Buckle yourselves in and hold on to the door handle.
With their first two selections in the 2017 NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers proved they’re slamming their feet on the gas and duct-taping it there.
They’ve also updated their offensive model – general manager Dave Gettleman traded in his signature Honda Odyssey for two Ferraris.
By selecting Stanford running back (and wide receiver, and kick returner) Christian McCaffrey with the No. 8 overall pick and doubling down on their need for speed with vertical threat (and 4.31 40-yard dash runner) Curtis Samuel, coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and Gettleman went from khaki-clad dads eating jujubes at an afternoon matinee of “Cars” to the newest cast members of “The Fast and the Furious.”
With Curtis Samuel, we have ‘Oh my gosh’ speed.
Panthers GM Dave Gettleman
“With Curtis Samuel,” said Gettleman on Friday night, “we have - oh my gosh - speed.”
And the combination of that speed and versatility between Samuel (who can also line up in the backfield) and McCaffrey is a matchup nightmare. Both players, or even one, lined up forces opposing linebackers and defensive backs to a gameplan specifically for each – and they have to factor in playmakers such as tight end Greg Olsen, running back Jonathan Stewart and receiver Kelvin Benjamin to boot.
“This is a matchup league,” said Gettleman. “Is my guy better than your guy? These two guys can give us matchup advantages from a variety (of) positions, and that ain’t bad.”
But Carolina didn’t just go for flash in this draft. The Panthers also made some really solid depth-building moves in the middle and later rounds of the draft.
But Carolina didn’t just go for flash in this draft. It also made solid depth-building moves in the middle and later rounds of the draft.
They added insurance on the offensive line in hulking, highly intelligent tackle Taylor Moton, who expects to compete at right tackle but can also play guard. They gave up their fourth-round pick to trade up for edge-rusher Daeshon Hall in the third round. Hall was a Texas A&M starter opposite first overall draft pick Myles Garrett and a project piece with potential the Panthers look forward to developing. They shored up their secondary with Miami’s Corn Elder, a player who can back up nickel Captain Munnerlyn as well as outside cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley.
The Panthers also made an intriguing addition at fullback in West Georgia’s Alex Armah at pick No. 192. Armah played fullback in high school in Georgia, but shot up to 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds, so he played defensive end, tight end and linebacker in college. He will also be a special-teams contributor.
Finally, Carolina added Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker at pick No. 233, for a little competition with current kicker Graham Gano.
The team’s third-round-and-later moves added depth and reliable project pieces in places that needed it.
So while the Panthers went all-in on their shiny new horsepower, they made sure the gear under the hood runs, too.
Round 1, Pick 8: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
What I like: McCaffrey is an offensive weapon just about anywhere he lines up. As a running back, he can handle an NFL load and was Stanford’s feature between-the-tackles back. As a receiver, he can play inside routes and outside routes and is a mismatch nightmare. As a kick and punt returner (which I don’t think he’ll play in the NFL, because you don’t throw your eighth overall pick out to the wolves), he’s incredibly dynamic.
Where he fits: Running back, wide receiver, slot receiver, kick returner, punt returner. He is a phenom who can do it all – and has.
Something to watch: Stanford elevated its offensive attack and used just about every type of run scheme and formation that exists for McCaffrey – and he returned their investment tenfold. He is a piece around which a menacing, shifty and fast offensive attack can be built.
Round 2, Pick 40: Curtis Samuel, slot receiver/RB, Ohio State
What I like: His speed. Samuel ran a 4.3 in the 40 at the 2017 NFL Combine, which would have gotten more people buzzing had Washington wide receiver John Ross not broken the record with a 4.2.
Where he fits: Samuel fits in the slot and can play a little running back if needed.
Something to watch: Mismatches and trickery are a big factor in Samuel’s game. He can easily burn linebackers and defensive backs as a vertical threat, and when lined up with McCaffrey will give opposing defenses fits.
Round 2, Pick 64: Taylor Moton, offensive tackle, Western Michigan
What I like: Moton is pretty perfect as a development depth piece at tackle and he has a year’s worth of starting experience at guard, too. He’s also big, at 6-5 and 320 pounds, and very bright. He will fit in well in Carolina’s locker room.
Where he fits: I see Moton as having the ability to back up the left and right tackle spots and guard if necessary.
Something to watch: Michael Oher’s health situation (concussion) will play a big role in how soon Moton will factor into the offense. If Oher is unable to play in 2017, Moton will have to back up right tackle Daryl Williams.
Round 3, Pick 77 (via trade): Daeshon Hall, defensive end, Texas A&M
What I like: Hall’s length and speed are perfect for the prototypical defensive end the Panthers like. At 6-5 and 266 pounds, he ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash and has really nice burst from the clips I’ve seen of him on tape. He also was a four-year contributor and doesn’t actually measure all that differently from Garrett – just a little less talented in a few areas.
Where he fits: It’s unlikely that Hall starts over Julius Peppers or Charles Johnson right away, but his fresh legs and talent could make him the perfect situational rusher as Carolina tries to develop Mario Addison into an every-down role.
Something to watch: Hall’s development will be interesting to follow. He will have the chance to study Peppers, Addison and Johnson, and will probably be expected to add weight. While it’s unlikely he’ll be a Day 1 starter, he could be a future staple piece.
Round 5, Pick 152: Corn Elder, corner/nickel, Miami
What I like: Elder’s versatility. His draft stalk, pardon, I mean stock, should have been much higher than a fifth-round pick, because he can play outside corner as well as in the nickel. His size is probably what sent him to the fifth round – he’s just 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds – but he doesn’t play small at all and is incredibly fast.
Where he fits: Elder will back up every starting corner on the roster, especially nickel Captain Munnerlyn.
Something to watch: Elder is being hailed as “the next Munnerlyn” – Munnerlyn was also a seventh-round pick – so living up to those vast expectations will be a point of interest in the coming seasons.
Round 6, Pick 192: Alex Armah, fullback, West Georgia
What I like: Armah is about 6 feet and fluctuates between 240-250 pounds. I like that size in a blocker and am curious as to his fullback ability - he hasn’t played the position since high school.
Where he fits: Armah will compete at fullback, but could also be used as an extra blocking tight end.
Something to watch: Because he played tight end for a stint in college, I’m interested to see his pass-catching ability. I also am eager to see how he contributes on special teams – as a former defensive end and linebacker, he can lay the hitstick.
Round 7, Pick 233: Harrison Butker, kicker, Georgia Tech
What I like: Butker was 8 for 8 on attempts from 40 yards or more in 2016. He also missed only one career point-after attempt and hit a 58-yard field goal on his Pro Day. I also love his sister’s name - Charlotte.
Where he fits: Butker will provide instant competition for Panthers kicker Graham Gano.
Something to watch: This was a move made specifically to increase the competition in the room with Gano, who missed eight field goals in 2016.