GM Marty Hurney and HC Matt Rhule
Drafting defense heavy because of the offenses in the NFC South
Hurney: I think our plan was to obviously try to improve our defense and really we picked the best players there. I think that coming in to this draft if you would have told us we could have gotten these three guys we would have been really ecstatic. I would have thought it would have been very hard, but we've got three guys who I think are going to grow in our defense and really help us out. I think it was more about how we build our defense than it was about our division or anything else. It's just the vision we have, Matt and Coach Snow and his staff, the vision they have for how we want to build this defense. I think that our scouting staff and our coaching staff worked together and just really we got guys that everybody felt really good about. We got guys that we think can really help improve our defense and build for years to come.
Rhule: I think obviously, as it relates to the division, with the last pick (Jeremy) Chinn give us an opportunity to have somebody that can be versatile, that can play the nickel, that can play the tight ends that we're going to face man to man, and that can be an excellent run defender as well. So I think he brings versatility. Obviously, in the two defensive lineman, understanding that we have to stop the run, we have to be able to affect the quarterbacks that we are going to face. Talked yesterday about Derrick (Brown). I think he is a tremendous internal presence and then Yetur (Gross-Matos) is a special athlete that is just at the beginning of what he can do.
Breakdown of what these players bring to the defense
Rhule: I think the thing with Gross-Matos is he is somebody who had high sack production. Obviously, we are always looking for pass rushers. One of the unique things about him is he's a guy that can get on the edge, he can turn the corner, he's got great body balance,and he's also gone inside and been a 3-technique and rushed the quarterback. So he is a young guy who is only at the beginning of his physical development at 266-267. I think he is going to continue to get big and provide us with that strong-side defensive end presence to go along with Stephen Weatherly and Efe Obada. Really ecstatic about him. He's someone that Marty really identified early on and we never really thought that he would get out of the first round and things went our way. In terms on Chinn, rare, rare, rare height-weight-speed. He's also somebody who has been a multi-year captain on the leadership council so he's someone that is an elite person. You don't find guys that are that big that run that fast. And really for us, for me at least, going to the Senior Bowl, seeing him play safety, seeing him play press man, playing man to man against some of the best wide-outs in the country, I think the things that (defensive coordinator) Phil (Snow) and his defense are going to be able to do with him. He is kind of a position-less player right now. He is someone that we think, not because he doesn't have a position, but because we can utilize him in multiple places.
How Chinn got on Hurney's radar
Hurney: Well it's funny, because I always say when we send our area scouts in and we send (executive director of player personnel) Jeff Morrow and (director of college scouting) Eric Stokes in and they call and you can just hear it in their voices that they really like a guy. That started in September and October. Then you do the tape work and as Matt said you go to the Senior Bowl and he fit right in. You tracked him and then you go through all the post-season stuff. Everything about him just checked all the boxes. He was a guy that we liked from the first time we put eyes on him and he impressed us more and more as the process went through.
Recruitment of Gross-Matos at Temple
Rhule: Our coaches probably offered him. I never had much interaction with him. He was kind of coming in as I was leaving. Interestingly, (offensive coordinator) Joe Brady was there with him. (Coaching assistant) E.J. Barthel, who is one of our young developmental coaches, was actually the recruiting coordinator with him. In this process he did not run at the Combine and as we were trying to gain all the data we could get we went back and looked at all of his high school stuff as well, the scouts and the coaches because of E.J.'s relationship with him. It is great to have two guys who have worked with him, that have coached with him, that knew him day in and day out. We've done a lot of work to get to know him over the last couple of weeks. I just think for him the sky is the limit. He is such a young guy that he is going to really blossom and develop here over the next couple of years.
What team they felt they needed to "leapfrog" in trading the fifth round pick to move up
Hurney: More than who you needed to leapfrog, I think it was a guy who we had, you know when we talked about how there is space on the board and you go and get the player? And there was space on the board. We had him drafted fairly highly and we just thought that he was too good to take the chance of seeing if he could get through six more picks to get to us. We thought that we had a fair deal from both sides to go up and get him and thought that he was a player who could really help our defense grow. I think when you feel that strongly about a guy sometimes you just don't want to take the chance to see him get there. I don't think he would have gotten to us in the third round and so we started making calls like we always do and we got Seattle to make the deal. I think it was just more of the space on the board and a guy we thought fairly highly of and we just thought that the deal was right to make.
How the cancelation of Pro Days and other portions of the scouting process because of COVID-19 affected the Draft process
Hurney: Listen, I love going to Pro Days, but our scouts and our coaches did so much work as far as virtual interviews and just talking to coaches. We just just did so much investigation and so much contact with the players over the internet. I love going to Pro Days to talk to the coaches and see how guys interact, but really we did so much work virtually and then it gives you more time to watch tape. So I thought we handled process extremely well and I think it showed up. We are excited about the three guys that we got.
Position flexibility with the first three picks
Rhule: I think for me, I use that term sometimes, I think it is really just having a vision for each player of how we can use them. When you look at a player, lots of guys are good players. I mean they're all good players if they are at this process, and lots of guys might fit, but who you have a vision for for how you are going to use them. I think when you look at a player like the ones we took and you say, "Hey, we can use them in multiple ways," it excites you. At the same time, none of these guys are short-term fix guys. These are guys that are only going to get better and better and better. The thing that is exciting for me, especially with the first two picks, we want to have great strengths. We want to have things that people know that hey, when you play Carolina this is what you have to deal with. We are trying to build a defensive line that you have to be prepared for. With the guys that we have on the roster already and with the addition of Yetur and Derrick we are just going to continue to make that strength a strength. To me Chinn is a guy we can use a lot of different ways and it just makes it exciting as a coaching staff to know that we are going to be able to develop them and use them sort of all over the field.
Vision for Chinn
Rhule: I think we look at him as a guy who can be trained as a safety and as a nickel SAM. He'll be able to go out and play number two to the field. Also be able to come back in nickel and dime. Maybe even be able to defend some of the backs and tight ends. I think when you look at the NFC South and you see the tight ends that we have to face, when you see the running backs that we have to face, having guys like Chinn that can give us some match ups against those guys. And when we have guys like Shaq Thompson already I mean it just gives you a lot of flexibility. It will be a well thought out plan – and we've already thought it out obviously – in terms of training him at safety, but allowing him to fill a bunch of roles down at the second level.
The role analytics play in the scouting process in regards to comparing tape to what the numbers say
Hurney: I think you use every piece of the puzzle. Analytics and the numbers part is a piece of the puzzle. But it still comes down to getting out in the fall and seeing guys up close, and getting to the school visits. Going through the process with your coaches and your scouts as far as the Senior Bowl and the Combine. I think that you have to use every bit of information that you have that's at your disposal, but I still think it's seeing a guy up close, first-hand, and getting to meet him and talk to him. Seeing him at the practices in the fall and playing games and then go through the Senior Bowl and the Combine. You use every piece of the puzzle to put it together. I think that analytics is one piece and the interviews, the medical, your evaluations, they all play a big part in your final decision.
If the team considered drafting cornerbacks on day two and the plan at the position moving forward
Hurney: We'll go through and if there's guys that warrant being taken then we will take them. Really what we did these first two days, I know it's a cliché, but we really did take the guy that was highest on the board and who we liked and we'll continue to do that. I think if you just continue to add good players and make your football team better then everything takes care of itself. Obviously, corner is a spot of need and if there's some guys there that we think fit us, certainly we'll look at them closely. But I think the one thing you don't want to do is, and I've learned this personally from experiences, you don't want to go in and take a player just because you're reaching for a position. I think the more good players you get, that helps you build your football team.
