Round 1, 28th overall pick
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Panthers fix a glaring hole in their defensive secondary by adding one of the top cornerbacks in the draft. Although there are greater needs at offensive tackle and wide receiver, it’s likely that the top players at those positions will be gone by the Panthers pick at 28. Dave Gettleman has preached a "best player available" philosophy, and Kyle Fuller brings fantastic value at a position of need for the Panthers. It’s all about playing it safe in the first round, and Fuller is one of the safest picks in the entire draft as a plug and play cornerback who can start day one in any defensive scheme.
Fuller has excellent size and solid athleticism for the position. He is also one of the most versatile cornerbacks in this draft, as he showed the ability to excel in man and zone coverage lined up outside or in the slot. Although Fuller was mostly used as a read and react zone cornerback at Virginia Tech, he also showed the ability to get physical with receivers in man coverage. He is also an excellent tackler who often sealed the edge in the run game.
Fuller fits the Panthers defense as a plug and play starter at either outside cornerback position, although he is also fluid enough to play in the slot if required. Fuller’s addition should immediately upgrade one of the worst cornerback groups in the NFL. Sean McDermott’s defense utilizes a lot of combined man and zone principles, and Fuller’s versatility in both schemes will only further help him succeed early in his NFL career.
Round 2, 60th overall pick
Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
The Panthers take advantage of a historically deep wide receiver class by selecting Davante Adams in the second round of the draft. Is Adams a future #1 wide receiver? It’s unlikely, but at the end of the second round he’s excellent value for a team that desperately needs receiving weapons.
Adams was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football the last two years and his current skill set should translate fairly well to the NFL. Adams has solid size, speed and long arms, which he used to become one of the top red zone threats in college football, as he had a combined 38 touchdown catches in 2012 and 2013. Adams was unstoppable at times down the sidelines and in the red zone in jump ball situations, as he used excellent timing to outbox defenders and attack the ball at the catch point. Adams is not the perfect prospect, as he needs to expand his route tree and polish his overall route running. He also needs to correct his slight issue of concentration drops, where he started running before he completed the process of the catch. However, these issues are definitely coachable and can be improved and developed over time.
Adams will most likely compete with Tiquan Underwood for a starting spot on the outside across Jerricho Cotchery. Even if he doesn’t start as a rookie, expect him to contribute to the Panthers offense, especially in the red zone, where he "wins". Although Adams isn’t as polished as some of the other top receivers in the draft, all the tools are there for him to develop into a high volume possession receiver in the NFL who can specialize in winning one on one matchups down the sidelines and in the end zone. Many talent evaluators have compared his skillset to San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and that’s likely Adams’ ceiling in the NFL as well -- which, by the way, is solid value for a late second round pick.
Round 3, 92nd overall pick
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
Football is won in the trenches, but there are currently some question marks about the Panthers interior offensive line. At left guard, Amini Silatolu is returning from a torn ACL suffered last October. At right guard, Nate Chandler, Garry Williams, Chris Scott and Edmund Kugbila are expected to compete for the role, but Williams, Scott and Kugbila are all returning from major injuries, while Chandler struggled for the majority of the 2013 season.
Enter LSU guard Trai Turner, one of the most talented under-the-radar players in this year’s draft. Part of that might have to do with his surprising decision to enter the draft despite being a redshirt sophomore with only 20 games of starting experience. However, Turner definitely turned heads at the 2014 NFL Combine where he had the best 40-yard dash (4.93), 10-yard split (1.73 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.44 seconds) of all guards at the combine.
Turner is a player with raw, but effective technique in both run blocking and pass protection. As a run blocker he showed the ability to move defenders by latching onto them and using his powerful leg drive to move them off the spot. Although Turner was not as effective out in space as a puller, he was still decent at targeting and moving defenders out in space as well. Turner isn’t the most fluid lateral mover in pass protection, but he still showed the ability to effectively mirror his man in pass protection and win the hand-fighting battle.
It’s also important to remember that Turner played at LSU, who run the Air Coryell offense under Cam Cameron. This offensive scheme relied a lot on deep passes, which meant frequent five and seven step drops for quarterback Zach Mettenberger. This meant that Turner had to pass protect for a longer time per snap than most guards in college football, but he still held up very well and was rarely beat in pass protection.
Turner falls in the draft due to his lack of extensive experience and relatively raw technique, but the Panthers capitalize on a player with an extremely high ceiling due to his elite athleticism. Turner will most likely compete for the right guard spot (where he started all 20 games in college), and could also play left guard in case of any further injury or ineffective play from Amini Silatolu. Even if Turner doesn’t start as a rookie, he’ll still be an excellent depth piece for the Panthers interior offensive line moving forward.
