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Panthers Earn an ‘A-‘ for Their Draft According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

The draft grades from ‘Draft Guru’ Mel Kiper Jr. are out, and one team that got a very good grade is that of the Panthers, who according to Kiper got an ‘A-‘ for their collection of players over the two days.

Here’s what he had to say:

Like their NFC South rivals in Atlanta, the Panthers went with a wide receiver in Round 1, taking Maryland’s D.J. Moore at No. 24. I’m a big fan of Moore, who is more than a workout warrior, though he put up freakish numbers at the combine with a 4.42 40 time and 39.5-inch vertical. He was productive for the Terps, and he’s great after the catch. He runs through arm tackles, and he’s built like a tailback. The Panthers needed a guy like that for Cam Newton, and it wasn’t going to be veteran Torrey Smith (another Terp), who was brought in last month. Moore could be Newton’s favorite target in a hurry.

After parting ways with Daryl Worley, the Panthers needed cornerbacks to compete for the spot opposite James Bradberry. They added two on Day 2 with Donte Jackson (pick 55), one of the fastest players in this class (4.32 40), and Rashaan Gaulden (85), whom I had rated as more of a sixth-round talent. (Remember that veteran safety Kurt Coleman is no longer with the team.) Jackson is only 5-10 and 178 pounds, but he’s an elite athlete. Ian Thomas could develop into the heir apparent to Greg Olsen, and to get my fourth-ranked tight end at 104 is great value. Marquis Haynes (136) is another good player on Day 3.

If there’s an issue with this class, it’s not getting a pass-rusher. Are they really going to rely on 38-year-old Julius Peppers to play almost 500 snaps again? Mario Addison is also going to be 31 by Week 1, and you face Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Jameis Winston six times a year in that division. I liked the depth of this class, though, and won’t ding it too much. There is value from top to bottom.

Round/Pick Name Pos College
1/24 D.J. Moore WR MARYLAND
2/55 Donte Jackson CB LSU
3/85 Rashaan Gaulden CB TENNESSEE
4/101 Ian Thomas TE INDIANA
4/136 Marquis Haynes OLB OLE MISS
5/161 Jermaine Carter Jr. CB MARYLAND
7/234 Andre Smith ILB NORTH CAROLINA
7/242 Kendrick Norton DT MIAMI

Panthers Ink Veteran TE Greg Olsen to Two-Year Extension

The Panthers have signed veteran tight end Greg Olsen to a two-year, $17.1 million extension through 2020 according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

The deal reportedly can be worth $20.1 million with incentives. and could potential make him the league’s highest-paid tight end. Olsen was scheduled to be a free agent after this year and was even linked with some TV jobs, but now he is under contract through his age-35 season.

2017 was a down year for Olsen as he was limited to seven games due to a foot injury and never looked healthy upon his return. He claims to be fully recovered this offseason, however, and will remain one of Cam Newton’s favorite passing options in 2018 and beyond.

Panthers Have Chatted About Bringing Back Backup QB Derek Anderson

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney says the team has talked with veteran backup quarterback Derek Anderson about re-signing with the team according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer.

The 34-year-old Anderson is one of the most dependable backups in the league and would undoubtedly be in demand if he did not stay in Carolina. He has served as the security blanket behind starter Cam Newton. Even if the team drafts a developmental prospect this weekend, they would be wise to keep Anderson and it would not be surprising if the team announced a contract extension after the draft.

Panthers Announce 2018 Preseason Schedule

The Panthers and the the rest of the NFL today announced their 2018 preseason slate, with the four games to be played in the month of August.

Game One – Aug. 9-13 at Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium
Game Two – Aug. 16-20 vs vs. MIAMI DOLPHINS at Bank of America Stadium
Game Three – Aug. 23-26 vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS at Bank of America Stadium
Game Four – Aug. 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field

The Panthers will face AFC opponents in each of their four preseason games, opening the schedule on the road against the Buffalo Bills in early August.

Carolina will close the preseason with a road game August 30 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 16th consecutive season that Carolina and Pittsburgh have wrapped up the preseason against each other. In between the road trips, the Panthers will host the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, meaning Carolina will face every AFC East team except the New York Jets. The Panthers last faced an NFC team in the preseason in 2013.

