Draft Wrapup and Projections
Round 1 - Kelvin Benjamin - WR FSU
The Panthers immediately addressed their wide receiver deficiency by selecting the best receiver on the board. At 6'5 he provides a legitimate end zone target as well as opening up the middle of the field. There are questions revolving around his concentration and tendency to drop easy passes. Ricky Proehl's #1 priority will be getting Kelvin ready for prime time.
2014 Projection: Eventual starter. His inexperience may keep him from starting immediately but should win the job eventually. In many respects Benjamin is still a raw player in need of refining. I suspect he will be starting by mid season while getting plenty of opportunities until that time, especially on 3rd downs. .
Round 2 - Kony Ealy - DE Missouri
Kony Ealy is a defensive line prospect that David Gettleman could not pass up, even with more immediate and pressing needs elsewhere. Ealy was considered first round talent and even invited to the green room at radio city music hall. When still available at the end of the second round, his value overshadowed anything else. Ealy has huge physical talent that will be quickly taken advantage of this season.
2014 Projection: Situational pass rusher, special teams player. Ealy will see playing time immediately, spelling Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Next season he will most likely be starting opposite one of them.
Round 3 - Trai Turner - OG LSU
This is my favorite pick of the draft. Turner is exactly what the Panthers needed last season and could have been the difference in the playoffs. Turner is a run blocking specialist with the size and strength to get push at the point of contact. Now, instead of the Panthers running backs looking for a hole in their own backfield, maybe, just maybe, one will develop at the line of scrimmage.
2014 Projection: Day 1 starter at right guard. Turner is the best OG prospect drafted by the Panthers in many seasons. To grab an immediate starter in the third round is a fantastic deal for the Panthers.
Round 4 - Tre Boston - SS UNC
Boston has all of the physical tools to make it in the NFL. Lack of experience and a propensity to let plays get behind him are his biggest negatives. The Panthers here are looking to pair Boston with Robert Lester as the future of the defensive backfield in years to come.
2014 Projection: Special Teams Player. The Panthers have already invested in the safety position through free agency and cannot afford to have an unproven rookie protecting against the long ball against guys like Drew Brees. Boston may see playing time during 4th quarters if the game is already decided.
Round 5 - Bene Benwikere - CB San Jose State
Not only did the Panthers again ignore more pressing roster needs, but they traded up to do so. Normally, this would concern me. But Gettleman has proven he has the eyes to find quality defensive players in later rounds or even UDFA's.. Benwikere has the size at six foot tall to compete with the taller receivers in the division. His five INTs last season show he has a nose for the ball.
2014 Projection: Special Teams Player. In all probability will make the final roster but will see little playing time other than Special Teams. Although, the same was said for Melvin White.
Round 6 - Tyler Gaffney - RB Stanford
I love this pick. Gaffney was super productive at Stanford, but fell in the draft from the view it was the Stanford system, not so much his skill as a RB. Gaffney is a between the tackles runner and could pick up carries if/when Jonathan Stewart is on the exercise bike. I am curious to see Trai Thomas, Mike Tolbert, and Tyler Gaffney playing together in short yardage situations during training camp.
2014 Projection: Although he could certainly play Special Teams, the Panthers have a log jam at running back. Someone may be cut and the cap hits of Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make it nearly impossible to cut them. Mike Tolbert is currently the best running back on the team. Gaffney or Barner could be the odd men out, although it would be a shame to cut either of these young prospects. I suspect one of the aforementioned Panthers running backs will have an IR beside his name before the start of the regular season, like so many season past.