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NFL Draft

General Manager Speak: Assessing Panthers’ 2020 NFL Draft

  • The Draft Network
  • May 18, 2020
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Quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, veteran tight end Greg Olsen and coach Ron Rivera were once the foundation of the Panthers, but have since left.  

Carolina’s downpour began after losing the final eight games of the season after a 5-3 start. Owner David Tepper has a no-nonsense mentality and will do whatever is in his power to create a winner, which started with separating from Rivera. 

Tepper hired former Baylor and Temple coach Matt Rhule, who only had NFL experience after a brief stint as the offensive line coach of the Giants in 2012. Rhule is known to strip rosters down to the studs and model them after his brand of football. While he doesn’t always have the most talented bunch, he believes in the maximizing scheme and ability out of the players within it.

He will have to make a big adjustment in the way he finds and develops talent because unlike the college game, the NFL is a star-driven league and personnel is vital when executing at a high level offensively.

The 2020 NFL Draft was a prime opportunity for he and general manager Marty Hurney’s first steps in rebuilding a team that was in the Super Bowl only five years ago.

The Panthers’ complete 2020 draft class:

In this new series, I will analyze quotes that stuck out the most from executives’ pre- and post-draft press conferences. Below are quotes from Hurney.

Question: Brown and Isaiah Simmons were seen as the two prospects in the top 10 that made the most sense for the Panthers. What made you ultimately end up choosing Brown?

Hurney: "We had them both pretty close together, obviously. But we both believe that you start building from the front and I think what Derrick does is, he not only helps guys like [Kawann Short] and the rest of the line, but he helps Shaq [Thompson], he helps the linebackers. He's a big powerful player that's got a really good first step. He's a three-down player. Obviously he helps you against the run, but he really gets push up the middle. We met with him several times. I met with him after the season. I really didn't think he would make it to [No.] 7, but I believe you start up front and he's a really good player that can not only stop the run but really get pass rush up inside for you."

Analysis: There was quite a bit of backlash when the Panthers chose Brown over the do-it-all chess piece in Simmons. After the additions of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receiver Robby Anderson, stockpiling the defense was a clear point of emphasis. All seven of the team’s draft picks were on that side of the ball, and now Carolina can establish an identity before progressing forward with the rebuild. 

Every executive has a blueprint on how to build a team of their liking, but one of the more common methods has been to do so from the inside-out, which seems to be the course of action the Panthers plan to take. Brown may not stand out or have a visible impact like Simmons would've had, but the importance of having that type of key cog in the middle of the unit was important. If Short can return to his pre-injury form, pairing him with Brown can give the Panthers a formidable duo along the interior. 

Question: Is the potent offenses in the NFC South what made you want to draft so defensive heavy this year or was it another reason behind it?

Hurney: "I think our plan was to obviously try to improve our defense and really we picked the best players there. I think that coming in to this draft if you would have told us we could have gotten these three guys we would have been really ecstatic. I would have thought it would have been very hard, but we've got three guys who I think are going to grow in our defense and really help us out. I think it was more about how we build our defense than it was about our division or anything else. It's just the vision we have, [Rhule] and [defensive coordinator Phil] Snow and his staff, the vision they have for how we want to build this defense. I think that our scouting staff and our coaching staff worked together and just really we got guys that everybody felt really good about. We got guys that we think can really help improve our defense and build for years to come."

Analysis: Keuchly’s sudden retirement, Eric Reid no longer with the team and James Bradberry’s move north, to sign with the New York Giants, left massive holes on the roster. The Panthers also moved on from Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Vernon Butler; it's easy to see why they drafted so many new defensive pieces.

Carolina was lacking depth along the interior defensive line and in the secondary. Both spots were main points of emphasis during the draft. The Panthers weren't concerned with the level of competition, either. Every player in the secondary Hurney added came from a well diverse background and skill set. 

Robinson became the first and only XFL player drafted. Pride Jr. has experience as a nickel and outside defender while Chinn was labeled as one of the more versatile pieces in the 2020 class. The jury is still out on which position Thomas-Oliver will play, but he spent most of his career on the perimeter.

For more “General Manager Speak,” see Cincinnati, Miami, Detroit, Arizona, New York Giants, Cleveland and Los Angeles Chargers’ executives discuss their 2020 draft class.

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