The slate is exactly the same as the 2015 preseason schedule, a season that ended with a trip to the Super Bowl. Dates and times for the preseason schedule will be announced in the coming days.

Preparing For Life After Cam Newton

It’s time to start thinking about what comes after Cam Newton. Let’s be clear, no one is suggesting that the Panthers should move on from Newton in the short term. That would be crazy.

For all the baggage that comes with him, Newton is one of the best in the NFL, and the leader on the field. In many respects, he had another great season in 2017, throwing for 3,302 yards and 22 touchdowns, and he was the main factor in getting them into the Wild Card game.

There is some room for improvement though. If the Panthers are going to move up in the rankings among NFL bettors who bet on Stakers, Newton needs to work on his accuracy, which fell to 52.9 percent last season. Norv Turner should be able to help with that.

However, Cam won’t be around forever. Sure, he’s only 28, but he has taken a lot of big hits in his career. Prior to the last campaign, since joining the NFL in 2011 he has been hit or sacked 922 times. The next guy on the list, Russell Wilson, has taken 615 hits. Yes, that’s how Cam plays, but there are only so many big hits that one athlete can take.

How should the Panthers prepare for a post-Newton world? Derek Anderson has been Newton’s backup since 2011, but he turns 35 in June. Garrett Gilbert is still there, but the suspicion is that the Panthers don’t see him as the answer in the long term, and that leaves them with a tricky decision – bring in a quarterback through free agency, trading, or the draft.

The Panthers haven’t drafted anyone in that position since 2011, making them the only franchise in the NFL not to have taken a quarterback at the draft in the last six years. Even New England and Green Bay have picked up two apiece since 2012.

This year’s draft is considered to be a strong one for quarterbacks. Three could make the top-ten picks and up to six could be taken in the first two rounds. The Panthers have the 24th pick, and it is likely that they will want to address their other more pressing weaknesses, bringing in a wide receiver, running back, or even a defensive end. However, with two third-round and three seventh-round picks, they may well look for a quarterback with huge potential. There are a number of candidates who could fit the bill, including Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State, Washington State’s Luke Falk, and Chase Litton from Marshall.

The other option would be to look for another young quarterback as a free agent or a trade for Anderson. Finding a player with Newtonesque potential who has been overlooked would be a tall order though, and trading Anderson would leave the team short of experienced backup. Given their long run of not taking quarterbacks at the draft, it seems more likely that the Panthers will opt for drafting Newton’s replacement this year, laying the foundations for a successful future.

Panthers LB Thomas Davis Suspended First Four Games of 2018

The Panthers were dealt a blow on Friday as linebacker Thomas Davis was suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the leagues PED policy.

Davis came out in a tweet defending himself over the suspension.

Charleston Businessman and Potential Bidder Ben Navarro Visits The Panthers

Another bidder for the Panthers was visiting with the team today, with multiple reports saying Charleston businessman Ben Navarro is visiting Bank of America Stadium, Rick Rothacker of the Charlotte Observer reports.

Navarro is among the bidders identified by the Observer who are vying for the franchise put up for sale by owner Jerry Richardson this year. Navarro’s Sherman Financial Group owns Credit One Bank, which issues credit cards to subprime borrowers.

Alan Kestenbaum, the CEO of Canadian steel company, made a visit last week, and a source told the Observer that hedge fund manager David Tepper is expected to visit Charlotte Tuesday.

Panthers Gab 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: USC QB Sam Darnold

The hype for USC quarterback Sam Darnold has b3en growing by leaps and bounds the last few weeks, to the point where many feel he’s going to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.

At 6-4, 220 pounds, he’s got the look of a player who with some time learning could be a very good to excellent quarterback in the NFL, but time will tell when he might get that chance.

In his final season at USC, Darnold threw for 4143 yards, with 26 touchdowns to go along with 13 picks. This after throwing 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions the season before.

Here’s a look at Darnold and what various places are saying about him in our latest scouting report.

