earlier this week, the least talented position on the entire roster was corner back. Last year, the Panthers literally went out and picked up guys off of their couches and still made it to the Superbowl. 
So guess what, Gettleman went out and got the three best corners. No, not the three best on walterfootballdotcom or other draftnik websites. The three best corners for the PANTHERS SYSTEM. In this year's NFL draft you had 3 elite corners, all taken by pick 11. All of the rest are as much a roll of the dice as the next.
Unless, of course, you have a proven system in place and the talented coaching staff to implement it. Then you target specific physical characteristics and abilities and mold them in to what you want. 
Which is EXACTLY what the Panthers just did. Do not take that for granted, not all teams have that ability. The Panthers went out and found two large zone corners and a ball hawking nickel. Job done. 
In short, if you are upset that the players Gettleman drafted were not rated higher on silly draft websites, take issue with those websites. Do not take issue with the guy that is the gold standard for NFL talent evaluation... Dave Gettleman.
Let Go, and Let Gett
Jeremy Igo
Now that the dust has settled on round one, the Carolina Panthers have unfinished business to get down to in round two. 
I told you no uncertain terms who would be the pick in round one. Things become a little more murky in round two. Nevertheless, here is what I think will happen. 
1. Panthers will try to trade up
Like last year, there are still a few players on the board that the Panthers really like. Hunter Henry, Derek Henry, Emmanuel Ogbah to name a few. This would likely require a trade up into the top 10 of the second round. I am not so sure Gettleman is willing to give up enough to move that far. One possibility, however, is banking on that probable third round compensatory pick for next season and trading the existing 2017 third round pick away along with this year's. 
The Carolina Panthers could more easily move up to the teens. This would put them in position to draft someone they may not have a first round grade on, but someone who could impact the team immediately. 
2. Panthers mid-second round targets 
In the second round today, aside from the players listed above, the targets could be...
- Sterling Shepard - WR - Shepard would round out the Panthers WR corps perfectly and the Panthers do like him quite a bit. 
- Kendall Fuller - CB - Despite a minor injury last year, Fuller still high on the list of wants. This would certainly make fans who are still worried about the loss of Josh Norman happy. 
3. If the Panthers cannot move up
If the Panthers are unable to move up and must pick at 30, I like... 
- Su'a Cravens - SS - Would immediately compete for playing time with the departure of Roman Harper. Some project as a small outside LB, the Panthers could treat him like they did Thomas Davis initially and put him at strong safety. 
- Von Bell - FS - The Panthers really don't need another FS, but they like Bell enough to take him anyways. 
- Devontae Booker - RB - Good mix of size and ability. A well rounded running back that could take a roster spot from Whitaker, Artis-Payne, and/or Wegher. 
Jeremy Igo
Now that the Josh Norman situation has been settled for the Panthers, don't expect any drastic moves to replace him. 
There won't be an immediate trade. There won't be a high dollar free agent brought in tomorrow. There won't be any of that. 
There may be a mid round draft selection at cornerback, but that would have probably happened anyways. Dave Gettleman does not change his draft strategy because of one player or position. That is just not his way. 
How do I know? Well, we only need to look back less than a year ago to find a precedent. When Kelvin Benjamin went down in camp with a torn ACL, it was arguably a more dire situation than this current Josh Norman dilemma. The Panthers were suddenly without an impact player for the year. 
What did Gettleman do? Not much. He relied on the men already on his roster to step up and fill the void. The team stayed on course and did not deviate from the plan. The result? A Superbowl appearance, which completely validated Gettleman's approach to team building and problem solving. 
The Panthers corner situation is not as bad off as the wide receiver situation a year ago. Bene Benwikere and Brandon Boykin are two talented players. Some will call Benwikere "injury prone" which is silly. One broken bone is no indication of such. Boykin, who signed as a nickel, could slide to the outside to help. He has experience there as well. 
So what will the Panthers do? 
Firstly, the 5 corners currently on the roster not named Bene will be given the opportunity to earn a starting spot across from him. Lou Young showed promise last season. Robert McClain is also someone to keep an eye on. 
The Panthers will likely be signing a low to mid level corner in the coming days in addition to drafting one. With OTAs and training camp on the horizon, another couple of corners are needed just to fill out the practice schedule. 
Any real impact move the Panthers could make would likely be well into the preseason. Once teams are required to cut down their roster, depth or potentially a starter could be found. Also, Gettleman has shown in the past that, at that point, he is willing to trade for upgrades. 