Round 4, 128th overall pick
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
The Panthers continue adding weapons to their offense by taking South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington in the fourth round. Ellington is another under-the-radar prospect, and there really hasn’t been any explanation for why he’s gotten so little buzz, because he has the potential to be one of the most electrifying wide receivers to come out of this draft.
Ellington is a talented athlete who played both football and basketball at South Carolina. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and had a 39.5-inch vertical jump, which was the third best result of all wide receivers at the combine, despite standing only 5-foot-9 inches. On the field, Ellington was effective from the slot and outside, as he was able to use his explosive release off the line of scrimmage and solid route running to quickly separate from defensive backs. Ellington also showed remarkable body control when attacking the football in the air, as he often won contested passes against bigger defensive backs.
In many ways Bruce Ellington is what fans hoped Kealoha Pilares would be when he was drafted three years ago. Ellington will likely sit for a year behind Jason Avant as he develops his game and expands his route tree. However, he will be able to make an immediate impact as a kick and punt returner on special teams as a replacement for departed wide receiver Ted Ginn. Overall, in the fourth round of the Draft, Ellington is a smart pick with the ability to be a dangerous long-term slot receiver for the Panthers.
Round 5, 168th overall pick
Justin Ellis, NT, Louisiana Tech
The Panthers add depth to their interior defensive line by selecting Justin Ellis in the fifth round of the draft. Dave Gettleman loves "hog mollies", and Ellis is one of the biggest defensive tackles in this year’s draft, at 6-foot-2 inches and 334 pounds (he played as high as 357 pounds in college). Despite his massive size, Ellis is more than just a run-stuffing nose tackle, as he also flashed some pass rushing ability with a powerful bull rush.
Ellis has flaws in his game that will most likely limit him to being a one or two down player in the NFL, and that’s perfectly fine. Colin Cole was also a limited down player with the Panthers, but he was still an integral part of the Panthers interior defensive line play. 2014 will most likely be Colin Cole’s last year with the Panthers, and Ellis has a similar skillset to the current Panther defensive tackle. At the end of the fifth round, the Panthers aren’t looking for immediate starters, because that’s completely unrealistic. Instead, it makes sense to add depth at a position of possible need in the future.
Round 6, 204th overall pick
Cornelius Lucas, OT, Kansas State
The Panthers gamble on one of the most intriguing offensive tackles in the entire draft. Cornelius Lucas is massive (even for an offensive tackle!) at 6-foot-8 inches and 316 pounds, and he has an elite arm length of almost 37 inches. Lucas played at left tackle at Kansas State, and was generally very solid in pass protection even though he lacked proper technique because pass rushers simply couldn’t get around Lucas due to his size and long arms.
However, Lucas is a poor run blocker because of his inconsistent pad level, which impacted his leverage. Lucas also struggled out in space as a run blocker, due to his slow feet and poor overall awareness.
Can Lucas be a future starting left tackle? Most likely, no. Although, at the very worst, his size will ensure that he sticks around in the NFL as a sixth offensive lineman who can start at either tackle position in a pinch. At the end of the sixth round, Cornelius Lucas is a gamble worth taking.
Round 7, 225th overall pick (from New York Giants)
Jonathan Dowling, FS, Western Kentucky
The Panthers add some depth to their secondary by selecting Jonathan Dowling from Western Kentucky. At 6-foot-3 inches, Dowling has fantastic size for the safety position. Dowling was able to use his elite size and length to his advantage in coverage, as he had three interceptions and had another seven passes broken up. He also had six forced fumbles, the most in all of college football in 2013.
Dowling's biggest issue is his poor tackling, as he's always trying to go for the knock-out hit by either aiming too high or by just throwing his body at the ball carrier. He also occasionally took inconsistent angles towards the ball carrier, which made him an unreliable last line of defense at times.
Dowling is a talented prospect overall with a lot of tools to work with, but he's projected as late round pick because of his reported character concerns and issues off the field. As a freshman in 2011, he was kicked off Florida's football team for skipping classes and generally not getting along well with his teammates and coaches.
Talent wise, Dowling is a poor man's Calvin Pryor, but obviously is much less risker than Pryor as a seventh round selection. It's a low risk, high reward pick for the Panthers. Worst case scenario, Dowling fizzles out and the Panthers cut him just like they would most seventh round picks, but if he doesn't, Dowling has the tools to be something very special down the line.
So, Panthers fans, what did you think of my full seven round mock? I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the prospects and on the draft overall, so vote and discuss below!