Tom Sorensen

Breaking down how the Panthers did in last week’s NFL draft

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey can help the Panthers reinvent themselves.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey can help the Panthers reinvent themselves. AP

Letter grades for an NFL team’s work in the draft are silly. But to stop offering grades after a draft, or an NFL game, is to invite anger from readers.

So I give the Carolina Panthers an “I” -- incomplete. It will be two seasons before we can assess quality of their work.

I like their new off season philosophy. Instead of tinkering with the roster, they changed it. They were aggressive in free agency and in the draft. They invested their first pick on Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and their second-round on Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel.

Their roles as college stars were similar. They ran, caught passes and disrupted defenses. Both can move.

People criticize Carolina quarterback Cam Newton for throwing off his back foot, and they should. But when Newton set his feet and flung a deep pass, you knew that Ted Ginn Jr. would be under it. Ginn was the receiver that Newton, despite his powerful right arm, was unlikely to overthrow.

Ginn caught four touchdown passes last season, each for 30 or more yards. He signed two months ago with New Orleans. The Panthers had to replace him. Thus McCaffrey, who usually will line up in the backfield, and Samuel, who usually will line up in the slot.

Was it smart to invest the first two picks on players with a similar set of skills? What was Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman going to do, announce that he had enough speed and didn’t want anymore? Samuel runs a 4.31 40. If the Panthers can’t find work for Samuel and for McCaffrey, who is almost as fast, they need a new set of offensive coaches.

You don’t think of Cam Newton throwing quick passes to backs or receivers. He hasn’t had the opportunity. But he’s established that he can throw underneath to tight end Greg Olsen. He should be able to throw to smaller but faster men.

Remember the old days when quarterback Jake Delhomme would run a play called Steve Smith Against The World. Smith would pretend he was going out on a route and return to the Carolina backfield. Delhomme would flip him a quick pass and Smith would beat three or four or eight defenders and pick up a nice gain.

Newton can look for McCaffrey and Samuel deep, look for them underneath or hit them with a pass so short it qualifies as a glorified hand-off.

Carolina’s offense last season was predictable and limited. It now has the talent to reinvent itself. It will be interesting to see.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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