Carolina Panthers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington – Round 1
If Thompson were going to any team but Carolina, there is a good chance he would be my pick for Most Likely to Bust. Thompson is very raw after splitting time at running back and linebacker in college. He also never had a season of big production at either position. Thompson needs to develop his run defense and pass defense, and is not overly instinctive. Thompson was a first-round pick based on being a great athlete more than anything else.

In Thompson’s final season at Washington, he had 81 tackles with four passes broken up and an interception while splitting time at running back, where he averaged 7.5 yards per carry for 456 yards with two scores. The previous season, Thompson recorded 78 tackles with four broken up and an interception. The 6-foot, 228-pounder should fit as a Will (weak side) linebacker who uses his speed to run sideline to sideline. He also has the athleticism to be an asset in pass coverage.

The reason why I think Thompson could be a solid starter in Carolina is Luke Kuechly. Playing next to the best middle linebacker in the NFL will help Thompson to pan out. Teams account for Kuechly, and that will allow Thompson to run sideline to sideline and make plays. He also has another good veteran linebacker to learn from in Thomas Davis. The Panthers have young talent on their defensive line as well to help make the linebacker’s job easier. I think with Carolina, Thompson could become a solid starter.

Most Likely To Bust

Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan – Round 2
To me, this pick has bust written all over it. I think Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has done a good job of drafting overall, but nobody bats 1.000, and I think this will be Gettleman’s first serious blemish in the NFL draft. With Funchess, the Panthers have added a receiver who is too slow to get separation from the majority of NFL defensive backs while not being big, strong, or physical enough to play tight end.

Last year, Funchess totaled 62 catches for 733 yards and four scores. Michigan’s quarterback play was weak, but Funchess had a lot of issues. He had a hard time separating, dropped a number of passes and didn’t outfight defensive backs for 50-50 balls. Funchess played better as a sophomore with 49 receptions for 748 yards and six scores, but he was at tight end rather than receiver. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Funchess won’t get separation from NFL cornerbacks and will have to outfight them for 50-50 passes to be effective.

Not only did the Panthers make a questionable pick in Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess in the second round, but they paid a huge price to make the selection as they traded away their third-round pick in order to move up for Funchess. It seems doubtful that Carolina had to move up for him considering that no receivers were selected between were the franchise was and when it took Funchess. In fact, other more highly rated receivers like Jaelen Strong and Tyler Lockett fell to the third round.

Potential Boom Pick

Daryl Williams, G/OT, Oklahoma – Round 4
The 6-foot-5, 327-pound Williams was an underrated prospect and an excellent value in the fourth round. He played really well for the Sooners over the past few seasons and went under the radar in a deep class of offensive tackles. At most schools, Williams would have been a starting left tackle, but at Oklahoma, he was the right tackle with Tyrus Thompson on the other side. While Thompson had more athletic talent, Williams was a worker and fighter who made himself into a good player.

In the NFL, Williams could be a right guard or right tackle. The Panthers are in dire need of some tackles to emerge. Veteran journeyman Michael Oher is the team’s starting left tackle, but he couldn’t cut it on the right side for the Titans or Ravens the past two seasons. Sources with Tennessee said that Oher was very lazy. The other tackle options for Carolina are Mike Remmers and Jonathan Martin, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Williams beats out the competition before too long.

Williams is a good run-blocker who will need to improve his ability to take on speed rushers. At the Senior Bowl, he had a quality week, and if Williams drops a little weight that could help him. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if Williams scraps his way into being a good right tackle in the NFL. He could be a real value for Carolina as a fourth-round pick.

Future Depth Player

Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn – Round 5
The Panthers could have nice No. 2 back in Artis-Payne. Carolina moved on from DeAngelo Williams in the offseason, while veteran starter Jonathan Stewart has had a lot of injury issues in his career. Artis-Payne (5-10, 212) is a well-built back who has some quickness to him. He could help eat up some carries and is a one-cut downhill runner who fits how Carolina has had success with Stewart or Williams when healthy. Artis-Payne may never turn into a three-down starter, but he could be a quality complementary back and depth performer.

Walt’s 2015 NFL Draft Grades:

25. Shaq Thompson, LB/S, Washington: C+ Grade
I had Shaq Thompson to the Panthers – in the second round. I only had him falliing that far because it was apparent that they really liked him. In fact, I slotted Thompson to the Panthers at No. 25 a few weeks ago, but ultimately thought that was a bit too early for him. The teams we spoke to agreed, as they had him as a second-round prospect. Having said that, this is a fine pick, as Thompson’s versatility will definitely help Carolina’s defense. He’ll be able to play both safety and linebacker, depending on the situation.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

41. Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan: MILLEN Grade
Eww… This wouldn’t be a truly terrible pick if the Panthers simply selected Devin Funchess at their spot in the second round, but they surrendered third- and a sixth-rounders in the process? Uhh… why!? Funchess is a man without a true position. He’s too slow to be a receiver, and there were better wideouts available. He’s too small to be a tight end, and there were better tight ends available. This selection makes no sense on so many levels.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

102. Daryl Williams, OT, Oklahoma: B Grade
The Panthers are going to kill themselves in terms of lack of depth by trading up so frequently. This move makes much more sense than the other one, however. Daryl Williams was getting third-round buzz from some teams, so this is a nice spot for him. Considering the offensive line talent in Carolina, Williams could start Week 1 this year.

169. David Mayo, ILB, Texas State: D Grade
I didn’t have David Mayo in my top 400 rankings, and I don’t know of anyone else who did either. Mayo doesn’t project to be anything more than a special-teamer.

174. Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: A- Grade
DeAngelo Williams is gone, and Jonathan Stewart is frequently hurt. The Panthers had to find a new running back, and they may have secured a good one in Cameron Artis-Payne, who was outstanding at the Senior Bowl. It wouldn’t surprise me if Artis-Payne, a projected fourth-round pick, emerged as a starter down the road.

2015 NFL Draft Team Grade: D . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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