The Carolina Panthers steamrolled through the NFC with a 15-1 regular season record. They tore through every team in their way during the playoffs until they made it to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Denver Broncos 24-10. The combination of Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart allowed the Panthers to finish the regular season ranked second in the league in rushing with 2,282 yards. Ted Ginn was a pleasant surprise in fantasy leagues last season by catching ten touchdown receptions and averaging 12.56 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. The defense held opposing offenses in check as they ranked eleventh in the league against the pass with 3,752 yards allowed and fourth in the NFL against the run allowing only 1,415 yards on the ground.
The Panthers’ biggest off-season started when they retracted the non-exclusive franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman, causing him to become an unrestricted free agent eventually signed by the Washington Redskins to a five year $75 million deal. The departure of Norman created a void in the secondary that’s going to be hard to replace and could impact the defense during the 2017 season.
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First Round – Vernon Butler, DT Louisiana Tech
Butler is a highly athletic interior defensive lineman who can get under his blockers to disrupt the run game. He has a very powerful bull rush that he uses to get to the quarterback. During his senior year he recorded 50 total tackles and three sacks while finishing ninth in Conference USA with ten tackles for loss. With Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Paul Soliai manning the interior of the defensive line, the Panthers are not short when it comes to talented defensive linemen. This draft pick tells us that the Panthers want a solid group of defensive linemen rotating plays to remain fresh during a long 16 game season. Butler will be a part of the rotation and the more he develops, the more opportunities he will have to play more snaps. At most, Butler is a late round flier in rookie drafts, but he should probably be left undrafted because he’s not going to get enough playing time to make an impact for your fantasy team during the first few years of his career.
Second Round – James Bradberry, CB Samford
At 6’1’’ and 211 pounds, Bradberry possesses the ideal size for an NFL cornerback. Being a small-school prospect with a lot of heart, he finished his senior season recording 45 total tackles, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. The departure of Josh Norman created a big hole at cornerback and the Panthers took a stab at a developmental prospect with high upside to potentially fill the void in the near future. Bradberry is raw and still needs to work on a lot of the fundamentals for the position to become a perennial NFL starter, which is going to delay his ability to see the field during the first couple seasons of his career. I suggest fading him in rookie drafts, even in leagues that require you to start cornerbacks because they are a dime a dozen and easy to stream off waivers.
Third Round – Daryl Worley, CB West Virginia
The Panthers dipped their toe back into the cornerback pool as they selected Worley in the third round to provide much-needed depth in the secondary. He doesn’t possess the ideal speed and quickness that you would want in a defensive back but he has amazing ball skills. He finished his junior season with 49 total tackles and ranked sixth in the nation with six interceptions. Even though he has the prototypical size (6’1’’ and 204 pounds) for a cornerback, he lacks the aggressiveness to make plays against the run. In rookie drafts, I’m only drafting cornerbacks that are considered generational talents and Worley is the type of player that might take a few years to develop, so I’m going to let him slide in my drafts and pick him up on waivers if I need him in the future.
Fifth Round – Zach Sanchez, CB Oklahoma
Sanchez is an athletic cover corner who can make plays on the ball as he snatched 15 interceptions during his three-year career at Oklahoma. His size is a major issue since he’s just 5’11’’ and 185 pounds which could present a problem when he has to cover bigger receivers like Dez Bryant or Mike Evans. He’s more than likely going to contribute in nickel packages during the first couple years of his career. Like I stated earlier, it’s not wise to burn draft picks on cornerbacks and Sanchez is going to be a situational player during the beginning of his career. He may not ever become relevant in IDP leagues.
Seventh Round – Beau Sandland, TE Montana State
Sandland’s run blocking skills earned him the nickname The Sandman due to his ability to deliver devastating hits at the point of contact. Sandland is an interesting prospect because he’s highly athletic, can block and use his speed to stretch the seam. He was a junior college transfer who first landed at the University of Miami and later transferred to Montana State, where he caught 37 passes for 632 yards and nine touchdowns. He should be considered a very low cost lottery ticket with a lot of upside, but the odds of hitting on this ticket are rather slim. The fact that he couldn’t crack the starting lineup for Miami is a major red flag and a sign that he currently struggles playing against higher levels of competition. However, due to his athleticism, he still worth stashing in deeper leagues and should definitely be placed on your watch list.
UDFA to Watch – Keyarris Garrett, WR Tulsa
Garrett led the nation with 1,588 receiving yards and he finished his senior year ranked eighth in the nation with 96 receptions. His production made him a major focal point of Tulsa’s offense as he owned a 36.66 percent market share of the team’s passing offense, ranking fourteenth in the nation. Not only was he hyperproductive in college, but he also stands out as one of the most athletic wide receivers in this draft class when you weigh his 6’3’’ and 220-pound frame with his 4.53 40-yard dash.
Even though Garrett was an undrafted free agent, he’s still being drafted in the third round of rookie drafts according to DLF’s rookie ADP. There really isn’t much talent left in the third round making it easy to chase Garrett’s upside. His situation in Carolina isn’t perfect but he’s an injury or two away from seeing a considerable amount of playing time. I like Garrett and I’m trying to acquire him in every single one of my leagues.
UDFA to Watch – Jalen Simmons, RB South Carolina State
Simmons is an under-the-radar free agent pickup to whom you should pay attention while rosters are churning in late August. During his senior year, he rushed for 718 yards and two touchdowns with two games of over 100-yards rushing. He’s not an elite athlete but he did manage to run a 4.58 40-yard dash during his pro day. However, his 7.43 three-cone time was suboptimal. There’s nothing special about this prospect, but the depth chart lacks talent at running back which could create an opportunity for him to make the roster.
UDFA to Watch – Devon Johnson, FB Marshall
At one time Johnson was a hot prospect in devy leagues but now he’s battling to make an NFL roster. He finished his junior season in 2014 with 1,767 yards (sixth in the nation) and 17 touchdowns (second in Conference USA). He’s a 240-pound brahma bull who will run over anyone in his way and has enough quickness to make defenders miss in the open field. Johnson has a good chance of making the team if he has a solid training camp and could potentially become the team’s short-yardage and goal line back. I recommend stashing him during the offseason to see if he can carve out a role within the offense.
UDFA to Watch – Jeremy Cash, LB/S Duke
Cash was a tackling machine in college, recording 100 total tackles during all three of his seasons with Duke. He played safety in college but the Panthers are going to make him convert to linebacker, which will impact his value in IDP leagues. In college, he played as an in-the-box safety which presented a lot of upside in tackle heavy IDP leagues, but the conversion to linebacker curtails his value drastically because he lacks the size to play linebacker. I would only draft him in deep leagues in hopes that he makes a position change back to safety, which could possibly happen.
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