GM Marty Hurney and Head Coach Matt Rhule’s one goal for this draft was to rebuild their defense, and they did just that, and extremely well too. The Panthers are the first team in the modern era of the draft to hold at least seven total picks and use them all on defensive players, and it’s good that they did because their defense let up 29.4 points per game last year, which was the second-worst in the NFL. So, the 4 defensive linemen and 3 defensive backs drafted in this draft should be a huge support to their defense going forward.
It’s clear that Carolina wants to win at the line of scrimmage, indicated by their first two picks being defensive linemen. The team had great value picks in almost every round and it will be interesting to see how many of these players develop for the rebuilding franchise. I see this team being a real problem in a couple of years when Drew Brees and Tom Brady are out of the picture.
Round 1, Pick 7: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
If you’re an interior offensive lineman in the NFC South, you will be cursing the name “Derrick Brown” for years to come. Turn on Derrick Brown’s Auburn tape. You will see three-hundred-pound men being thrown to the ground with ease or you will see two-three offensive linemen converging on Brown on almost every play; in short, you will see a menace on the interior defensive line.
Brown has not missed a single tackle since the 2018 season, and for a Carolina Panthers defense that was abysmal against the run last year, consistency is an invaluable asset. Brown will make an instant impact as both a pass rusher and run stopper due to his ability to overpower opposing linemen with brute strength and surprising quickness at 326 pounds.
Brown’s wide tackle radius, ability to prevent blockers from getting to the second level, inhuman reaction and power off the snap, and abundance of block-shedding moves against both pass and run blockers are just some of the skills he brings to the table, not to mention he is a master of collapsing the pocket, which should cause some major problems in a division with the spectacularly unathletic Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan at quarterback.
The only weaknesses in Brown’s game stem from his lack of agility, examples being his hip tightness and poor knee bend. These issues are coachable and shouldn’t be too worrisome. Brown will help both the first and second levels of the Panthers defense, and I see him as a Fletcher Cox-like player in production and play style.
Round 2, Pick 38: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
You probably couldn’t have gotten better value out of a player at 38 than the Panthers did with Yetur Gross-Matos. The former Nittany Lion is a 1st-round prospect who fell into the 2nd for no explicable reason and has impressive physical gifts as well as production at Penn State.
17 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss as a two-year starter at Penn State is a great resume that he will hope to build on with the Panthers. Gross-Matos has an ideal combination of size and athleticism, great lateral quickness, a large tackle radius, and the speed/agility to chase rushers across the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, he can change direction on a dime, helping to evade bigger and less agile blockers.
Gross-Matos could work on play recognition as well as hand placement/speed, but he has no red flags or unfixable tendencies. The Panthers shored up their defensive line for the next 4 years with these 2 selections to go along with the Brian Burns pick last year. Gross-Matos, Brown, Burns, and Kawann Short is going to be a scary sight for opposing offenses for a long time.
Round 2, Pick 64: Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois
Any Panthers fans who were upset about passing on Isaiah Simmons in the 1st round now have no reason to be angry because Jeremy Chinn can do just about everything Simmons can. As a Panthers fan myself, I was pretty upset that we passed on Simmons at first, but then I turned on Chinn’s tape.
This dude is a firecracker at safety. He can play in the box or over the top with the ability to cover in the slot or on the outside. Also, if you’re worried about what kind of an athlete he is, coming out of a small school, don’t. Chinn had arguably the best combine of any prospect in this draft. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash (3rd among safeties), put up 20 reps on the bench (4th), had a 41” vertical (2nd), and a 138” broad jump (1st). He ranked in the top four at his position in every single one of these categories, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of his game.
He’s an outstanding tackler in run support, has incredible ball skills, and his man coverage skills are well up to par. He struggles when he is asked to sit in coverage and let the play unfold in front of, or worse, behind him. This is not ideal for the zone coverage scheme that Phil Snow likes to run, so the Panthers will have to adjust this error in his game. Once that happens, he could be the star in the secondary that the Panthers have been missing since the Josh Norman departure. I honestly don’t know if the Panthers could have done any better with these first 3 picks.
