Kony Ealy is still a work in progress, but can the Panthers afford to wait for him–when it is clear they need another dominant pass rusher to fill the void of Hardy?
Ealy is still not where the Panthers want him to be. It was clear that when Ealy was drafted last year in the second round that he was a work in progress and needed to develop his fundamentals.
The Panthers have prided themselves on having a staple defense–it is one area that they emphasize and were hoping to rest easy. The Panthers re-signed DT’s Cole and Edwards who helped stabilize the group last year. Coach Ron Rivera also indicated that Star Lotulelei is coming along nicely with his rehab, according to NFL insider, David Newton.
It is clear that a piece is still missing with the departure of Greg Hardy and if Ealy has not clearly shown that he has taken the next step, then the Panthers may look at taking a strong DE early in the draft. Rumors have been circulating of a possible trade down by Carolina who would look to re-solidify the pass rush. The Panthers are doubtful to make such a strong move; it would be an uncharacteristic approach to their draft philosophy, no matter the need to find a replacement. The Panthers do find themselves in a good position with this years draft, having gained two Compensatory draft picks, both in the 5th round.
The Panthers have a decision to make and the draft is one where all the cards on are on the table. Randy Gregory certainly hasn’t helped the Panthers problems with acquiring a ready-to-go, dominant pass rusher. Gregory is showing off-the-field issues, which the Panthers aim to stay clear of, having shown a zero-tolerance for “character” issues. Gregory recently failed a drug test which may hurt his chances to be a top-10 pick in the draft. An aggressive pass rusher would be a hot commodity for a lot of teams and there is reported interest by the Atlanta Falcons that they would look to take Gregory in the draft.
Here’s the top-18 DE’s in this years draft, which is deep at the DE position: