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Strickly Panthers: Dissecting the draft II

Posted May 3, 2012

(Following is part two of a pick-by-pick breakdown of the Panthers' latest draft class. You can read part one here.)

The second half of the NFL Draft is like the second half of a game – it can be the difference between winning and losing.

Last season, the Panthers featured starters they drafted in the fifth (right guard Geoff Hangartner), sixth (defensive end Greg Hardy) and seventh (cornerback Captain Munnerlyn) rounds.

Two players thrust into starting roles by injuries – right tackle Byron Bell and linebacker Jordan Senn – weren't drafted at all.

Late-round Panthers expected to compete for starting spots this season include wide receiver David Gettis (sixth round) and cornerback Brandon Hogan (fourth round).

They could be joined in the competition by several of the team's late-round selections in last week's draft.

Joe Adams, WR

Moments after picking the former University of Arkansas standout, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera spent a lot more time talking about Adams' punt return ability than his receiving ability.

If you've ever seen Adams field a punt, it's easy to see why.
 
"One of the main reasons we took Adams was that we thought he had special return ability," Hurney said, noting Adams' astounding career return average of 15.8 yards.

Hurney made it clear that punt return duties, which were handled by Armanti Edwards last season, are Adams' to lose, and that the rookie also would be in competition for snaps at receiver.

What does that mean for Edwards and the receiver position?

"Joe Adams' punt return skills are special, but I think Armanti is in the mix at receiver, which we always saw as his best shot," Hurney said. "Armanti brings deep speed, which we're looking for."

The Panthers are likely to carry five or six receivers on the roster when the dust settles. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Gettis (coming off a knee injury) are virtual locks. Kealoha Pilares is entrenched as kickoff returner, and it's obvious that Adams will get every chance.

Seyi Ajirotutu returns after playing a key role on special teams. Then there's Edwards, who shined early in training camp last season and was solid throughout the season at punt returner but didn't catch a pass.


Josh Norman, CB

If fans weren't begging the Panthers to pick a defensive tackle early in the draft (more to come soon on that topic at Panthers.com), they were clamoring for a cornerback.

The cornerback contingent got their wish, perhaps later than they had hoped but just in the nick of time from Hurney's perspective.

Hurney said he doubted Norman would still be on the board when the Panthers picked in the fifth round, so they were thrilled to get him.

Plain and simple, the Coastal Carolina product is a playmaker. He certainly made plenty of plays in 2009, when his eight interceptions ranked second in the Football Championship Subdivision, and he set up teammates to make plays in 2010 and 2011 when opponents steered clear of him.

Chris Gamble has held down one cornerback spot for the Panthers since 2004 and played with renewed intensity last season. Munnerlyn took over as a full-time starter in 2011, but the competition for his spot will amp up this season.

Hogan, who missed most of his rookie season recovering from a knee injury, is ready to roll. Former New England Patriots starter Darius Butler showed flashes last season, R.J. Stanford came on late in the season, and then there's Norman.

It's anybody's guess how the cornerback spot will shake out, but the addition of Norman only strengthens the position.


Brad Nortman, P

For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers used a draft pick on a specialist, selecting Nortman in the sixth round. The Wisconsin product impressed the Panthers with his consistency and hang time.

The Panthers didn't have a punter on the roster after releasing Jason Baker, their punter the previous seven seasons.

They're yet to add another punter to compete against Nortman. Common sense says they will, but common sense also says that if they pulled the trigger in the draft, they have a lot of confidence in Nortman.


D.J. Campbell, S

Campbell started in the secondary only as a senior at California, so the seventh-round pick's most likely path to a roster spot is via special teams, where he shined for three seasons in college.

From the beginning of free agency, the Panthers made countless moves to shore up special teams, so it's fitting they ended the draft with someone else who can help in that regard. Campbell played a pivotal role on all special teams units his first three seasons with the Golden Bears.

The Panthers return starters Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin at safety and added a couple of intriguing veterans through free agency in Ed Reed-backup Haruki Nakamura from the Baltimore Ravens and occasional starter Reggie Smith from the San Francisco 49ers.

Campbell might have a hard time cracking a group that also includes Jordan Pugh and Jonathan Nelson, but the Panthers clearly are putting a premium on gaining an edge through special teams.