Round 4, Pick 113: Troy Pride Jr, CB, Notre Dame
Troy Pride Jr. only gave up 5 catches of 25+ yards in his career at Notre Dame; he was targeted 175 times. The Panthers defense just lost about half of their starters, including their criminally undervalued number #1 corner, James Bradberry. Is Pride, a fourth-round pick, going to step on the field and be as effective as Bradberry was? Probably not, but the Panthers are in this for the long haul, and Pride has serious potential.
He has all the physical traits to be a success in the NFL, as he was a track star at Notre Dame. He has average size and strength for an NFL corner to go along with elite quickness and closing speed. Pride also has great play recognition as well as footwork in coverage. That being said, he does have a lot of technical issues that need to be corrected. He is not a great tackler, has trouble with penalties, and his ball skills aren’t ideal.
Essentially, Pride is a great athlete that the Panthers need to turn into a great player, and I have no doubt that Phil Snow and Matt Rhule will do just that. Considering the Panthers’ cornerback situation, don’t be surprised to see him on the field in November (assuming that’s when the season will start).
Round 5, Pick 152: Kenny Robinson Jr, S, West Virginia
It’s clear that the Panthers are worried about the first and third levels of their defense and this guy, Kenny Robinson Jr., has the potential to be an important part of that rebuild. Robinson is a ballhawk if I’ve ever seen one. He had seven interceptions in his two years at Notre Dame, two of which went back for touchdowns, as well as two interceptions in his five games in the XFL, yes, you read that correctly.
He is an aggressive safety with great size and ball skills, but lacks high-end speed and has issues in man coverage. Overall, he has the potential to be an epic playmaker from the top of the defense and is a good value pick in round 5. This pick complements the Chinn pick extremely well because they are essentially polar opposites at safety as far as strengths and weaknesses go.
Round 6, Pick 184: Bravvion Roy, DT, Baylor
Bravvion Roy is an extremely undervalued prospect and a steal in the 6th round. Roy ranked 3rd overall in adjusted overall win rate amongst defensive tackles selected in this draft. All that means is that he beat offensive linemen a lot. He is big and crazy fast for a defensive tackle. Matt Rhule is quoted stating that if Roy ran the 40 at the combine, he would have run a 4.8. That would have been in the top 10 at the defensive tackle position and utterly ridiculous for a 333-pound man.
We will never know if that claim is true, but we do know that he was phenomenal at Baylor in his final season, racking up 61 tackles, 13 for loss, as well as 5.5 sacks. He does not have ideal strength or body type to be a top-tier defender in the league, but that’s what you get with a 6th-round pick. Roy should be a more-than-adequate backup for Derrick Brown and could develop nicely to compete for a starting spot in a few years’ time.
Round 7, Pick 221: CB Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, CB, Florida International
Stantley Thomas-Oliver is a former wideout out of Florida International who is converting to cornerback and has great speed and leaping ability. Obviously, there is a learning curve when changing positions, but at cornerback, being able to think like a wideout is never a bad trait to have. Thomas-Oliver III is a project who will compete for a roster spot but has great physical traits and upside for a seventh-rounder.
Overall Draft Grade: A-
The Panthers are building their defense around the notion that they will win at the line of scrimmage, and they now have all of the pieces to do just that for the next several years. They grabbed some amazing athletes on both the line and in the secondary, some of which will make an instant impact next season. The one thing I think they missed on was a decent linebacker to fill the void that Luke Kuechly left, but they still have time to find one within the next 1-2 seasons due to the nature of their rebuild.
All of these selections were calculated precisely based on need and the prioritization of the defense. The Panthers rebuilt their offense in free agency with the signings of Teddy Bridgewater and Robby Anderson as well as the Christian McCaffrey extension, and now they have rebuilt their defense through the draft. The Panthers are building a strong, young core on both ends of the ball and should be back to contending status within the next four years.