Evaluation of Panthers 2014 Draft Class

Sean Gardner

I decided I would review each player the Panthers had drafted and give some analysis. I was a little late to the draft party (on vacation) so forgive me if some of this is analysis you have already read. On the positive side, if it matches than some of us are seeing the same things. This will be a little different than usual since some of the final thoughts will be related directly to the player being on the Panthers. It may help explain scheme fit and why they were taken, even if they do not match what we would expect at the position. There are none of the picks I truly disagree with, I may have gone in a different direction on some though.

WR Kelvin Benjamin FSU Pick #28
Watched 5 games via DraftBreakdown: vs Clemson, vs BC vs NCST vs Duke vs Florida all 2013. Watched others during the season.

Special Skills:

Size- Benjamin is a massive player. Great height and weight. Makes him a matchup nightmare for CB's and Safeties alike. Will make coordinators work long nights to plan against him. Able to use size well.

Upside- Benjamin is young in football terms. He had limited playing time in HS because of age and was only a RS SO when declaring for the draft. If he gets consistent then he will be studly.

YAC/YAC- Benjamin refrains from dancing and turns up field quickly to maximize YAC (yards after catch). He also is a load to bring down. He can fall forward for 2 yards let alone if he puts any effort in to it (yards after contact). Benjamin is not shifty but can cause tacklers to miss. Has a good stiff arm and able to stay upright with defenders draped on him. He is good at not breaking stride when catching, enabling him to upshift quickly.

Body control/Jump balls- Great at shielding defenders from the ball. Can make circus catches by high pointing and catching with hands. He is especially effective on stops, go's, drags and fades. These routes all maximize his size and ability to box out defenders.

Flashes Dominance- He flashed dominance vs Clemson and Florida in 2013. The few drops he had were in not securing the ball before trying to get YAC. He can level players in the run game but needs some technical fine tuning. If he gains consistency in blocking, ball security and pass recognition he will be something special.

Average Skills:

Blocking- Benjamin is a very inconsistent blocker. He seems to dislike the contact associated with blocking. Flashes good hand placement and power. Benjamin is a decent cut blocker but nothing earth shattering. His latch-on leaves something to be desired (outside chest, hold for too long). Has a hard time dealing with defenders that sniff plays out, especially WR screens. Just cleaning up a few things will make his blocking a strength.

Hands- This is very close to being a strength. When he catches the ball away from his body he can make circus plays. He rarely has the ball taken from him forcibly. Will body catch but normally does a good job of holding on. Needs work on securing the ball. This caused a few INC's and an INT that I saw.

Route Running- Benjamin is a better route runner than I expected. He is not a precision route runner but does well at not "tipping his hand" so to speak. Good at cutting, especially on long developing routes (Start at 1:09 of Duke tape). Can make the CB guess as to intention causing throwing lanes. He may never be a true aficionado when it comes to route running just because of size but he is more developed than I think he is given credit for.

Watch the route more than the catch, very savvy.

Hand fighting- Benjamin was better at hand fighting than I thought he would be. He does not always get a clean release but is good at slapping hands away and moving defenders subtly. He rarely gets re-routed and never gets truly "jammed." Unfortunately for him, defenders are usually allowed to mug him more than vs an average WR (vs Clemson).

Speed/Athleticism- For being 240 pounds he is athletic, but compared to other high end prospects, who are mostly smaller, this is not "amazing." He takes a while to ramp up but has good speed. He has good jumping ability (can be mistimed making it seem smaller).

Needs significant Improvement:

Consistency- This will be trumpeted for Benjamin by everyone. If he becomes consistent in even one facet of his game it will look like a quantum leap, especially the concentration drops. Hand placement in run blocking needs improvement as well as the others listed above.

Motor (mostly in run blocking)- Sometimes it looks like Benjamin gives up on a play too quickly. If he is not the main read than he usually stayed put unless the QB looked in his direction. Did not put forth maximum effort in blocking. Looked a little skittish, afraid of committing a penalty. This may be a false negative from the games I watched.

Helping out QB- Benjamin did not attack the ball on comebacks or stops. He routinely allowed the CB or S to undercut him. He needs to be more aggressive in attacking the ball in the air on those types of routes. This is one of the biggest flaws to his game.

