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Panthers 2019 Draft Class: Plunder or Blunder?

The NFL’s college player draft concluded for another year. Yet again the event saw picks cheered, others booed, oh and the puzzled looks of Raiders fans throughout.

Carolina Panthers fans are all too familiar with each of those reactions. The 29th team to enter the NFL is no stranger to selecting all-pro talent along with having more than a few interesting, if not completely confusing, picks.

The franchise appeared flawless with picks such as defensive end Julius Peppers (2002), offensive tackle Jordan Gross (2003), and running back Deangelo Williams (2006). That continued more recently with quarterback Cam Newton (2011), linebacker Luke Kuechly (2012), and RB Christian McCaffrey (2017). Of course, there are some other choices made along the way that cannot be looked back on quite as fondly.

In 1996 the Panthers used a first-round selection on RB Tim Biakabatuka. The running back showed flashes and stayed with the team for six seasons. Biakabatuka struggled to stay healthy. Made more painful for Panthers fans by the host of players passed up with the choice. Carolina missed LB Ray Lewis, wide receiver Marvin Harrison or RB Eddie George with the pick.

Then, of course, there is 1998 when defensive tackle Jason Peter came off the board. Peter never made a significant impact for the Panthers, not to mention the fact that WR Randy Moss and offensive guard Alan Faneca went passed over.

Fans also cannot forget Armanti Edwards in 2010. The team traded up in the third round to select Edwards. The trade eventually cost the Panthers the 33rd overall pick (first pick of the second round) in 2011. They also left a tight end by the name of Jimmy Graham on the board.

The team’s 2019 draft can be commended on filling absolute needs. With that, however, comes the uneasy feeling that history might be repeating itself.

The 16th pick of the first round belonged to the Panthers. They wasted little time and filled a critical need in upgrading the pass rush with LB/DE Brian Burns. The immediate complaint about the Florida State All-American stems from being undersized. Burns is listed as 6’5 and 250 pounds, so that criticism seems unwarranted. If Burns does not make an impact for Carolina, though, fans will be left wondering “what if”. Especially with defensive end Montez Sweat and defensive tackle Dexter Lawerence still available.

General Manager Marty Hurney continued to address critical needs in the second round. Carolina owned the 47th pick but traded it as well as their third-round selection (77th overall) to the Seattle Seahawks. In the deal, the Panthers moved up 10 spots and selected OT Greg Little. When asked why he traded up for Little, Hurney noted: “We saw an opportunity to grab a guy at a premier position that can come in and compete for playing time immediately”.

The Panthers have shopped for a left tackle since aforementioned first-rounder Jordan Gross retired in 2013. If Little anchors the offensive line for several seasons as Gross did, then no questions will be asked. If, however, Little struggles then he and the trade will join other questionable draft-day decisions – ala Edwards.

The Panthers utilized their remaining five picks to add depth at key positions. West Virginia QB Will Grier (100th overall), Alabama LB/DE Christian Miller (115th overall), and Florida RB Jordan Scarlett (154th overall). In the final two rounds, the team grabbed South Carolina OT Dennis Daley (212th overall) and finally Georgia WR Terry Godwin (237th overall).

Grier will join a crowded quarterback meeting room. Carolina continues to search for a viable backup behind starter Cam Newton as well as preparing for the future as Newton ages. Miller should help further bolster the pass rush and could factor into replacing recently departed Thomas Davis, while Scarlett looks to add depth behind 1,000-yard rusher Christian McCaffrey. The biggest question mark for any of those three picks might one day be why the Panthers did not take a safety.

Honestly, it is far too soon to know exactly what will come of the Panthers’ 2019 draft class. Hurney might have been deadly accurate with Burns and Little in the first two rounds and the team could easily have several steals within their later picks. Of course, if history is a guide then fans and critics could look back on 2019 as another blunder.

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