Walter Football

Strengths:
Naturally accurate passer
Fits passes into tight windows
Excellnt ball placement
Throws a catchable ball
Pocket presence
Has poise
Advanced anticipation; instinctive thrower
Throws with good timing
Can accelerate his throwing motion
Quality arm strength
Pushed team to wins
Good internal clock
Mobility
Throws very well on the run
Throws accurately off platform
Displays some feel in the pocket
Not easy to sack
Can hurt defenses on the ground
Can make all the throws required
Can pick up yards on the ground
Threads passes into tight windows

Weaknesses:
Ball security
Too many interceptions
Too many fumbles
Had some confidence issues in 2017
Doesn’t secure the ball well when getting sacked
Good enough not doesn’t have elite arm strength
Throwing mechanics are a bit unorthodox
Needs to start games faster

Summary: Darnold took college football by storm during the 2016 season, and even though he wasn’t eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft, the redshirt freshman had scouts buzzing about his pro potential. After a 1-2 start to the 2016 season for USC, Darnold was made the starting quarterback. For his debut season, he was an extremely efficient passer who led the Trojans to a 10-3 record. Darnold lost his first-ever start against a good Utah team, but after that he led his team to ripping off a nine-game win streak to close out the year, including impressive wins over Colorado, Washington, and a comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The 2017 season was more of a mixed bag for Darnold. The redshirt sophomore completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He had an up-and-down season with too many turnovers – fumbles were a particular issue beyond the interceptions. Darnold also made some beautiful anticipatory throws with excellent accuracy in just about every game.

There is a lot to like about Darnold as a future starter in the NFL. First and foremost, he is an accurate pocket passer who throws with good ball placement and is very precise in the short to intermediate part of the field. Darnold has excellent anticipation to know when and where receivers are going open. With his feel and timing, Darnold hits receivers on the run, leading them to picking up yards after the catch. He also regularly will throw receivers open and help them to find space to beat tight coverage. Darnold is a natural rhythm thrower who would fit best in a West Coast system to maximize his ability to throw accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field. He is a smooth precision passer who can be deadly when he gets into a good groove.

Darnold is comfortable in the pocket, but also has the ability to move around to buy time. While he is not a running quarterback, he is functional to avoid sacks and will move around to help his offensive line and receivers. Darnold made a number of really nice plays during the past two years when things went off script as he got creative to move the ball for his offense. Routinely, Darnold would buy time with his feet and then make an accurate throw downfield with the rush closing in on him.

The Drafster

In my eyes, Sam Darnold is a very odd prospect. Talked about as a number 1 overall draft pick. Talked about as the best Quarterback coming out of college this year. However, I am not seeing any of this. When I watch Darnold, I see one of the most streaky Quarterback play I think I have seen in awhile. At time looks very hesitant to throw, missing an opportunity. Other times he looks too eager and makes a bad decision. He has his good moments, but then a play later he will have a combination of bad plays. Moving in the pocket too early and too often, inconsistent accuracy, and staring down a play for too long are major turn offs to me.

The first thing I notice about Darnold when watching him is that he seems to ignore his dump off routes. He seems so locked in on making a big play, he forgets about the guys that are 5 yards away from him. I can respect wanting to make a big play for the team, but after staring downfield for eternity it’s time to hit your shallow routes. At least LOOK at them to see if they are open. There is no shame in taking an easy three to five yards. Not every throw has to get the crowd on their feet.

The second thing I notice is how much he likes to move around in the pocket. And that is just not his style. I get running to avoid a sack, but too many times I saw him run with a clean pocket. Multiple times he would take off to the outskirts of the pocket, making it easier for defenders to get off their block. He seems to just panic unless he has the cleanest pocket one could possibly have. If he would stand tall in the pocket and deliver, his accuracy issues would go down as well. His deep balls are inconsistent, and the times he does go to dump it off, those are not always pretty either. His best throws come from his 10-15 yarders. Which always happen to be when he stands his ground.

I will say though, 4th quarter Sam Darnold seems to be a better player than in other quarters. He reads the field better, has better ball placement, and doesn’t try to run around as much. It just seems something clicks a bit better for him during the 4th. Like he has calmed down. He just needs to be able to play similar to that all game if he is gonna be the number 1 overall pick this upcoming draft.

I think Darnold has a lot to work on. Personally there are 4 other Quarterbacks I would take before drafting him. He does good things, unfortunately, his good things just are not consistent enough and are overshadowed by his flaws. I believe if he can work on sitting in the pocket longer instead of trying to escape right away (while not holding the ball for too long), a lot of his issues will start fading. I think Darnold will have a real rough start to his career, but if keeps his confidence and keeps fixing his game, it will work out for him in the long run.

Cover 1 Scouting Report

Strengths:

Darnold’s entire game is predicated upon his ability to create. Darnold is an athletic player; he is able to pull the ball down and gain chunks of yardage with his legs. His agility and change of direction catch many defenders off guard.

That is why offensive coordinator Tee Martin built an offense that maximized his legs. USC ran a heavy dose of run pass options (RPOs), a concept that gave Darnold many options pre- and post-snap, and he absolutely flourished. On a majority of their plays, Darnold had the ability to give the ball to star running back Ronald Jones, keep it as a runner, or throw it to one of his many weapons outside. This multi-dimensional structure of a play was obviously super productive. His decision making was very good all season, especially on these RPOs. He can process the coverage, find the conflict defender, and distribute the ball quickly.

But what is often overlooked is the accuracy and velocity needed on these kinds of concepts. At times, after the mesh with the running back or play fake, the passing lane is cluttered with defenders coming downhill to defend what they perceive to be a run. Once they realize that it is a pass, they immediately try to get their hands up in the passing lanes. Darnold makes these throws look easy. Standing at 6’4? and 220 pounds, he is able to place the ball in optimal locations, allowing his weapons to make plays.

At the next level, Darnold is going to make his money in the short area. While his elongated release and sloppy footwork will cause issues at times, something I will cover later, it isn’t an issue from 0-9 yards. That bodes well for Sam, because that is where football is won and lost on Sundays. His mechanics aren’t an issue because he is throwing in rhythm and not having to worry about mechanics.

According to SportsInfo Solutions (SIS), Darnold’s short game is phenomenal. From 0-9 yards, he had the highest completion percentage (75.4%), the 4th-most passing yards (1,534), 12th-most touchdowns (10), the 3rd-highest yards per attempt (7.6), and the 5th-highest rating (107.2).

Weaknesses:

As productive as Darnold was over his 27 games at USC, he has some serious flaws that need to be addressed, the first of which is turnovers. Darnold threw 22 interceptions over two years and added another 20 fumbles. This lack of ball security will get you benched quickly.

While the offense surrendered an average of 2.14 sacks a game and a grand total of 30 sacks in 2017, he admitted that he was pushing it too much.

Many of his turnovers are linked to his mechanics. Darnold has some of the worst mechanics I have ever seen from a quarterback. Let’s start with his delivery. Typically, a quarterback with an elongated delivery like Darnold’s will struggle at the next level. From the time he begins his delivery to the time of release is often the difference between a tight window completion and an interception. Defensive backs are just too good on Sundays. If he is slightly late anticipating a throw and needs to drive a pass, the split second longer that it takes to release the ball due to his delivery could lead to an interception, much like it did versus Washington State. The safety bails post-snap, baiting Darnold to throw the speed out as he gets the 1-on-1 coverage. The defensive back reads the route, breaks, and picks him off.

What Matt Miller says about Darnold – Ranking him as the #1 QB on the board

1. Sam Darnold, USC

A two-year starter at USC, Sam Darnold is widely praised for his toughness, football IQ and leadership. A coach with the Trojans told me Darnold only cares about football and not the benefits of being a star quarterback. He did turn the ball over 22 times in 2017, which should at a minimum send scouts back to the tape to find the context of each turnover. But Darnold’s tangible and intangible traits are tops in the class.

Scout’s Quote: “Crystal clean off the field. Smart, poised, tough, accurate. He might be the only one that could work in Cleveland because he won’t let the pressure go to his head.”

Coach’s Quote: “The release and turnovers bother me, but he has the makeup to be good. He’s better than [Mitch] Trubisky was last year but he’s not on the level of [Carson] Wentz or Jared [Goff].”

Scout’s Comparison: Tony Romo, retired

Darnold impressed at his Pro Day, throwing in the rain back on March 21st

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