Bottom Line:
The Panthers were kind of in a bind, either reach for talent or swing for the fences at #28. They took a big swing; no telling if it will be a pop up or grand slam. I think Benjamin gives the Panthers one thing they have never truly had, a jump ball artist. Steve Smith was able to do this for a portion of his career, but rarely in the red zone. Benjamin does have negatives but upon review, is much cleaner than I would expect for a RS So. All of his flaws are pretty coachable as well. His hands are better than his drop rate would lead you to believe. Benjamin may take time to adjust to the game but he can be immediately effective in the red zone and in the slot. He will be a mismatch against 90% of corners in the league purely from stature.

DE Kony Ealy Missouri Pick #60
Watched 9 games via Draftbreakdown. All but 1 were in 2013.

Special Skills:

Versatility- Ealy was used all over the defensive front. He played LDE, RDE and 3 tech (rarely 1 tech). This allowed him to get fresh looks on blockers and feel out his best strategy. Ealy was also asked to drop in to coverage or spy on the QB. This speaks to his ability to read the QB and receivers around him.

Upside- He has all the tools you could want physically. If he gets some more coaching he will be very good. He is raw in pass rush moves, technique and some ball awareness. Ealy has enough athleticism to build on and has not maxed out his frame.

Disruptive- Ealy is extremely disruptive in the pass and run game. He gets a lot of pressures, not necessarily sacks, which leads to INC's and INT's. Seems to have a knack for causing at least 1 big play per game. Very adept at shooting gaps in the run game and making the ball carrier redirect. Gets hands up in pass lane and bats passes.

Savvy- If he had a little more coaching he would be out of this world. He can normally diagnose when a pulling lineman or FB is coming at him and crash down, unfortunately plays too high and can get washed out. Ealy recognizes when his pass rush is not working and gets his hands up to clog passing lanes. Had a high amount of PBU's for a DL.

Average Skills:

Speed/Athleticism- Ealy has functional straight line speed but not a world beater. He suffers from stiff hips which makes it hard for him to redirect with faster ball carriers. Will miss out on plays because of it (Invest in Yoga?). Has decent strength but does not rag doll anyone. Definitely needs to work on that. Very good first step reaction but not explosive. If he had the first step explosiveness Dee Ford does he would have been a top 15 pick.

Pass Rushing- If Ealy had more moves this would be a strength. He has a really good inside step. Very good swim move inside and outside. Able to bend the corner but does not do it consistently. Does not have a good rip or hip toss move (Reggie White/Michael Strahan). Never seems to bull rush an offensive lineman. Plays a little high and can get knocked off of his line because of it.

Awareness- Does better in recognizing passing plays. Seems to guess on running plays. Bites on fakes horribly in play action and run game. Definitely needs to develop this area.

Needs significant improvement (Negatives):

Run game- I am lumping multiple things in here. He is a terrible block shedder. Cannot disengage once blocker has latched on. This goes for OL and TE alike. Takes extremely poor angles in the run game which is magnified by his stiff hips. If he can take a better angle than this would be less exposed. Not a good tackler. For being a big guy he never thumps and he rarely engages head on. Tries to wrap-up and do shoelace tackles instead. Does not drive legs when tackling making it easier for ball carriers to escape. Horrible at diagnosing read option and play action. Needs a lot of film study in that area.

Technique- Plays far too high in run and pass game. Will get blown up at point of attack by linemen who have proper pad level and form. Base is too narrow and causes him to get pushed around and knocked down too easily in both phases. With a wider base he could take on blockers much easier, will help with shedding.

Motor- Motor runs hot and cold. Ealy will start jogging before play is over. There are multiple instances where he jogs down the field only to get in on the play because his teammates could not wrap up ball carrier. If he gave maximum effort in tackling, pursuit and block shedding he would be a monster.

Bottom Line:
At 60, Ealy was a tremendous value. I never saw him as a true 1st rounder because he is so raw in the run game, but I value more well roundness in DL's. But that does not mean he isn't extremely talented with a lot of upside. If he is developed at a slow pace (hopefully) then his pass rushing skills and knack for play making can shine quickly. Some draw comparisons to Charles Johnson but I don't see it. Charles Johnson is GORILLA strong and able to man handle lineman. He also has an excellent bull rush and can shed blocks well. I see Ealy more akin to Greg Hardy, a good pass rusher who needs to get a few more moves under his belt, fix his technique and turn up his motor. He is not as athletically gifted as Hardy but could have a similar impact in years 2 and 3. Ealy should fit in to the rotation seamlessly and make an immediate impact. How he takes to coaching will be the biggest key in his development.

The OKST game shows everything Ealy can and cannot do (except for batted passes).

OG Trai Turner LSU Pick #92
Watched 9 games via Draftbreakdown. All but 2 were in 2013. (most from Mettenberger videos)
Best game was definitely vs Texas A&M in 2013, video has already been posted on CSR so I will refrain.

