2014 NFL Draft: Carolina Panthers draft grades

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

It's time to grade the Panthers selections in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Round 1, 28th overall

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

After three years, the Panthers finally invested a top draft pick in a weapon for quarterback Cam Newton. Kelvin Benjamin is a massive gamble, but at the end of the first round, he’s well worth the risk because he has the highest ceiling of any wide receiver in this year’s draft.

Many have called Benjamin a "raw" wide receiver, but I’m not sure that’s the best word to describe him. Although Benjamin occasionally struggled with bad drops, poor route running and lazy run blocking, it’s important to keep in mind that this was not due to a lack of proper technique or skill -- rather, it was lack of consistency.

Now it’ll be up to receivers coach Ricky Proehl to help Benjamin work on his consistency by giving him the coaching and development he needs, and Benjamin himself to work hard so he can make the most of his rare physical talents.

Grade: B+

Round 2, 60th overall

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

The Panthers might have gotten the steal of the draft in Kony Ealy after they selected him at 60 overall. Despite offensive tackle being a much bigger need than defensive end, the Panthers stuck to their BPA philosophy and took Ealy, a player they had a first round grade on, according to Panthers GM Dave Gettleman.

Ealy will be able to make an immediate impact because of his ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle. This pick also makes a lot of sense for the future because it’s important to remember that Greg Hardy is playing on a one year franchise tag, and it’s uncertain if the Panthers can agree to a long-term contract with him after the 2014 season. Charles Johnson also carries a steadily increasing high cap figure, so it’s not too unlikely that he becomes a cap casualty in the upcoming future.

You can never have too many pass rushers, and the Panthers got the second best 4-3 defensive end in the entire draft at the end of the second round. This is as close as it gets to a home-run selection.

Grade: A


Round 3, 92nd overall

Trai Turner, OG, LSU

The Panthers got another potential "steal" when they selected LSU guard Trai Turner in the third round of the draft. Several draft analysts actually think that if Turner stayed at LSU for another year, he could have been a first round selection in 2015. Instead, Turner declared early and his raw skill-set caused him to fall to the third round in the Draft.

Despite not having the most polished technique, Turner has elite athleticism, as he posted the best 40-yard dash, 10-yard split and 20-yard shuttle times of all the guards at the combine. Turner will immediately compete at right guard on the Panthers offensive line, and is currently the favorite to win the job. Once again, this is an excellent value pick at the end of the third round.

Grade: A-


Round 4, 128th overall

Tre Boston, SAF, North Carolina

The third day of the draft is for filling out the depth chart, and Gettleman did just that by taking Tre Boston of North Carolina. Boston doesn’t have elite athleticism or the most polished technique, but he’s good enough in several areas to be a valuable depth player in the Panthers secondary as a rookie.

Boston is a low risk, medium reward player. Not the worst selection in the fourth round, but probably not the best either.

Grade: C+


Round 5, 148th overall (from Minnesota via trade up)

Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State

The Panthers made a surprising decision to trade up and get "their guy", in this case a completely under-the-radar small school cornerback. Coach Ron Rivera and defensive backs coach Steve Wilks secretly worked out Benwikere before the draft, and it’s clear that they liked Benwikere enough to justify using a fifth and seventh round pick on him. Benwikere isn’t the biggest or fastest cornerback, but in many ways he’s similar to Melvin White as a read and react zone cornerback who can play the ball in the air.

Benwikere will compete for the slot cornerback role in the Panthers defense. Even if he doesn’t win the job as a rookie, he’ll still be solid depth at one of the weakest positions on the Panthers roster.

Grade: B


Round 6, 204th overall

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford

That’s right, the Panthers added another running back to their roster. It almost wouldn’t be a Panthers draft without one. Gaffney has gotten some comparisons to Boston College running back Andre Williams, a player many fans wanted in the fourth round.

However, the Panthers already have three running backs and Mike Tolbert, which means Gaffney will likely not see the field at all as a rookie. It’s not even guaranteed he’ll make the roster, which is why I felt like this pick could have been better used on a late round offensive tackle, a position the Panthers have very little depth at.

Grade: C-


Final thoughts

It’s hard to really love this draft, but it’s also hard to hate it. The Panthers got two potential steals in Ealy and Turner, and took a well-calculated gamble on Kelvin Benjamin, and added depth in the secondary and at running back on the third day. However, I question the the Panthers decision to pass on an offensive tackle, their greatest position of need.

Overall Draft Grade: B

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