Tom Sorensen

‘Never comfortable,’ Panthers less likely to be caught flat-footed after this draft

If former Maryland receiver D.J. Moore is who the Carolina Panthers believe he is, the offense has the No. 1 top-dog receiver they’ve lacked since Steve Smith Sr. was jettisoned.
If former Maryland receiver D.J. Moore is who the Carolina Panthers believe he is, the offense has the No. 1 top-dog receiver they’ve lacked since Steve Smith Sr. was jettisoned. AP

I like the Carolina Panthers’ draft. They became less slow. They acquired some first-class speed. But did they acquire what they need? Are they comfortable going into the season with the players now on the roster?

I asked Carolina general manager Marty Hurney.

“Never comfortable,” Hurney says. “Always looking to improve. But I feel like we can be competitive with who we have at this point.”

I wrote a few times, or a few hundred, that the Panthers should take Stanford safety Justin Reid with their first pick. Instead, with the 24th pick in the 2018 NFL draft, they took D.J. Moore, the receiver out of Maryland. Moore was the first receiver drafted.

If Moore is who they believe he is, the Panthers’ offense has the No. 1 top-dog receiver they’ve lacked since Steve Smith Sr. was jettisoned. Kelvin Benjamin auditioned for the role, and started strongly, albeit in a different manner than Smith, but he was a temp. While comparing any rookie to Smith is silly, Moore can move and he can jump and he can run a route and he wins most battles with defensive backs. So, welcome. I thought he’d be gone when the Panthers picked.

After Moore, Carolina drafted a cornerback, a safety, a tight end, a defensive end, two linebackers and a defensive tackle. After the draft, they signed seven free agents: a quarterback, a running back, three guards, a linebacker and a defensive tackle.

The most interesting of the free agents is Louisville running back Reggie Bonnafon. As a freshman, Bonnafon started five games at quarterback. When Lamar Jackson (the final player selected last week in the first round) became Lamar Jackson, Bonnafon played running back and wide receiver. He was a running back last season.

Bonnafon is 6-1, weighs 212 pounds and at Louisville’s pro day ran a 4.4 40. Give him the ball and he looks like a running back.

He also looks like a leader. Bonnafon ended his Louisville career with style and grace. After Mississippi State beat the Cardinals 31-27 in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Bonnafon stood outside the team’s locker room door and shook hands with each of his teammates.

The Panthers have on their roster three other running backs (and fullback Alex Armah). They are, Christian McCaffrey, Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whitaker. Bonnafon signed with the right team, and the Panthers hope they signed the right guy. If he’s not, they have to find one.

Does Carolina have two starting safeties? I don’t see them. Carolina’s philosophy might be to rush the quarterback so hard that simply by being on the field the defensive backs will look good.

Be interesting to see if rookie defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, the third-round pick out of Tennessee, starts at safety. If he doesn’t, who does? Any rookie safety ought to be thrilled to be on the same team as 37-year-old Mike Adams. Try to ask him a question about playing safety that he can’t answer.

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

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