Carolina Panthers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Brian Burns, DE, Florida State – Round 1
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney had an excellent 2018 NFL Draft, landing what could be a solid to good starter in the first round with wide receiver D.J. Moore and then landed a potential stud in the second round with cornerback Donte Jackson. Jackson was awesome as a rookie, while Moore flashed real talent at times. I think the 2019 NFL Draft could follow the same pattern, with first-round pick Brian Burns looking a solid starter and second-round pick Greg Little being the massive steal with devastating talent.

Burns is very talented in the pass rush. Off the snap, he has an explosive first-step quickness. He is fast to turn the corner and just flat run by tackles with pure speed. Burns has a long frame, but shows some nice ability to bend around the edge. He can dip underneath blockers and has a burst to close, which makes it difficult for tackles to recover against him. For the NFL, Burns could use more pass-rushing moves. Featuring more spins, cuts to the inside, and rip moves would help him when he takes on better competition who won’t be beaten by just a speed rush. In 2018, Burns flashed the potential for a repertoire of moves, and he just needs to continue to work on it for pro offensive tackles.

As a run defender, Burns is much better in pursuit, where he can use his speed and athleticism to chase down tacklers. Burns is agile to work through trash and get to the ball-carriers. He has good vision with read-and-react skills to get in position to make plays. There is no doubt that Burns is going to need to add weight and strength for the NFL. Against pro offensive linemen, he is going to have problems holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him. Burns has gained some weight, but he needs to gain a lot more. Luckily for him, he has the frame to do it, so it is possible that fills out as he as he ages and gets experience in a pro strength and conditioning program. However right now, Burns could have problems in run support in the NFL, so it would be best for Carolina to rotate him with veterans.

Burns could be an excellent edge rusher for the Panthers across from Mario Addison with Kawann Short rushing from the inside. It would not surprise me if Burns ends up exceeding this projection to being more than a solid starter, but I think that is his floor and he will turn into a good contributor for the Panthers as he is a skilled quarterback hunter who should put up some good sack totals during his career.

2018: D.J. Moore, WR
2017: Curtis Samuel, WR
2016: Daryl Worley, CB
2015: Shaq Thompson, LB
2014: Trai Turner, G
2013: Kawann Short, DT

Most Likely To Bust

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia – Round 3
Among the Panthers’ draft class, Grier stood out to me as a potential bust. He might end up being a quality backup quarterback, but I’m not sure Grier has the potential to win games in that role because of skill-set limitations.

Multiple team sources who have seen Grier in person say he has just average arm strength and has a hard time driving the ball when he can’t set his feet. Some in the media were pushing Grier as a first-round pick, but that was dealt a devastating blow at the Senior Bowl when Grier’s lack of arm was painfully obvious. He did interview well, but he looks limited to being a backup only.

For the NFL, Grier has enough size to be a pocket-passing quarterback. He displays some accurate passing and is adept at putting air underneath the ball to loft in his throws downfield. Grier shows nice anticipation and ball placement to lead his receivers for yards after the catch. Grier throws a very catchable ball and makes things easy for his receivers. Grier has composure and comfort in the pocket with the ability to be a rhythm thrower who fits a West Coast passing offense.

There are issues with Grier for the NFL aside from the arm strength. While he can buy some time with his feet, he is not a dynamic runner or athlete to help compensate for his arm being a weakness. However, the arm strength is probably the biggest issue that makes Grier more of a backup. Perhaps Carolina can develop Grier beyond that, but of the team’s early-round picks, Grier looks like the player with the most bust potential.

2018: Rashaan Gaulden, CB
2017: Daeshon Hall, DE
2016: James Bradberry, DB
2015: Devin Funchess, WR
2014: Kelvin Benjamin, WR
2013: Edmund Kugbila, G

Potential Boom Pick

Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss – Round 2
Carolina was in the market for a left tackle of the future after cutting the disappointing Matt Kalil. The Panthers were fortunate to land Little in the second round, and they made sure it happened by trading up for him. Little has the skill set of a top-10 pick and the ability to be a franchise left tackle. If Little plays up to his potential, he could be a huge boom pick for Carolina from the second round.

There are a lot of natural strengths to Little. He has ideal height, length, weight, quickness and athleticism. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Little has quick feet that allow him to get depth in his drop and neutralize speed rushers. He should be an asset to take on the fast edge rushers because he can get off the corner and prevent them from running the loop around the edge. With his quick feet and an ability to bend at the knee, Little doesn’t have to reach after rushers and is not a waist bender. With his size and strength, Little has the potential to handle power rushers while contributing as a run defender. For Carolina, Little could be a very valuable to protect Cam Newton against fast edge rushers.

