Grading the Draft - Carolina Panthers

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

Pass catchers and defensive backs were the targets entering the draft for the Carolina Panthers. An edge rusher was also something the team wanted. On paper, it looks like they accomplished their goals.

Round 1 (No. 24 overall): D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

Round 2 (No. 55): Donte Jackson, CB, LSU

Round 3 (No. 85): Rashaan Gaulden, S, Tennessee

Round 4 (No. 101): Ian Thomas, TE, Indiana

Round 4 (No. 136): Marquis Haynes, LB, Mississippi

Round 5 (No. 161): Jermaine Carter, LB, Maryland

Round 7 (No. 234): Andre Smith, LB, North Carolina

Round 7 (No. 242): Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami

UDFA: Kyle Allen, QB, Houston; Reggie Bonnafon, RB, Louisville; Kyle Bosch, OL, West Virginia; Chris Frey Jr., LB, Michigan State; Taylor Hearn, OG, Clemson; Brendan Mahon, OL, Penn State; Tracy Sprinkle, DL, Ohio State

As the clock wound down on their pick, it was uncertain whether the Panthers would select one of the higher-rated cornerbacks still on the board or go with a receiver?

They chose the latter and selected D.J. Moore of Maryland. The junior comes with outstanding size and speed numbers, offers potential as a return specialist and has the production to match. I was not as high on Moore compared to others and believe he’ll need time before he’s NFL-ready. Moore does have a terrific upside and could eventually develop into a good No. 1 receiver.

Second-round choice Donte Jackson is very similar to Moore as a great athlete with terrific upside, but he’ll need time before he’s NFL-ready. Jackson has the speed to cover receivers down the field and does a good job following them on crossing patterns. He must do a better job making plays with his back to the ball, but that should come in time.

Third-round pick Rashaan Gaulden is a versatile defensive back who can line up at corner or safety. I think he will excel in nickel or dime packages on Sundays and will do fine if placed over the slot receiver.

The Panthers came away with two steals in Round 4.

Ian Thomas was an absolute bargain, and many feel he’ll be the best tight end from this class two or three years down the road. Thomas is an athletic pass catcher who holds his own as a blocker. He’s still very rough around the edges and needs work but has incredible upside.

We had a third-round grade on Marquis Haynes and feel he’s being shortchanged by those who characterize him as an edge defender. I believe Haynes has the skills to develop into a complete three-down linebacker who can stack against the run, make plays in space or rush the passer. He has the athleticism to line up over the tight end in coverage or run down ball carriers in pursuit. I like the player and love the potential.

Jermaine Carter is a talented linebacker but was a surprise fifth-round pick. More of a run stuffer, Carter is terrific in the box and pursuing the action to the flanks. I would expect him to challenge David Mayo for a roster spot.

During our summer review of prospects from North Carolina I stamped Andre Smith with a fourth-round grade, but that changed when his 2017 season was cut short after just two games. When healthy and hitting on all cylinders, Smith is an explosive linebacker who stacks well against the run.

Seventh round selection Kendrick Norton is a gap stopper who could make the roster if the Panthers decide to keep four dfensive tackles.

From the UDFA list, keep an eye on Chris Frey Jr. He’s exactly what the Panthers like in their linebackers -- a tad undersized but fast, explosive and intense.

Analysis: The Panthers’ draft has tons of upside potential but also comes with a good amount of downside risk, as none of these players would be labeled “NFL-ready.” I’ll give them a grade to stay consistent, but we won’t know about this draft until two or three years down the road -- sort of the way we did it in the “old” days. Grade: B