Special Skills:

Motor- Never gives up on a play. Always looks for someone else to block. Displays this all throughout his tape leading to some big plays. Plays to the whistle and looks to finish.

Ability to learn- The leap from Fr to So year is appreciable. He improves his footwork and limits his lunging. He better adjusts to the blitz and speed rushers. Turner should make another jump this year if all goes well.

Upside- He will be 21 when the season starts. He has great athleticism so he has more tools than most OL. Turner will be playing in a similar offense and should be able to keep his trajectory going upward. He is already good enough to be drafted in the 3rd after 2 years. Imagine where he would be if he stayed an extra 1 or 2.

Speed/Athleticism- Extremely fast and quick. Has good lateral agility and good quick twitch movement skills. Able to pull and get in space effectively. Can overwhelm defenders because he is on them so quickly.

Run blocking- Can be a dominant run blocker. Fires out low from his stance giving him an immediate pad level advantage. Able to push defenders back with great leg drive. Always keeps churning which means he will win a lot of initial stalemates. He has enough speed for zone blocking scheme to get across the defenders face and wall them off. Good at getting to the 2nd level. Does not have a great punch in the run game yet but could develop it. Struggles to break down in space against shiftier defenders.

Average Skills:

Pass blocking- Turner succeeds mostly on athleticism and strength. He does very well against bull rushers while also having bad technique. He stays consistently high in pass pro and needs to "sit" more. This causes him fits with faster and more athletic defenders. They can get him off balance because his center of gravity is too high. If he gets his technique down he will be a shutdown OG.

Blitz pickup- This is hit or miss for Turner. For the most part, he picks up the right man and stifles their attempt. Does well against stunts as well. His problem comes that he is always looking to block someone else. This will cause defenders to come off the block when his teammate is not properly engaged. Caused multiple pressures this way.

Functional strength- Turner shows a much better punch in pass pro than run blocking. He seems to rely mostly on leg power in run blocking and upper body in pass pro. This may be masking how truly strong he is since his body is not in sync constantly. I think he can add more strength to his frame and shed some of his midsection heft.

Needs significant improvement (Negatives):

Technique- His pass pro could go through the roof if he fixes a few things. He needs to "sit" more, be a little less aggressive, and stick to his man. His hand placement is off from time to time leading him to hold on shoulder pads. Did not get called for it but definitely another area to improve. Needs to better latch on in run game.

Cut blocking- He did not cut block a lot but of the 10 or so instances I saw very few were effective. He essentially just tries to get in the way. He needs to drive in to the defenders legs and knock them off their feet. Panthers may not care too much about this area.

Experience- Turner started less than 20 games. He has played against top level competition but not for a sustained period of time. He may have a little steeper learning curve once he gets in the NFL. He did not face too many truly elite DT's in his time. He struggled vs Clemson in 2012 and vs Miss St in 2013 facing speed. Getting to see it more often should improve this area.

Bottom Line:
How did this guy last until 92? Probably lack of scouting by other teams. Turner is exceptional for a Rs So. He is already a powerful run blocker that should excel day one. He is functional in pass pro and will not be a liability. Turner has a lot of room to grow and his ceiling is through the roof given his physical tools and ability to learn from year to year, game to game. After watching his tape he should step in and start for the Panthers quickly, especially coming from a similar system. The Panthers took another guy with loads of potential that is really only scratching the surface of his talent. Should be a stalwart at OG for a long time.

S Tre Boston UNC Pick #128
Watched 5 games via Draftbreakdown. 3 were in 2012.

Special Skills:

Play recognition- Excellent play recognition. Diagnoses run vs pass quickly and reacts appropriately. He is good against the run when playing downhill. He gets a lot of his INT's by undercutting routes and playing the ball over the man. Good at spying the QB in zone.

Playmaker- Has a knack for making a big play. Comes up with big INT's and normally returns them a good distance. Has more return skill than expected. Boston breaks on passes well and out maneuvers receivers. Good at tipping the ball for teammates to intercept (1st play of Duke 2012).

Excellent job undercutting and playing the ball instead of the receiver.

Last line of defense- Rarely lets receivers get behind him. Boston is very good at keeping the play in front of him. He does not give up big gains, very safe. Boston makes crucial tackles to keep big plays from breaking loose. Excellent at being the LLOD.

Gambling- Rarely gambles. Decides quickly to go for PBU or INT. Only goes for the big hit when he knows he has backup. Very instinctive to know how to proceed. Plays his responsibility exceptionally well.

