CHARLOTTE – Anticipation is building for the 2019 NFL Draft – including in the building the Panthers call home.
“This is a fun time of the year,” general manager Marty Hurney said. “You have a chance to improve your football team.”
But while many Panthers fans are counting the days until the first round on April 25, Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera were quick to point out that what has happened leading up to the draft in eight days counts just as much in terms of building a winning roster.
“We feel good about what we’ve done in the offseason; now we just have to continue,” Hurney said at Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference. “Coming in we wanted to address offensive and defensive line depth and we wanted to put weapons around Cam (Newton) and help our skill positions. That really hasn’t changed, and the draft is just a continuation of everything we’ve done in the offseason.
“There isn’t a spot where you feel like you have to go in and say, ‘We have to have a player at this position.’ ”
In other words, Hurney feels that the moves made in the offseason – from signing center Matt Paradis, pass rusher Bruce Irvin and pass catcher Chris Hogan to re-signing offensive tackle Daryl Williams and safety Eric Reid – have put the Panthers in the enviable position of being able to select the best player available at No. 16 overall and beyond.
“What Marty and his group has done in free agency and now as we look at the draft is bring competition in,” Rivera said. “There are some guys who are going to compete. They’re going to push one another. That’s the biggest thing I can ask for.
“Now the thing we need to go out and do is get (more players) that are going to help us win football games.”
Deep draft class in the trenches
While the Panthers feel freed up to not reach based on position need in the draft, Hurney agreed that both lines of scrimmage are loaded.
“It looks pretty good,” Hurney said of the draft class at defensive line. “Pass rushers and interior linemen – it’s a strong group. I know everybody is expecting a large group to go early. You never know when guys are going to go, but it’s a strong group up top and it’s deep.
“I think the offensive line – tackles and guards in particular – are strong up top. There are four or five guys I think can go in the first round.”
So will the Panthers pick someone along the line at No. 16? Obviously a lot of things out of Carolina’s control play into that, but the Panthers will be ready regardless.
“We go over every scenario possible with our scouts, our coaching staff, each position coach, coordinators and all our scouts. We go over the whole board,” Hurney said. “(Senior director of college scouting) Jeff Morrow and I talk constantly. Ron and I talk constantly. I’ll meet with each coordinator.
“I don’t think there’s a scenario that we won’t be ready for.”
QB or not QB?
There’s been more chatter outside the building about the Panthers possibly drafting a quarterback for the first time since taking Newton with the No. 1 pick in 2011, especially with Newton coming off a second surgical procedure.
“I don’t think we’ve spent any more time on quarterbacks than we have in the past,” Rivera said, adding that Newton is continuing to progress well. “Obviously Cam has a particular skill set. Would you like to find somebody with that? Absolutely. But we also look at a guy like Kyle Allen (who started for Newton in the 2018 finale) and you sit there and say, ‘We like that skill set as well.’
“We’ll go with what we like. It’s all going to depend on the situations and circumstances as we go through the draft.”
Added Hurney: “You have to develop young quarterbacks. You have to do your due diligence as far as going through the guys in the draft. It just depends. If you like a guy who you think can come in and develop over the years, then maybe you draft him. It all just depends on how the draft goes.”
RB or not RB?
The Cam Newtons and Christian McCaffreys of the world aren’t mass produced, but Rivera indicated again Wednesday that adding a running back with a similar skill set that could spell the oft-used McCaffrey would be nice.
“I’d love to have a guy that mimics what he does so you don’t miss him when he’s not out there for those three, four or five plays,” Rivera said. “He’s been such an integral part of what we’ve done so quickly in his career, but we have to be smart as far as he’s concerned.”
Hurney, speaking on the matter for the first time, said he’s happy about being able to bring back Cameron Artis-Payne and Elijah Hood to the position group. Whether the Panthers add another player there via the draft, Rivera wants to be smart about not overusing McCaffrey but also knows it’s smart to utilize him as much as possible.
To that point, Rivera said he wouldn’t be surprised to see McCaffery make a run at 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in 2019.
“He’s shown you that with the ball in his hands he’s very productive,” Rivera said. “He was almost a thousand-thousand guy this (past) year.”
Is secondary a primary concern?
Securing Reid brought some significant stability to the defensive backfield, but questions remain about the other starting safety as well as the nickel position.
Rivera made mention of a player drafted just last year in reference to both spots.
“Rashaan (Gaulden) is going to be somebody that gets that opportunity obviously,” Rivera said in reference to the free safety spot after already mentioning Gaulden as a nickel corner candidate as well. “We’ve got some in-house candidates that are pretty good, and who knows what’s going to happen in the draft?”
Rivera named Corn Elder as another possible nickel and Da’Norris Searcy, Colin Jones and Cole Luke as possible safety solutions. The draft, of course, could provide a solution as well.
“I think safety, I think tight end, I think there are several other spots that have several candidates (on the roster),” Hurney said. “We’ll see how the draft falls.”