. The 2017 Senior Bowl wrapped up practice on Thursday afternoon, formally ushering in Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman’s entrance into full-on puzzle-piecing mode.
Draft season is upon us, and here are seven things we learned from Gettleman:
The big picture
“Very honestly, sitting up at No. 8, you’re gonna be looking at some really good players,” Gettleman said. “I’m not happy about it (because of the expectations before the season), but it is what it is. There are gonna be a number of quality players, but No. 1 it’s, ‘who fits us best? Who can move in quickly?’ And the second thing is, ‘what’s the rest of the draft look like?’
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“Because obviously we’re picking eighth in the first round, eighth in the second round, eighth in the third round and we’re going to have a (compensatory) pick. So we’re gonna have four picks in the top 100. So we have a chance to really improve our club.”
Attention-grabbers at Senior Bowl
Gettleman chuckled a bit when I asked about specific names – obviously he doesn’t want to give away too much, and he has only been watching two days of practice.
“I hate to be evasive – but you’re asking me to comment on watching two days of practice,” he said.
But the Panthers are shopping for an edge rusher, and Gettleman said he was impressed by the speed and explosiveness of Villanova defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, who is 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds.
And as the team potentially could pick up the next generation of franchise tight end this year (the class is very strong), Gettleman also likes Alabama product O.J. Howard (disclaimer, everybody who wasn’t already wowed by Howard is now, as he has had a phenomenal week of practice both as a pass catcher and as a blocker).
“Obviously the Alabama kid is interesting,” he said. “The O.J. Howard kid. You know, two years ago against Clemson, he had 3,000 yards receiving on two catches. He hasn’t disappointed. He’s got the strike zone to die for.”
Everybody loves Myles
“Obviously the guy that everybody talks about is the A&M kid,” Gettleman said, in reference to edge rusher Myles Garrett, a projected top-5 pick in several mock drafts. Garrett is not at the Senior Bowl.
“Bottom line is, everybody raves about this kid. ... They talk about him and more than likely he’s looooong gone, even though we’re at eight.
“You know, again, I think at the end of the day, we’re going to go with the best player around at No. 8. And there’s going to obviously be a lot of options.”
The Oher situation
Gettleman said he still has not contacted left tackle Michael Oher, who entered the concussion protocol after Week 3 and ended up on injured reserve in November. Teammate Trai Turner told the Observer in late December that as far as he knew, Oher still planned to play in 2017.
“You want to have as good a set of backup players as you can. Where we’re at right now is we’re gonna look at players, because right now we just don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t spoken to Michael in a little bit. I haven’t texted with him in a little bit. I want to back off and leave him alone. Because we want what’s best for Michael, really and truly.
“I have this crazy idea that these guys pour out their sweat and blood for us and the least we can do is treat them respectfully. We’re gonna look, but it’s more a function of making sure you build your team as strong as you can, because the backups play.”
Tackle class is not so impressive
Gettleman is in the market for tackles, but he doesn’t think the draft offers strong options.
I just will not reach. No matter how bad the perceived need is, I’m not going to reach.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, on a weak class of offensive linemen
“It’s not great,” he said. “Here’s the other thing. In the past I’ve gotten killed for not drafting tackles. I’ll tell you right now, if you overdraft a guy, you’re going to be upset. The coaches are going to be upset. The team is going to be upset. Everybody’s going to be mad at the guy, and it’s not his fault. ... No, he was a sixth-round pick, and you took him the fourth round. That’s not his fault. He wasn’t jumping up in front of you in the draft saying ‘pick me, pick me!’ You decided to take him!
“I just will not reach. No matter how bad the perceived need is, I’m not going to reach.”
Impressed by slot receivers
Midsize-to-small receivers abound in this particular crop of Senior Bowl participants, the most intriguing of which (to scouts) have been East Carolina’s Zay Jones, North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer and Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp. Gettleman agreed the group has been impressive.
“It’s a good group. We’re gonna make sure to turn over every rock,” he said. “There’s a nice group of that here, the tight ends and slot receivers.”
Free agency comes first
“The first thing you got to do is evaluate us,” said Gettleman, who has maintained that whatever he decides to do will be complementary to what the Panthers do in free agency.
“My philosophy has always been ‘Whatever you do in unrestricted free agency sets you up for the draft,’ so by the time you get to the draft you can literally take the best player available.”
Gettleman declined to talk specifically about contract negotiations within the team, but said the staff is “just about ready to wrap up” the identification of those players the Panthers would like to bring back. He said it’s pretty obvious who the team will make a priority (and I would think Kawann Short and Ted Ginn Jr. are high on the list).
“We’re not doing rocket science,” he said. “Anybody could identify the guys (with whom) we’re trying to get deals done. And I really believe deals get done when they’re supposed to be done. I know we’re reasonable, and every agent that we’ve dealt with to this point has been very reasonable.”