Panther Paw Prints: Rookie Mini-Camp Edition

We have the return of Panther Paw Prints on this fine Friday afternoon.

Let's start with the Cowboy's GM Stephen Jones admitting the Panthers copped them in the 2nd and 3rd round:

Scooping Cowboys in draft a good thing - Carolina Panthers Blog - ESPN
So was it a good thing for the Carolina Panthers when Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said last week the Cowboys would have taken Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round and LSU guard Trai Turner in the third had they not traded the Nos. 47 and 78 picks to move up and draft Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence at No. 34? Carolina, in case you forgot, selected Ealy at No. 60 and Turner at No. 92. "Did I hear him?'' Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman said of Stephen Jones' comment. "Yeah. That's him.''

Color me happy the Cowboys spent those picks to move up. They better hope the Lawrence kid is a good one.

I did a double take when I saw how many carries this guy had in last season at Stanford:

Sixth-round pick Tyler Gaffney a hit with Panthers - ESPN
"That year I took off for minor league baseball, I knew when I came back [blocking] was something I needed to strengthen in my game," Gaffney said. "I took advantage of it." The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Gaffney also likes to hit as a runner. In Stanford's power rushing game that is similar to Carolina's, he rushed for 1,709 yard and 21 touchdowns on 330 carries last season. "Three hundred and thirty carries and he's as healthy as a horse," Gettleman said. "He just really fits. Again, the biggest problem with young running backs is with the blitz pickups. I was up in New York and Ahmad Bradshaw struggled with it. Brandon Jacobs struggled with it early. "It takes time. This kid knows it now. He's smart."

He has got to be tough!

Kelvin Benjamin left quite the impression on guys that are supposed to be hard to impress:

Carolina Panthers WRs coach Ricky Proehl in 'awe' of Kelvin Benjamin - ESPN

While the Panthers considered Beckham the most complete receiver outside of Watkins and Evans, Proehl left Tallahassee, Florida, feeling he'd witnessed something special. "A guy his size and the way he just caught the ball ... just natural, just like a vacuum," Proehl said. "I was in awe to be honest with you."

But would he have impressed Steve Smith? We will never know...

I think David Newton hits the nail on the head in his offseason evaluation:

Carolina Panthers: Grading the offseason - ESPN

Best move: Selecting Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th pick of the draft. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin is considered by many to be a first-round risk because he doesn't have a long history of performing at a high level. But after watching him in rookie camp, the way he effortlessly caught passes in traffic even when the passes weren't well-thrown, he has a chance to make people quickly forget the release of Steve Smith and become a long-term solution as a No. 1 receiver.

Riskiest move: Many will argue releasing Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, should be here. Although I didn't like the way it was handled, it wasn't such a big risk when you consider Smith was no longer a No. 1-caliber receiver. The biggest risk was not signing a veteran left tackle to replace the retired Jordan Gross and leaving the job to right tackle Byron Bell or Nate Chandler, a former defensive lineman. Maybe one will surprise, but leaving franchise quarterback Cam Newton without a proven player protecting his blind side seems like a mistake for a team that depends so heavily on Newton.

I think calling that move 'risky' is an understatement.

Gettleman offers up a Benjamin comparison I had not considered:

Carolina Panthers GM Dave Gettleman: Odell Beckham Jr. Best Route Runner from Rookie Class | Giants 101 | Sports Media 101

Carolina Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman is extremely pleased with the team's selection of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the 2014 NFL Draft, likening him to former New York Giants wideout Plaxico Burress. But despite the high praise for his rookie, it's Giants' first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. whom he feels is the best route runner coming out of the draft.

Hopefully the comparison ends when it comes to nightclubs and pistols.

It's no surprise that when the chips were on the line in the national title game FSU called on #1:

Carolina Panthers: Why Kelvin Benjamin was their best pick | isportsweb

While Benjamin excels in the red zone as discussed above, he also excels in another area the Panthers desperately need: a receiver with a knack for the big play. A lot of Benjamin’s film shows him making catches in tight coverage that result in touchdowns. There’s a reason why FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher dialed up a pass play to Benjamin with 13 seconds and a BCS title on the line. Ironically, the one player the Panthers had who thrived on making big plays is now a Baltimore Raven. I’m not in any way saying that Benjamin is on the same level as Steve Smith but I believe if given time, Benjamin can have the same effect on a game that Smith had during his prime.

I think we will soon love this pick once he hits the field.

A different pundit likes our 2nd round pick even more:

Carolina Panthers: Why Kony Ealy was their best pick | isportsweb
Ealy’s large, long frame and quickness will give him an advantage against many tackles, and his speed, quickness, athleticism and upside made him one of the more attractive defensive linemen in the draft. The Carolina Panthers don’t employ a 3-4 defense, so Ealy’s potential at outside linebacker is diminished, but his value adding depth to one of the best pass rushing lines in the NFL could be immeasurable, especially in the wake of Hardy’s aforementioned troubles. As Panther’s head coach Ron Rivera said before the draft this year, "You can never have too many pass rushers."

We might be talking about these first three picks of the draft for a long time.

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