In short, don't look for much to be done right away... and that is a good thing. The Carolina Panthers are a stable organization that methodically goes about doing their business no matter which individual player is no longer available. 
You should be happy about that. 
Jeremy Igo
Yesterday I laid out for you four Carolina Panthers first round prospects, one of which will be chosen. Today I give you four prospects for round two. 
There is a possibility Dave Gettleman trades up in the second to grab a guy like Hunter Henry or Derrick Henry, as both are first round talents. We saw him do this exact thing last year with Devin Funchess. Gettleman knows how difficult it will be for rookies to even make this team. Therefore, trade up, have fewer but higher quality rookies. 
Many other teams need 7 draft picks to build their teams. At the moment, the Panthers do not. The chance that Gettleman is forced to cut a current year draft pick this season is high. 
That said.... here are four guys I like for the Carolina Panthers in round two...
Sterling Shepard
Wide Receiver - Oklahoma
5'10 194lbs
In a perfect world, Shepard is there for the Panthers to select without the need to trade up. I doubt that happens, but Shepard could last until the mid second round and lessen the cost of moving up to get him. 
Shepard represents the final piece of what the Panthers passing offense has needed, namely a shifty sure handed slot receiver. The combination of Benjamin, Funchess, and Shepard would suddenly give the Panthers one of the better starting WR corps in the division. Amazing, considering where they were two years ago. 
Von Bell 
Strong Safety - Ohio State
5-11 199
Another position that a second round rookie can step in and make an immediate impact is at strong safety. With the departure of Roman Harper, Tre Boston is the starter and depth after him is lacking. Bell's experience at Ohio State and playing in big games has prepared him to play immediately in the NFL. 
Bell would immediately compete for that starting position. Bell also has the ability to move to nickel, which has to be enticing to Ron Rivera. 
Bell is stronger in run support than coverage, but is no slouch either when covering the deep ball. Think of him as a faster Roman Harper. 
Su'a Cravens
Linebacker/Safety USC
6'1 226lbs
Some folks have Cravens as a first rounder, but I don't see it. Guys that don't fit perfectly into a NFL mold rarely are a first round pick. These tweeners are a higher risk. Some will point to Shaq Thompson last season, but Thompson fit the linebacker mold much more clearly than Cravens does. 
That said, Cravens would be a good value in the second round. The Panthers would likely plug him in at strong safety where he would play on running downs. 
Bonus: Cravens would instantly bolster the Panthers special teams unit, we all know how much Gettleman would love that. 
Germain Ifedi 
Offensive Tackle / Guard - Texas A&M
6'6 324
No, Ifedi probably won't be there at pick 62. But, again, I see Gettleman moving up in the second round again this season. There is a significant drop off in talent at around the mid second round mark. If Gettleman wants two rookies that are locks to make this team and contribute, he will need to move up in the second. 
Ifedi would add depth at right tackle for the Panthers, and could also fill in as a backup guard. But what about left tackle you ask? I predict Daryl Williams, already on the Panthers roster, to be the eventual replacement for Michael Oher. 
There you have it, four guys I like in round two... some coming at a higher cost. 
Jeremy Igo
So, who will the Carolina Panthers select in the first round of the NFL draft? Last year I named Shaq Thompson as one of four first round possibilities.  
This year, I believe it comes down to these four players, and I will explain why....
First, I believe both Clemson defensive ends will be off the board by pick thirty. If either are still there for some strange reason, they are in play. 
Second, I believe any wide receiver prospects the Panthers would consider in the first will also be off the board. But again, if a guy like Baylor's Corey Coleman somehow drops to 30.... he is the BPA and would not be passed up. 
So who does that leave? Here are the four guys I feel could be available and fit the Gettleman mold. Two on defense, two on offense.  
Vernon Butler 
Defensive Tackle - Louisiana Tech
6'4 323lbs
With a first round run made on receivers and defensive ends, Butler could possibly fall to 30, and if so may be far too enticing for Dave Gettleman to pass up. Afterall, big men allow you to compete, and Butler is a big big man. 
Butler's availability would truly put Gettleman's "Best Player Available" convictions to the test. Defensive tackle is not a pressing need for 2016, but could be seasons to come. It is unclear if the Panthers can afford to keep the KK Short / Star Lotulelei combo in tact long term. 
