Carolina Panthers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia – Round 3
West Virginia fielded a very talented secondary in 2015 and Worley was the program’s feature corner. The 6-foot, 204-pounder has good size with length. He showed an ability to be a gritty and physical cover corner. Worley can compete with big receivers and showed tremendous ball skills with 12 passes broken up and six interceptions. Worley was a nice value pick for Carolina in the third round.

While Carolina took cornerback James Bradberry in the second round, I think Worley could be the one who turns into a solid starter. He ran slow at the combine, which hurt his draft stock. However, Worley fits the Panthers’ secondary really well and has a similar skill set to departed cornerback Josh Norman. Worley is a ballhawk with size and physicality.

Carolina needs some cornerbacks to step up quickly after losing Norman. Worley has more experience against better competition than Bradberry and is a lot bigger than fifth-round pick Zack Sanchez. I think Worley will make the transition faster and end up being a solid starter for the Panthers.

Most Likely To Bust

James Bradberry, DB, Samford – Round 2
During the leadup to the 2016 NFL Draft, I was speaking with one general manager and we were talking about how Robert Nkemdiche was one of the most-overrated prospects. We agreed that he had a great skill set, but Nkemdiche didn’t produce up to it and was an underachiever. The general manager said that Bradberry was similar with a great skill set, but overrated in the scouting community. He said that Bradberry produced more than Nkemdiche, but Bradberry was raw and capable of a lot more.

Bradberry (6-1, 211) has great size with length and speed for the pros. There is no doubt that he has an NFL skill set, but he is very raw and needs development. Bradberry doesn’t have the technique to cover NFL wide receivers, and that was clear at the Senior Bowl, where he seemed to have his hands full with those wideouts. The possibility is there for Bradberry to move to safety if he doesn’t work out at corner.

I think Bradberry could get rushed onto the field sooner than he’s ready because of Josh Norman leaving in free agency and Bradberry’s draft status as a second-round pick. In a division with talented quarterbacks and receivers, Bradberry is jumping into the deep end with a huge increase in talent from what he was used to playing against at Samford. Of the Panthers’ early round picks, I think Bradberry has them most bust potential.

Potential Boom Pick

Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech – Round 1
The Panthers took a long-term view when they selected Butler in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Three years ago, Carolina nailed two defensive tackles who I loved coming out of college in Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Those two have turned into very good pros, and the Panthers habe both of them approaching free agency. With the expense of their contracts, the organization probably won’t re-sign both and Butler will replace either Lotulelei or Short.

The 6-foot-3, 323-pound Butler has a lot of talent with a ton of upside. They like his skill set and think he has a ton of upside, but he needs development with a lot to learn. Sources have said that Butler has the talent to be a special player. He has a burst at the point of attack, and his speed rush is very hard for offensive linemen to handle. Butler also has the strength and base to generate power into the pocket. He can get in trouble when he stands up too high, but when he plays with good leverage, he can be overwhelming. Butler is raw, but with Carolina’s talented veterans, the team can take its time developing him and doesn’t have to rush him.

Butler has the speed, size and strength to be an overwhelming defensive lineman. The talent on Carolina’s defense should only help Butler to develop as offenses are more focused on the other players in the Panthers’ defense.

Future Depth Player

Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma – Round 5
Sanchez is a gritty corner with ball skills and is a gamer. However, he is limited for the NFL. Sanchez (5-11, 185) is undersized and that relegates him to being a slot corner. Not only is he not big enough to play on the outside, Sanchez is a gambler. He produced some big plays in college, but also got burned by taking chances. I’m not sure that Sanchez will ever be a starter, but I think he could be a quality backup in the NFL.

Walt’s 2016 NFL Draft Grades:

30. Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech A Grade
Part of the reason many mocks had the Panthers selecting Kevin Dodd was because their front office typically takes the best player available, and there wasn’t an obvious spot for Kevin Dodd. It would’ve made sense to take Dodd here, but Vernon Butler is an even better choice. Butler could’ve easily been chosen a dozen picks ago. He’s very athletic for a 320-pound defensive lineman and has drawn comparisons to Muhammad Wilkerson. Butler doesn’t fit an obvious need right now, but the Panthers aren’t concerned about that. Butler, however, figures to start in 2017 once Star Lotulelei moves on in free agency. In the meantime, Butler will add depth to an already-great front.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

62. James Bradberry, CB, Samford C+ Grade
The Panthers are not the team I thought would take James Bradberry. The Seahawks, Buccaneers, Falcons etc. seemed like the likely home for him. Bradberry is the type of tall, long, athletic corner that Seattle typically takes in the middle rounds, and I thought they might in the third frame. However, this is too early for Bradberry, who is pretty raw.

77. Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia B Grade
I’m sensing a theme here. The Panthers took a tall, long cornerback in the second round, and they did the same thing with Daryl Worley at this juncture. Worley was seen as a third-round prospect by most of the contacts we had spoken to, so the range makes sense. He obviously fills a need as well.

141. Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma: B+ Grade
This is very unlike the other two cornerback selections the Panthers have made in this draft. While James Bradberry and Daryl Worley are tall, long corners with athleticism, Zack Sanchez is a short corner who did not test well at the Combine, but he still could’ve been selected a bit earlier than this. It might seem odd that the Panthers are devoting so much attention to the position, but it was a big need.

252. Beau Sandland, TE, Montana State: B+ Grade
It’s not out of the question that Beau Sandland could be Carolina’s starting tight end following the 2019 offseason, when Greg Olsen will be a 34-year-old free agent. I say that because Sandland, while raw, has extreme upside, thanks to his elite athleticism. Sandland enjoyed a great 2015 campaign for Montana State, but doesn’t have a great track record of production. Of course, Sandland may not make the final roster, but the potential is there for him to make an impact.

2016 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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