Little needs to get more consistent, but he has the skill set of a top-10 pick. Fortunately for Little, he is going to one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL with the Panthers’ John Matsko. Matsko has worked wonders with developing offensive linemen, as Carolina has taken some mid-round offensive linemen and Matsko has turned them into good pros. That group includes Trai Turner, Daryl Williams, Andrew Norwell and Taylor Moton. I think Little could end up becoming a franchise left tackle under the direction of Matsko, and that would prove to be a massive boom pick from the 2019 NFL Draft.

2018: Donte Jackson, CB
2017: Christian McCaffrey, RB
2016: Vernon Butler, DT
2015: Daryl Williams, OL
2014: Kony Ealy, DE
2013: Star Lotulelei, DT

Future Depth Player

Christian Miller, LB, Alabama – Round 4
The Panthers made upgrading their pass rush a priority this offseason, signing veteran Bruce Irvin and then drafting Brian Burns in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They also have a quality pro in Mario Addison returning, but they still weren’t done, adding another talented edge rusher in Christian Miller early in the fourth round. With Terrell Lewis out in 2018, Miller took advantage of the playing time to have a strong year, totaling 8.5 sacks, 36 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and one pass batted. Miller was a nice situational pass-rusher coming off the edge for Alabama. The Panthers have their veterans set, and Burns should be their lead edge rusher of the future, but Miller could be a nice backup to rotate into the game and help keep the veterans fresh. Miller was a good value pick in the fourth round to contribute as a situational backup who might end up becoming a starter to go with Burns.

2018: Ian Thomas, TE
2017: Corn Elder, CB
2016: Zach Sanchez, CB
2015: Cameron Artis-Payne, RB
2014: Tre Boston, S
2013: Kenjon Barner, RB

Walt’s 2019 NFL Draft Grades:

16. Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Florida State A- Grade
I slotted Brian Burns as high as No. 8 in my mock draft at one point. I thought that was a bit too high for them, but the 16th-overall selection provides good value for the Seminole. The Panthers are moving to a 3-4 defense, and they needed to select one of the talented edge rushers. They certainly got one in Burns. He has explosive ability and high-character marks, as he was a captain at Florida State. This is the right move by the Panthers, though Andre Dillard could be argued for at this juncture.

37. Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little, OT, Ole Miss C Grade
I don’t really think the Panthers needed to move up for this pick. There’s a chance that Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little would’ve fallen to their own selection, and if not, Carolina could have obtained a comparable prospect. Little has great upside and could eventually emerge to be a good starter, but he’s raw and will probably need to sit for a year. He’ll have the opportunity to do that in Carolina, as the Panthers re-signed Daryl Williams for one season.

100. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia C- Grade
I couldn’t believe that Will Grier was getting first-round consideration, according to the media. I had him slotted in the fourth round. Grier has bad mechanics, poor pocket awareness and putrid decision-making ability. He throws a nice ball, but he is far from a finished product. He might be able to develop into a capable backup behind Cam Newton and his worrisome shoulder, but the Panthers already had a solid backup in Kyle Allen. I’m not sure Grier is better than Allen.

115. Christian Miller, DE/OLB, Alabama A Grade
The Panthers made an excellent pick in the fourth round with Christian Miller. I thought Miller could’ve been chosen a whole round earlier than this, and probably would have if he didn’t have some injury concerns. Miller is not only a dynamic edge rusher, but also a high-character person. He’ll fill a big need for the Panthers in their new 3-4.

154. Jordan Scarlett, RB, Florida D Grade
I can’t say I’m a fan of this pick. Jordan Scarlett was a mediocre producer at Florida and didn’t test well athletically. Furthermore, he had multiple off-the-field issues, including a situation in which he got into trouble for credit card fraud. I didn’t think there was a good chance the Scarlett running back would be drafted.

212. Dennis Daley, OT, South Carolina A- Grade
Dennis Daley is a raw player, but he has enough athleticism to be a potential No. 3 tackle on an NFL roster. He could have been chosen much earlier on Day 3, so I think this is pretty solid value for the Panthers, who needed to add another lineman.

237. Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia B- Grade
Terry Godwin appeared in my mock draft at times, but didn’t make the final cut. Godwin is a short and slow receiver who doesn’t run routes very well. He also tested poorly at the combine. The one positive is that he possesses high-character marks, so perhaps he’ll be able to work hard and develop.

2019 NFL Draft Team Grade: C . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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