Additionally, the Carolina Panthers know that their pass rush must improve this season, and Butler would be one way to help that happen. Vernon Butler lined up next to KK Short on third and long would be an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses. The Panthers defensive ends would also benefit from such a pairing, reducing the likelihood of double teams. 
I like it. I like it alot. 
Emmanuel Ogbah 
Defensive End - Oklahoma St
6'4 273lbs
Here is a case where the BPA could also be in a huge area of need, ala Kelvin Benjamin a couple of seasons ago. Ogbah has been mocked anywhere from early twenties to early second round, landing him squarely in the Panthers draft territory. 
The Panthers are in desperate need of a pass rush from the defensive ends this season. Ogbah would make an immediate impact, exactly what Dave Gettleman likes to see from a round one selection. 

Derrick Henry
Running Back - Alabama
6'3 247lbs
I don't recall a more controversial draft prospect than Derrick Henry. Some love the idea, others loath it. 
What I can tell you is that Henry would fit in very well on the Panthers offense. Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are on the later end of their Panthers careers. The need is absolutely there for a bigger bodied runner, and you don't get any bigger bodied in a runningback than Derrick Henry. 
Recently, the Panthers have been unable to "impose their will" at times on short yardage situations. Often, they resort to incomplete passes or being stuffed at the line on 3rd or 4th and one. Derrick Henry could help remedy those ills. 
Hunter Henry 
Tight End - Arkansas 
6'5 250lbs
I have been preaching Hunter Henry for a while now. He is a first round talent that may not be taken in the first round. If not, I have a feeling a second round trade up could happen to grab him as the Panthers did for Devin Funchess.
Still, there is a chance the Panthers do not risk losing him and pull the trigger at 30 where he would still be a good value. 
Henry would finally give the Panthers the personnel to have an intimidating two tight end package, something fans have missed since the Olsen - Shockey 2011 season.  Sure would be nice to see that again, wouldn't it? 
So there you have it. One of the above players is your next Carolina Panthers first round draft pick. 
Jeremy Igo
By now most, if not all, of Panthers nation has seen the 2016 season schedule. If not, here it be.... 

General Thoughts and Musings.... 
Obviously, the first game is huge. Not in terms of playoff potential as it is an AFC opponent,  but in terms of starting fresh after a Superbowl loss. Everyone is talking about this, and rightfully so. But what happens next is interesting...
Four... count them again, FOUR home games in a row. I know, I know, in Atlanta is technically an away game. But now in the Cam Newton era there is no friendlier place to be in terms of tone and proximity. Half of that place will be black and blue once again. 
Keep an eye on that Vikings game though... could be a surprise upset against the Panthers. That is the only one I am slightly concerned about in that stretch.
Bottom line... The Panthers really need to cushion their lead in the NFC South during this period. 
Halloween in the Big Easy
Last year Panthers weekend in New Orleans was pretty nuts. I met up with the Roaring Riot crew, had a few cocktails, and I couldn't tell you what happened after that if I wanted to. This year I envision the same thing, only with a Halloween theme as it is mid October. Things could get even crazier. 
Oh, and the Panthers play the Saints. That is a mark in the win column. 
At the Bye.... 
Week 7 brings the Panthers bye week. Not too shabby, almost in the middle of the season. Time for the Panthers to lick their wounds and refocus. 
Best case scenario the Panthers are 6-0... which would be great because there are some really rough waters ahead. 
Candy to Turkey
From Halloween to Thanksgiving things get more difficult, but still manageable. Three home games and one west coast game against the Rams who will be starting a rookie QB. Go ahead and mark that a win. 
Two of the home games could be problematic... Cardinals and Chiefs. Both playoff caliber teams. The good news is that these are home games and the Panthers should have the edge. It would not shock me to see the Panthers lose one of these games, the first home loss in quite some time. 
Efff you, Santa 
Next brings us the holiday season. This is the roughest patch of turf the Panthers have seen on a schedule in many seasons. 
Four away games. Two home games. 
The Panthers won't even be coming back to Charlotte for the entire week between the Raiders and Seahawks games. They will likely stay out west and practice at a college field.
On a personal note, Mr RoaringRiot himself and I have discussed just staying out west as well and making it a west coast micro brew road tour for the week as we make our way from Oakland to Seattle. That sounds amazing, not sure we would survive past Portland. 