Zone coverage- Extremely adept at playing the deep 3rd. He keeps plays in front of him and breaks on the ball well. He can settle in to a zone and read the QB to get a sense of where the ball is going. Can lead to INT's even when he is playing the middle of the field with only a rough concept of zone.

Average Skills:

Man coverage- Boston is hit or miss on man coverage. He seems to do well when not asked to jam or play near LOS starting off in coverage. Does much better in off man. This also him to read/react and break on passes. Broke up a lot of plays this way. Gets exposed in press/bail, needs to stay further back.

Speed/Athleticism- Boston has functional speed but nothing that will wow. He has decent athleticism and can deal with players in space. Good short area burst.

Block shedding/Avoidance- He is much better at avoiding blocks than shedding them. He seems to have an uncanny ability to stay out of the wash. His shedding can get much better if he would hand fight from initial contact and add some strength.

Upside- Boston does not have massive upside. If he improves his tackling and strength he would be better. But I do not think he will be a game changer that teams fear a la Ed Reed, Earl Thomas. I think he is more akin to Eric Weddle, very disciplined, solid and plays smart.

Blitzing- Effective at disrupting with his blitzes. Good timing and normally goes unnoticed. Would be excellent if he was a better tackler and broke down more.

Needs significant improvement (Negatives):

Tackling- Shies away from contact. Diagnoses play well but then avoids direct collisions. Prefers to try and wrap up or shoe string. Can be a pile inspector from time to time. He has a little thump to his game but not on a regular basis. Needs to drive legs as well to be more effective. Boston flashes good technique, just needs to be more consistent and lose his seeming fear of direct contact.

Strength- Seems to need to gain some strength. Looks and plays like a lean athlete. Adding some strength would add more thump to his hits and allow him to take direct contact from ball carriers and blockers.

Limited Versatility- I do not think his tackling is good enough to be an in the box safety. Boston will probably only be a FS. He played CB at some point but I do not think he could be anything more than a temporary fill in. Not a quick twitch, hip flip kind of athlete. He did play ST so he should have some impact as a rookie.

Bottom Line:
For a fourth round selection he is not bad. Could Boston have been had later in the draft? Maybe, but I think the Panthers saw something in him that they do not currently have, a young FS. Lester is an in the box player and DeCoud is pushing 30. Best to have a player that has qualities you like (ball skills, play recognition, limits big plays) but still needs development (strength, tackling).

Some of this was with the help of my friend. He is a former college LB and an avid UNC fan. He watches more of their games than I ever could. I value his opinion above all others.

CB Bene Benwikere SJSU Pick #148
Watched 5 games via Draftbreakdown. 3 in 2012 and 2 in 2013

Special Skills:

Ball skills- Very good hand-eye coordination. Bene has solid hands and usually comes down with the pick if there is a chance. He high points the ball very well and uses his exceptional leaping ability to out position the receiver.

Resiliency- He got picked on for most of the game vs LA Tech but came roaring back with 3 picks. He kept his composure when things were not going his way and then started pouncing at every opportunity. Bene ended up with 3 picks in about 17 minutes of game time.

Versatility- Played ST on punt coverage and return. Can be used as a blitzer from time to time. Does very well in run blitzes.

Average Skills:

Zone coverage- Bene does not have a natural feel for his zone. He can be lulled to sleep if he is not thrown on quickly. Loses track of his man. However, being in zone allows him to pounce on any throw going his way. He functions better in a deep zone. May be best served as a safety eventually.

Tackling- OK wrap up tackler. Definitely not reliable in getting his man to the ground. Sometimes he freezes and then lunges. Has little to no hit power. Has a difficult time breaking down and tackling. Better when just moving forward. Bene does give effort but lacks good technique. Most of the SJSU team seemed to be pretty porous tacklers. I wonder if it was a lack of coaching.

Press/Bail coverage- He had a better jam and coverage skills in this area from Jr to Sr. If he can keep a hand on the receiver he can stick with them. Bene did not do this a lot, but it is an intriguing part to his game.

Needs significant improvement (Negatives):

Speed/Athleticism- Very poor recovery speed. Once his hips are turn it is very difficult for him to break down and redirect. Looks extremely stiff, not smooth at all. Makes it difficult for him to break down in run game and deal with shifty receivers. Not sure this can be improved.

Off man coverage- Struggles greatly in off man. Got picked on quite a bit by LA Tech in 2012. Does not have the athleticism to flip hips, break and make a play on the ball consistently. Gets his hips turned too easily by receiver. If he is far enough off and not forced to change directions he can play exceedingly well. The problem is, that gives up easy completions underneath since he cannot stick with his man.

