During pre-draft meetings after defensive tackle Kawann Short’s final year at Purdue, NFL scouts didn’t want to talk about his good plays with the Boilermakers, but rather the ones he took off.
Short had faced questions about his weight and effort since his final year of high school in East Chicago, Ind., so this was nothing new.
But this time the concerns threatened to hurt his draft stock and cost him money.
“Every interview I had coming into the NFL with teams, that was the big issue. They just kept it real, like, ‘Why are you not working hard every play?’ Or ‘Some games you weren’t even rushing.’ Stuff like that,” Short said. “Once you see that and once you leave that meeting, you go, ‘Dang, I should’ve done this or I should’ve done that.’”
Short, a second-team All-American who started 50 games at Purdue, ended up falling to the second round in 2013, where the Panthers grabbed him with the 44th pick.
Every interview I had coming into the NFL with teams, that was the big issue. They just kept it real, like, ‘Why are you not working hard every play?’ Or ‘Some games you weren’t even rushing.’ Stuff like that.
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short on questions about him coming out of Purdue
Some analysts were critical of the pick, which came 30 spots after the Panthers had drafted another defensive tackle: Utah’s Star Lotulelei.
But nobody’s second-guessing that pick now.
In their third seasons, Short has surpassed Lotulelei as the Panthers’ most disruptive interior lineman. While Lotulelei has been slowed by a foot injury that sidelined him for the first two games, Short is coming off his best game.
In the Panthers’ 27-23 victory at Seattle on Sunday, Short twice sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and batted down a third-down pass in the third quarter. Short finished with five tackles and joined St. Louis’ Aaron Donald and Cincinnati’s Domata Peko as the only defensive tackles with two sacks in a game this season.
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said Short was productive against the run and pass in Seattle.
“That’s a complete player,” McDermott said.
Short was an all-around athlete at Central High in East Chicago, where he teamed with Chicago Bulls guard E’Twaun Moore to win a state basketball championship as a junior. Purdue offered Short a football scholarship shortly after the hoops title, but Short had work to do to become academically eligible.
After his final season of basketball, Short hit the books and did little to nothing athletically. A.J. Rodriguez, Short’s high school football coach, said Short took classes at night and during the summer to get qualified.
“He just needed to be pushed. He comes from a place where when you’re a big guy and you’re athletic you pretty much get pampered and babied,” Rodriguez said. “When he realized this was something he wants to do, go play at the next level, he decided to step up, and that’s exactly what he did.”
He just needed to be pushed. He comes from a place where when you’re a big guy and you’re athletic you pretty much get pampered and babied.
A.J. Rodriguez, Kawann Short’s high school football coach
While Short’s GPA went up, so did his weight. The 6-foot-3 Short showed up at Purdue in 2008 weighing 335 pounds, which Short says was “a sloppy 335.”
But he shed most of the weight while redshirting as a freshman and was listed at 315 by the time he wrapped up his college career as a four-year starter.
Short finished third all-time among Boilermaker defensive tackles with 19.5 sacks and 49 tackles for loss. But he says he could have been better.
“To go back and look at it, I could have stayed after (practice) and done a lot more reps or stayed in the weight room more,” Short said this week. “I wasn’t out of shape. But I wasn’t in the best shape. That’s a problem I had and an issue that I faced.”
Some teams thought Short dogged it on certain plays. But the Panthers, who had a first-round grade on Short, didn’t see it that way.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Short looked tired at the end of the games and worn-down at the end of his final season at Purdue because he’d played so many snaps.
“We were shocked he was there” in the second round, Rivera said. “When he was sitting there, (general manager) Dave (Gettleman) jumped all over it. He thought that was the pick we needed, we went with it and it paid dividends.”
He’s got slippery hips. He works his hands in the pass game, and yet he’s powerful coming off the ball in the run game. I think his best football’s ahead of him.
Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott on Kawann Short
While Lotulelei was an immediate starter, Short came off the bench until midway through last season. Although Short only had five career sacks before the Seattle game, he has always had a knack for slithering into the backfield. He had seven pressures on Ryan Mallett in a Week 2 win against Houston.
“He’s got slippery hips,” McDermott said. “He works his hands in the pass game, and yet he’s powerful coming off the ball in the run game. I think his best football’s ahead of him.”
Short, who now weighs 307 pounds, admits he’s not the best practice player but says he’s learned from his mistakes.
“Everybody wants to go first round. Everybody wants to be that No. 1 pick. But it’s the cards you’re dealt. That’s just the resume you built,” Short said. “I was built that coming out of Purdue my motor wasn’t good enough, my conditioning wasn’t strong enough and weight was an issue.”
But dropping to the second round might end up working out well for Short. He’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2016 season. That’s a year earlier than Lotulelei should the Panthers exercise their fifth-year option, which can be used on first-round picks.
Short says he’s not sure whether there have been early conversations between the Panthers and his agent on a contract extension.
“I don’t focus on that, not during the season,” Short said. “I’ve got to do my job first and get through the season healthy and have a productive year.”
He’s well on his way.