The good news here is that the Panthers will have 10 days to prepare for that game in Oakland. I expect they will fly out a day or two earlier to adjust to the time change. That game should be a victory for the Panthers, but the next week in Seattle..... I don't think so. That is the closest thing to a sure fire loss I have seen on a schedule in a long time. Far too much travel and change to face a tough home team.
The last two road games are not awful, but at this point the Panthers could be worn down from the west coast barrage, making them much tougher. The Redskins and Buccaneers both could be playing for wild card spots at this point, neither are pushovers. 
All in all, if the Panthers can manage to go 3-3 in the final six games, they still should be in the lead in the division. 
I am not one for definitive record predictions as so much hinges on staying healthy. But looking at this schedule I would say 12-4 is a pretty fair prediction, give or take. Which brings me to my last point...
Pray for a first round bye! 
You can go ahead and consider a first round bye mandatory this year if the Panthers hope to reach the Superbowl again. I do not like their chances in the playoffs without one. The last portion of the schedule is extremely taxing. Not so much physically, but psychologically. Fans tend to forget these players have lives and families at home. Travelling and getting out of normal routines takes a toll. That said, if the Panthers can earn a first round bye this season, I like their chances. 
Jeremy Igo
The Carolina Panthers have spent a first and a second round pick on receivers over the past two seasons. I don't see the Panthers going receiver in round one this year, but it is quite possible they spend a later pick to shore up their receiver corps. They won't go for a taller possession guy, but instead go for a smaller receiver to stretch the field and play in the slot. Although the Panthers really do like Philly Brown, a little camp competition would not hurt. 
Here are a few middle round receivers I feel fit the Panthers needs nicely...
Sterling Shepard - Oklahoma
5'10 - 194lbs
High intelligence clutch player with 86 receptions and 11 touchdowns. Excels when under pressure, which is something that goes overlooked far to often. Looks like he has the ability to rise to the occasion of being a professional. Shepard would instantly lessen the pain felt by the departure of Cotchery. 
A lot of comparisons are being made to Tyler Lockett, minus the punt and kick return ability. Excels in the slot, where the Panthers have the greatest receiver need. Having both Benjamin and Funchess on the outside with a shifty sure handed receiver in the slot would prove problematic for even the best NFL defenses. 
If Shepard is there late in round two he would be a decent value pick. If he is still there in early round three, it may be worth a trade up to grab him, as Gettleman has shown willingness to do. 
Pharoh Cooper - South Carolina
5'11 - 203lbs
Cooper is one of those guys that Dave Gettleman has shown he is willing to take a chance on. Cooper doesn't have the greatest measurables.  What he does have is play making ability and the sort of discipline it takes to be an NFL player. Cooper's father and brother are US Marine's, which would only endear him more to a certain NFL head coach. 
Take a look back two seasons ago when Gettleman selected Bene Benwikere and Tre Boston. Neither were NFL combine studs, but both shared the same traits as Pharoh Cooper. Play making, discipline. 
Cooper could fall to the 3rd or 4th round. His biggest problem is that he doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but instead does everything pretty well. Those types of players tend to fall in the draft as teams don't know exactly where he would fit. If Cooper is there in the 4th, he would be a good value. Keep an eye on it. 
Colby Listenbee - TCU
6'1 - 183lbs
Should the Panthers decide on more of a project at receiver, Listenbee could be the guy. Last season the Panthers showed they were interested in a fast receiver to stretch the field by keeping Damiere Byrd on the practice squad. Listenbee could be an upgrade over Byrd and have a shot to make the regular roster. A 6'1 receiver than can run a 4.35 40 may be worth a 5th or 6th round pick. I mean.... why not. 
Jeremy Igo
With the NFL Draft just a few weeks away, the Panthers are finalizing their draft board and preparing for their own first set of internal mock drafts. 
In round one, I feel the Panthers will be targeting offensive players. Yes, yes, I know, right now you are screaming "Best Player Available". That is a platitude that gets spread around far to often. Ever notice how over the last three Dave Gettleman drafts, the round 1 selection was also in an area of great need? Funny how that works.
Gettleman has said in the past that first round picks need to contribute their first year. This doesn't exactly make sense if the "BPA" mantra is true. What if the BPA is a quarterback? Or a middle linebacker? Or one of many positions on the team that a rookie has no chance of real playing time.  