Lack of physicality- Bene needs to figure out if he really wants to hit or just be a cover corner. He struggled with indecisiveness which lead to being taken advantage of. Does he put on more weight/strength and become a better tackler or focus coverage skills?

Upside- Not sure how much upside Bene has. His athleticism gives him a lower ceiling. He can get better in a few areas but he is kind of polished already. Could possibly be a #2 but not a certainty of that.

Bottom Line:
This is kind of an incomplete grade since there were only a few games to watch. I had to scour for the others. I am not 100% sure why they traded up to get him. I think Bene needs a lot of development and should only be a ST'er to start off with. It seems that Bene would be an outstanding FS because of his ball skills. He does better when he can read the whole field instead of just covering one man. I am not upset with the pick since they have watched more film than me and had meetings. It seems like the Panthers are focusing heavily on size and ball skills when it comes to DB's. Both Boston and Benwikere are opportunistic and rarely let INT chances go for not.

RB Tyler Gaffney Stanford Pick #204
Watched 3 games via Draftbreakdown.

Special Skills:

Pass blocking- Great pass blocker. Keeps good form, does not lunge and has good bend. Does not give up on play if knocked off balance. Picks the right read on blitzers and free defenders.

Short yardage- Good short yardage back. Always falling forward for extra yards. Seems to come up with yards from thin air in these situations. Seems to know how far the sticks are and how hard to fight for it.

System fit- The two aforementioned characteristics make him a perfect fit. No player on the current roster fits this mold perfectly. Tolbert is a good short yardage back but a sub par blocker. Deangelo is neither of these. Stewart would be the closest but has to be on the field to matter.

Average Skills:

Speed/Athleticism- Has much better speed than I would have thought. But he does not use it as he should. Gaffney is strong but does not bull people over. He has decent agility in the box but not out in space. A good enough athlete but nothing to make you say wow.

Elusiveness- His elusiveness is mostly between the tackles. He is hard to bring down behind the line and can make defenders miss in small areas. Gaffney struggles to do the same in space and rarely uses a stiff arm or shoulder when running down the field. If he added some moves to his repertoire than this could be a strength.

Indecisiveness/Tentative- This is a positive and negative. He is patient waiting on blocks to develop and chose the right hole. The issue comes in to play when he does not hit the hold at full force. He tip toes through instead of bursting through as quick as possible.

Screen game- Rarely was given opportunity in the screen passing game from what I watched. He excelled each time. He follows his blockers and takes what he can get. Normally turns in to a 1st down. Could be a special skill given his awareness.

Needs significant improvement (Negatives):

Upside- Gaffney is what he is. A between the tackles runner that is good at pass blocking. He is not a game changer taking runs or passes to the house from 20+ yards out. He could develop but there are not many things wrong with him. He seems to be about as polished as he ever will be.

Lack of extemporaneousness- Does not juke or spin. Never bounces the ball outside even when run lanes are clogged. Struggles to make a hole of his own. Gaffney just goes with what the defense gives him. Does not have "it" when running like Lesean McCoy or AP.

Bottom Line:
If Jonathan Stewart was healthy this would be an unnecessary pick. However, the Panthers need a solid pass blocking back who can get short yardage when called upon. Not sure the ST value he provides so he may have a hard time sticking to the roster this season. Will probably go to PS and make an appearance only in case of injury. While he may not have a lot of usage this year he should be in on the action for 2015. For a 6th rounder, why not?

Extra Notes:
Noticed some other players while watching these games. After watching all the Kelvin Benjamin tape I could find, I am less than impressed with Jameis Winston. It looked to me like Benjamin, Green and O'Leary bailed him out of a lot of situations. He threw a lot of jump balls and lob passes (some ducks) to Benjamin and O'Leary. I do not care for assessing off the field issues, but on the field? He needs a lot of work and whoever takes him high may regret it. #4 from SJSU seems like he could be a good WLB. Solid tackler and ability to cover across the middle. Stuck with receivers well on crossing routes. I am glad La'el Collins stayed another year at LSU. The more I watched of Trai Turner I could see Collins struggling in pass blocking. He is without question an awesome run blocker but needs a lot of refinement to his awareness and technique in the passing game. I really liked #33 from Mizzou. He made a lot of impact plays on limited snaps. Will be interesting to see how he develops getting full time reps.

Tell me if there are any specific games I should have watched for these prospects. I welcome any comments.

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