Carolina Panthers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Trai Turner, G, LSU – Round 3
Another guard? That was my thought when the Panthers selected Turner. Carolina was, and is, weak at offensive tackle and still needed more receiving talent, but Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman decided to go for another interior blocker. In the previous two drafts, Carolina had taken guards in Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila, so neglecting the receiver and tackle needs for another guard was questionable.

That being said, Kugbila may only be a backup quality player, while Silatolu has had some injury issues in his first two seasons. Turner though is a great fit for the Panthers’ power rushing attack. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Turner is a strong run-blocker, and the Tigers had a lot of success running Jeremy Hill behind him in 2013. Turner has improved as a pass-protector to the point that his athleticism allows him to be an equally effective pass-blocker.

Turner entered the draft early and could use some development, but it shouldn’t be long before he takes over as the Panthers’ starting right guard next to Ryan Kalil. With Silatolu, Kalil and Turner, Carolina could have a very effective interior offensive line.

Most Likely To Bust

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State – Round 1
Benjamin is a boom-or-bust prospect, so I could be wrong and he could go the other way. However, I think there is a greater chance of him busting than being a boom pick. There are a number of reasons why.

First of all, Benjamin has off-the-field issues. Those things held Benjamin back from playing time early in his career and were discussed as cropping up during the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft. A number of teams downgraded Benjamin because of those concerns.

On the field, Benjamin has a size advantage at 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, but a number of teams questioned his speed. knows one team had him as a mid-round pick because they felt that Benjamin wouldn’t be able to get separation from NFL defensive backs. They felt that he would struggle to get open. Other teams shared that concern and had Benjamin graded for Day 2.

One source said that Benjamin reminded him of Mike Williams, the former USC and Detroit Lions receiver who was a huge bust from the 2005 NFL Draft. Williams got too heavy during his career, and this source believed that could happen to Benjamin. Questions regarding Benjamin’s work ethic are only amplifying the bust spectre.

At Florida State, Benjamin never was the No. 1 receiver despite having the best physical-skill set. In 2013, he hauled in 54 receptions for 1,011 yards with 15 touchdowns, but Jameis Winston still trusted Rashad Greene more to be the Seminoles’ leading receiver. The year before, Benjamin caught 30 passes for 495 yards with four touchdowns. Thus, the new Panther was a bit of a 1-year wonder.

There is no doubt that Benjamin has mismatch size, but with speed concerns and maturity question marks, he has real bust potential.

Potential Boom Pick

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri – Round 2
Defensive end Greg Hardy had 15 sacks in 2013 to help lead Carolina’s tremendous defense, but it isn’t clear how much longer Hardy will suit up for the Panthers. He is playing under a 1-year contract, and Carolina may not re-sign him for the long term. Hardy could be too pricey, and he has off-the-field concerns with the latest issue being an arrest last May for assaulting a woman.

Taking Ealy in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft made a big statement about the Panthers’ long-term plans at the position. The 6-foot-4, 273-pound Ealy has an impressive combination of size and speed. He was tough at the point of attack on run downs and showed his pass-rushing prowess off the edge throughout 2013. Ealy looks like a natural 4-3 defensive end who can stay on the field for all three downs. The junior totaled 9.5 sacks, 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, six passes broken up and an interception in 2013.

Helping Ealy to pan out is the supporting cast around him. Playing on the other side from Charles Johnson with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short on the inside should set up constant single-blocks for Ealy. He has the quickness and strength to be an impact pass-rusher in the NFL. If Carolina let’s Hardy leave in free agency or trades him, Ealy has the ability to be an impact starter for the Panthers.

Future Depth Player

Tre Boston, S, North Carolina – Round 4
The Panthers’ weakness at safety could force Boston onto the field some, but in the long term, he should be a backup. Other teams had Boston as a late-round pick and didn’t believe he would translate all that well to the NFL. For his rookie season, Boston is slated to backup Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud and Robert Lester. Boston (6-0, 204) was a tweener cornerback and safety in college. He may not become a starter in his career, but he could be a quality backup and special teams contributor.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

28. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: C- Grade
Ugh, over Marqise Lee and the other tackles? One trusted source we spoke to had Kelvin Benjamin slotted as a mid-round pick. He said that Benjamin couldn’t run, and that he was very inconsistent with dropped passes. Lee probably would have been the better option, but at least Carolina is filling a huge need. The team almost had to pick a wideout or a left tackle with the 28th pick.

60. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: A Grade
What tremendous value. Kony Ealy could have gone as high as No. 16 to Dallas, and I wouldn’t have complained too much. It’s insane that he dropped all the way to No. 60, and the Panthers obviously recognize that they got a steal because they’re not filling a need – at least not an immediate one. Greg Hardy will be hitting free agency next year, and it will be difficult to retain him. Ealy can learn behind him and Charles Johnson and eventually start in 2015.

92. Trai Turner, G, LSU: C+ Grade
I had Trai Turner slotted at the beginning of the third round, so this is decent value for Carolina. I just don’t get how the team can pass on a receiver or a left tackle for the second time on Friday. The Panthers have nothing at those positions. Turner fills a lesser need, but who is Cam Newton going to throw to, and who is going to protect his blind side?

128. Tre Boston, S, North Carolina: B Grade
I don’t love this pick, but I don’t have any issues with it either. Tre Boston fits the range – I had him at the top of the fifth round in my final mock – and he fills a need in the wake of Michael Mitchell defecting for Pittsburgh.

148. Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State: C+ Grade
The Panthers continue to address their secondary; they needed to find another cornerback in the wake of losing Captain Munnerlyn to the Vikings. I’m not sure they needed to trade up for Bene Benwikere though, as I think this is slightly early for him.

204. Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: B Grade
The Panthers have an underwhelming running back corps, so they were bound to take a player at the position at some point. Tyler Gaffney fits the range, so he’s a logical choice at this juncture.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: C . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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