In 2016, the Carolina Panthers first round selection has a much higher chance of contributing on offense rather than defense.
Yes, the Panthers do need another pass rushing defensive end, but when was the last time a rookie defensive end not taken in the top 15 had a great rookie season? In a draft full of solid defensive ends, I don't see the Panthers selecting one first. 
Two positions on offense, however, stand out to me as opportunities for a young guy to step in and immediately start making plays... Tight End and Running Back. 
Last season the Panthers kept two rookie running backs, Cameron Artis-Payne and Brandon Wegher. Clearly they know an eventual Jonathan Stewart replacement is needed. Cameron Artis-Payne did see some playing time, but he had a tendency to put the ball on the ground. That fact alone could cause Dave Gettleman to seriously consider spending a first round pick on a running back. 
Oh look, RB Derrick Henry could possibly be available at 30, and he is the big running back that would compliment a shiftier Artis-Payne or Wegher. Derrick Henry has also visited with the Panthers, who are only one of three teams to bring him in.
Now, about tight end. Yes, Greg Olsen is an amazing player and his importance in the offense cannot be overstated. But opposite Olsen is Ed Dickson. While Dickson is a serviceable vet, he could very well lose his playing time to an outstanding rookie tight end.
Enter Hunter Henry, the most complete tight end in the draft and some say in years. Equally as skilled in catching and blocking, Hunter Henry could not fill the tight end position opposite Olsen more perfectly. 
In mock drafts, Hunter Henry is a late first round to early second round pick... and smack dab in the middle of that range are the Carolina Panthers. Bingo. 
In short, I like Hunter Henry or Derrick Henry in the first round, depending which is available. If both are... watch out. A trade up and double dip of Henry boys could happen, which would make Cam Newton especially happy.  
But just in case I have not convinced you yet that the Panthers will be going on the offense in round one, take a look at Dave Gettleman's draft pick history...
2013 - Defense
2014 - Offense
2015 - Defense 
2016 - Do I see a pattern here.... ?
Jeremy Igo
There has been some chatter about a possible Josh Norman holdout this year. As someone who has spent a good amount of time speaking with Josh over the past year, I thought I would chime in with my two cents. 
Josh has not signed his tender, does that mean he is holding out?
No, it means he has not signed his tender. He has until July 15 to sign. 
Why would he not sign his tender?
Signing the tender would all but erase any leverage he currently has in negotiations for a long term contract. 
Will Josh miss Offseason Team Activities (OTAs)
Very possible, although the first weeks of OTAs are not mandatory to begin with. The Panthers have had 100% full voluntary participation for several seasons now (except for rookies finishing school who were not permitted to attend). Josh could very well end that streak. 
If he misses OTA's, isn't that a holdout? 
Technically, no. As Josh has not signed his tender he is not under contract. You cannot holdout from a contract that does not exist. 
OK, so when will we know if Josh is holding out?
You will know at the start of training camp. Long time Panthers fans remember the panic surrounding Jon Beason and his brief holdout. It happens. 
But hasn't Josh promised not to hold out? 
I have heard this said, but I have seen no quotations on him saying it. 
It looks like it all stems from this good Jonathan Jones piece in the observer. Jones says... 
 but there is no Josh Norman quotation given from what I could find. 
So language becomes a big factor here. Did Josh Norman say he had no plans on holding out? Well, plans change. That is not a promise. Did Norman simply say "a holdout would do nothing for my contract situation or my team"? Well, thats not a promise either. That is a really nice PC answer that would not create more tension in contract negotiations between parties. 
OK, Igo, enough with the talk. Do you feel Josh will holdout? 
Yes, it could happen. 
Best case scenario is Josh and the Panthers come to a long term agreement. This is unlikely as they have been worlds apart on numbers starting last season. 
Worst case scenerio? No deal is reached, Norman holds out into the season. Again, unlikely as this will hurt both parties involved. 
So, what we have here is an old fashioned staring contest, Gettleman vs Norman. You know how competitive and "win at all cost" Josh Norman is on the field, well, that applies to every aspect of his life as well. 
Therefore, some sort of holdout into training camp is a definite possibility. I have spoken in depth with Josh over what this next contract means to him. You cannot overstate how important he feels it is, and I can see where he is coming from. I honestly would not blame him for doing anything he can possibly do to land an acceptable long term deal. This is why the business side of football is not televised... it isn't enjoyable to watch.