Scott Fowler

Carolina Panthers filled several needs, but what will be real impact of 2019 draft?

Panthers left tackle Greg Little: Our job is to protect Cam

Carolina Panthers drafted left tackle Greg Little with the fifth pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Little met the media on Saturday, April 27, 2019 and said, "Our job is to protect Cam."
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Carolina Panthers drafted left tackle Greg Little with the fifth pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Little met the media on Saturday, April 27, 2019 and said, "Our job is to protect Cam."

Every NFL draft weekend reminds me of the way most people feel right before they go on a first date.

It’s new. It’s exciting. You project all the qualities you want onto the person you are about to get to know. You fantasize about what life together could be like.

And then eventually you figure out what’s wrong, and the bloom fades from the rose, and maybe you understand why that person was still out there in the first place.

That’s a bit cynical, but everyone could use a bit of cynicism in the days immediately after the draft. Because all 32 NFL teams are ecstatic, and all 32 NFL teams just can’t believe this guy dropped to them, and all 32 NFL teams will tell you they picked a whole lot of guys with high ceilings when in fact, as Michael Jordan could tell you, the ceiling is sometimes the roof.

Sometimes, there’s truly very little wrong with a draft pick, and you end up with Luke Kuechly or Christian McCaffrey or Steve Smith.

Sometimes, there’s a whole lot wrong, and you end up with Rashard Anderson or Jason Peter or Rae Carruth.

Which brings us to the 2019 Panthers draft. I’m not overwhelmed. I’m not underwhelmed. I’m sort of whelmed. I think it was fine, and largely predictable in a good way, but there’s really no way to tell yet.

DE, OT and QB in first 3

The key to Carolina’s draft this time around was the Panthers’ first two picks. Defensive end Brian Burns (No. 16 overall) has to get to the quarterback right away, and left tackle Greg Little (No. 37, after the Panthers traded up 10 spots to get him) has to protect the quarterback right away.

Both should play a lot. Both have a chance to start.

Little MUG ONLY for MON print.JPG
New Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Greg Little might start at left tackle from Day 1 if he has a good training camp, which would mean a rookie will be protecting Cam Newton’s blind side. Jeff Siner

On the other hand, the Panthers would prefer third-round pick Will Grier basically use 2019 as an NFL “redshirt” year, which Grier will be able to do if Cam Newton stays healthy.

Grier has quite a back story given all his Carolina connections – I once covered one of his high school games at Davidson Day where he accounted for five touchdowns in a blowout win. He also punted, kicked extra points (missing two of them; Graham Gano is safe) and later pronounced his performance as “pretty bad.”

You don’t want Grier on the field as a rookie if you can help it because that means Newton is hurt. And all four of the players the Panthers took on the draft’s third and final day Saturday will likely be for depth and special teams unless something goes south (which, in the NFL, it often does).

Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera explain the team’s decision to take Charlotte native and West Virginia QB Will Grier in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

But if you want to get excited, Panthers fans, go for it. Your team hasn’t lost a game in 2019 yet, and is guaranteed not to lose one that matters until at least September.

I will say I am glad the Panthers addressed both sides of the line with their first two picks. I would have preferred the order to be OT/DE instead of the other way around, but that’s a quibble.

New Panther has ‘arsenal of moves’

I remember right after the 2018 draft when Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of fourth-round draft pick Marquis Haynes: “We said this is a guy that compares very favorably to Mario (Addison).”

Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Brian Burns, a Florida State defensive end, answers a question during his introductory press conference at Bank of America Stadium Friday. David T. Foster III

Addison, the Panthers’ best pass rusher, has had at least nine sacks in each of the past three seasons. He’s a stud. Haynes might one day be a good NFL player, but in 2018 he played sparingly in four games, posting zero sacks and four total tackles.

So now Burns is the draft pick whose build, at least, reminds people of Addison. Said Rivera when asked if he saw another Addison in Burns Thursday night: “I think he’s very similar – he’s got an elite ‘get-off.’ … He has an arsenal of moves already. He’s 21 years old.”

This isn’t to pick on Rivera. He’s an optimist by nature. He wants his guys to be great, tries to get them there and succeeds with some of them. I think Burns has a chance to be a solid NFL player, as does Little. If the Panthers get fortunate, one of the two of them will one day make the Pro Bowl. And who knows, Grier might be the Panthers’ starting quarterback by 2021, and turn out to be the most important player in this draft for Carolina after all.

Unless you give every NFL team an “incomplete,” though, grading a draft a few hours after it concludes is an exercise in futility.

It’s fun, sure, in the same way a first date can be fun. But when it’s this early, you just don’t know what you don’t know.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”