CHARLOTTE – Despite winning 11 games last season, the Panthers weren't necessarily built to match up all that well with the speed and athleticism of their NFC South rivals.
That's why they did what they did Friday night.
Donte Jackson and Rashaan Gaulden probably weren't names you noticed in all those mock drafts you read the past few months, but they helped the Panthers get faster. They also gave Carolina valuable chess pieces in a division loaded with a) big No. 1 wideouts; b) lightning-quick slot receivers; c) multi-talented running backs; and d) versatile tight ends.
Let's start with Jackson. At 5-foot-11, 178 pounds, he won't be lining up across Julio Jones. That's James Bradberry's job. Jackson's will be to keep up with guys like Ted Ginn, DeSean Jackson and Calvin Ridley whether they line up outside or in the slot. Jackson will also allow the Panthers to play more man coverage and help counter pass-catching threats out of the backfield.
"We talked about adding speed, and I think that's about adding as much speed as you can," general manager Marty Hurney said of Jackson, who blazed his way to an NFL Combine best 4.32 in the 40-yard dash.
"Obviously, I think his build is why somebody with his skill set might have dropped to (pick) 55. But he makes plays on the ball. He's sudden; he's fast."
So is Gaulden, who the Panthers believe plays faster than his 4.61 40 seems to indicate. Listed at 6-1, 197, Gaulden was mostly used as a nickel back at Tennessee, but he'll start off as a safety in Carolina.
"One of our scouts, I think, referred to him as a Swiss Army knife," Hurney said. "He will come down and hit. He's a physical player, and he will give us some positional flexibility."
Which, besides speed, was a big point of emphasis of both picks. Sure, LSU used Jackson a bunch at nickel, but the Panthers plan to slide him inside and out. Gaulden, meanwhile, can play in the box, take on tight ends in the slot and cover in the back end.
But, you say, the Panthers already have guys who can do some of that stuff – especially at nickel with Captain Munnerlyn, Corn Elder and Kevon Seymour already on the roster. Well, none are as fast as Jackson, who again, isn't just a nickel.
"We talk about intermixing skill sets, well now we have a guy like Donte, we have Kevon who can run, we have the big corners with Bradberry and Ross Cockrell – a bunch of guys," Hurney said. "We have created a lot of competition at that spot."
Which is a bonus for head coach Ron Rivera, who now has two more athletic pieces to play in the NFC South's game of chess.
"I expect the competition to be heated and I think it's going to be good for that group," Rivera said. "I want to see guys pushing one another, supporting one another. I think trying to get guys to be better every time they get on the football field, so I'm excited about what potential can be with that group."