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Carolina Panthers Rookies Forecast


By Charlie Campbell - @draftcampbell
June 28, 2013


Solid Starter

Kawann Short, DT, Purdue - Round 2
I really liked how new general manager Dave Gettleman doubled up at defensive tackle. The Panthers turned a huge weakness into a possible strength by taking Star Lotulelei in the first round and Kawann Short in the second round. Short had the talent and production to go in the first round, but fell to the second round because teams felt he wasn't consistent enough.

That wasn't the case statistically as Short produced impressive sack totals the past three seasons. He recorded six sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss in 2010. The sophomore also had 41 tackles with two blocked kicks. Short totaled 54 tackles with 17 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 2011. He had 43 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, four passes broken up, four blocked kicks and a forced fumble last year.

It is very hard to find defensive tackles who are good pass-rushers and Short has proven ability to get after the quarterback. He is very quick off the snap to fire by guards and gain leverage. The 6-foot-3, 308-pounder has good closing speed with the strength to shed blocks. He looked excellent at the Senior Bowl going against good competition.

Short is a perfect fit as the Panthers' three-technique defensive tackle with Lotulelei taking on nose tackle duties. Carolina has good defensive ends, so the tackles should see plenty of good pass-rushing opportunities. Short may fall short of being one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL, but he looks like a perfect complement to the Panthers' other defensive linemen. I think Short will turn into a quality starter.



Most Likely To Bust

Edmund Kugbila, G, Valdosta State - Round 4
It is tough to say a fourth-round pick is a bust, but there are always good players who go in the fourth round every year. I think Gettleman did an outstanding job in his first year running Carolina's draft, but this was the pick I found the most questionable.

The Panthers need to build an offensive line for the future for Cam Newton, so taking a lineman was understandable. Kugbila is a raw player having played college football at a lower level of competition. According to CatScratchReader.com, Kugbila could have gone to Florida, Alabama or Georgia had he scored a little bit higher on his SAT. Perhaps that is related to his immigration from Ghana at age 10.

Kugbila is said to be a good athlete with the strength to handle NFL defensive linemen. the 6-foot-4, 317-pounder was projected to be a late-round pick before the 2013 NFL Draft. The Panthers selected him much higher than expected with the hopes that they have filled their guards for years to come with Kugbila and second-year pro Amini Silatolu.

It can be tough for small school players to make the jump to the NFL, so of all of Carolina's picks, I think Kugbila is the most likely to be a bust.





Potential Boom Pick

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah - Round 1
The Panthers were very fortunate that Lotulelei fell to their pick. There were teams in the top five that loved him, and if there were smarter teams drafting in the top 10, he probably wouldn't have gotten close to Carolina. Lotulelei is a difference-maker on the inside of the defensive line.

The 6-foot-3, 311-pounder is extremely strong and explosive off the snap. Lotulelei was a force in the Pac-12 who constantly required double-teams to prevent him from wrecking game plans.

Lotulelei had an excellent senior season. He played well against BYU, Utah State, USC, UCLA and Washington. Lotulelei was extremely disruptive and more so than the numbers indicate. He recorded 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes broken up.

Lotulelei was a First-Team All-Pac-12 pick in 2011 and won the Morris Trophy as the conference's top defensive lineman as voted on by the starting offensive linemen. He recorded 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.

Lotulelei has a rare combination of size, power, speed and explosion. He can beat blockers with strength or quickness. Lotulelei is dominant when he isn't double-teamed and remains effective while taking on two blockers.

The Panthers' defensive tackles were a major weakness in 2012 and Lotulelei looks like an immediate upgrade. Carolina needed to improve its interior run defense and Lotulelei should do that instantly. The team's solid pass-rushing ends, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, should result in Lotulelei seeing some good looks to get after the quarterback. I wouldn't be surprised if the rookie ends up being a boom pick for Carolina and one of the better defensive tackles in the NFC.



Future Depth Player

Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon - Round 6
I'm not as critical of the Barner pick as others have been because the Panthers will probably be moving on from DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart before too long. The veteran running back duo is too expensive to keep and Carolina needs to devote more salary cap space to other areas like the secondary, offensive line and wide receiver.

Barner ripped off big yardage for Oregon throughout 2012 as its feature back. He had 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns, and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Barner also snagged 20 receptions for 256 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 321 yards and five touchdowns against USC, but had some struggles against California and Stanford.

The 5-foot-9, 196-pound Barner is a speedy back who presents the threat to score on any carry. However, he doesn't compile yards after contact.

If the Panthers move on from Williams or Stewart, Barner should be a solid backup running back who can excel in third-down duties. He brings a speed element to Carolina's backfield and could be a nice weapon on spread-option plays if those remain in the Panthers' playbook.

Barner was a quality pick in the sixth round as he could have gone much earlier. The rookie looks like a safe late-round pick with the ability to make a roster and develop into a solid depth player.





2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:

14. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: A Grade
I think Sharrif Floyd would have been a better pick because A) he's a superior pass-rusher and B) he doesn't have any sort of health concerns. But this is still a great pick for the Panthers because they needed tons of help on the interior of their defensive line. Star Lotulelei would have gone in the top 10 if smarter teams were drafting there, so Carolina is reaping the benefits, much like other smarter teams will in the second half of the draft.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

44. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: B+ Grade
Back-to-back defensive tackles for the Panthers? Well, it makes sense considering how terrible they were at the position. Short's range was around 28-45, so there is pretty solid value with this selection. The only concern I have here is that the Panthers don't pick again until Round 4, and they have yet to address their woeful secondary.




108. Edmund Kugbila, G, Valdosta State: C Grade
This is a reach, as Edmund Kugbila was widely viewed as a sixth- or a seventh-round prospect. The Panthers needed some competition at the guard position, so maybe Kugbila can eventually claim a starting job.

148. A.J. Klein, ILB, Iowa State: B Grade
I thought A.J. Klein would be a fourth-rounder, so this is a nice value selection. Klein won't project as a starter, but he'll provide depth for a Carolina team that wasn't very deep at linebacker.

182. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: B Grade
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both immensely overpaid, so one of them will have to go soon. Once that happens, Kenjon Barner will be a nice change-of-pace back. No surprise that he went around the sixth frame.

2013 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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