Challenges with not being able to meet players in person and if that affected the way the team set the draft board balancing short-term need and long-term potential
Rhule: I think the one thing that's unique about this year, is typically we would go interview someone at a formal (interview) and bring them in for a 30 visit. We've had the opportunities to talk to guys up to three times a week for up to an hour. Even Derrick Brown the one day, I hit him up and said "Hey, can you talk to me in 10 minutes?" and sat there and visited with him. After The Last Dance, the Michael Jordan thing the other day, I asked, "Hey, what'd you think about this?" I want to know what guys are in to. And I think when it's not quite as scripted, when it's sort of a little bit more off the cuff, you find out who people are and catch them off balance. Not in a bad way but in a really good way. I think the personal interaction via the video conferencing and the one-on-one as opposed to them walking into huge boardroom and being really scripted has been really good. I think it's also forced people to go back and watch the tape. At the end of the day, when we say analytics, that means a lot of different things. There's height, weight, speed and all those different things. The one thing I would say, being a first time head coach having been in the draft room before being a college coach, is the impact of the medical testing and psychological testing and all these different metrics that we get. I think we've had a lot of time, Marty and I, to sit back – and his scouts and the coaches – and really digest all that information. I obviously didn't do it with Marty last year but I feel like every player, as guys are coming off the board at other places, I feel kind of a connection to because we've had so much data that we've been able to sit in our homes and pour through and get a lot of information on guys as opposed to jumping in the airport and flying somewhere. We've taken out a lot of that intermediate time and really been able to get down to the data and get down to the video tape.
If there is anything that has to be done different when scouting a small school player like Chinn
Hurney: You always evaluate the skill set first. Again, what really helps is when he goes down to the Senior Bowl and does what he did and really fits in perfectly. I think that's a big plus. I think that helps you when you see him with and against some of the best players in the country and he's not out of place at all. I think that that gets you over that final hump. You go into these small schools and you really do evaluate the skill sets and how they will fit into what we want to do. But certainly, having a player go down and do what he did in the Senior Bowl practices and just being there, it helps a lot.
How Derrick's Brown's leadership factored into the pick after losing many veterans in the offseason
Rhule: For me, it was a cherry on top. We took him because of the player he is. I've never talked to (Auburn head coach) Gus Malzahn a day in my life, and he called me today. He went out of his way to find my number, reach out to me and say, "I'm just tellin' ya, let me tell you who you got and what he's about." I'm sitting there last night at 1 o'clock in the morning finishing up after this and I get a text from Christian McCaffrey asking for Derrick's number. To me, there's just something about having guys like that that want to make it about what's bigger than themselves. There's no doubt that that's who Derrick is, and I think that's really, really important. If I can just go back to one other thing, I never look at the word "developmental" in a bad way. It doesn't mean that they are rudimentary or they are behind. I look at it like guys are at different phases of their ability level. We are getting guys who have performed at a high, high level on big stages but these guys' traits and athletic abilities are really second-to-none at their positions. The leadership on Derrick is a great bonus. You can't find many people who don't talk about him, but he's also one of the more physically dominant players in this year's draft.
If Rhule thinks this year's draft class will hold a little more emotional value because it is his first draft class
Rhule: That's a great question. I know the recruiting class, the kids that came in that I recruited my first year both at Temple and Baylor always had a special part for me because they were part of that building process. I look forward to just having great times with these guys. Luke Kuechly lives on the next street from me, and I see him sometimes driving his car coming back from fishing or he stops to talk to my kids. Everyone sees the football part but there's such a personal part to all this. When you're a first-year head coach and coming in with first-year players and you have a chance to really begin to get to know them and go through this journey together, yeah, I think there will be a really special point at some time. The other thing I say to the players that are here right now is that I chose to come here and be here with you guys. Our coaching staff chose to come here and be here with you. A lot them chose to sign here and be here with us. So we're all proud to be here and represent the Panthers. I'm excited to get to know these guys.
Reaction to getting picked by the Panthers
I had some really good discussions with the Carolina Panthers. Some good Facetimes and I felt good about it when I left the combine initially. I knew there was a chance I was going to get selected by the Carolina Panthers. It has been a blessing.
How he improved during his time at Penn State
I think the thing I did the most at Penn State was probably just learning more about football and improving technique wise. I didn't really play a lot of football growing up. Going into high school, I played at a really small high school with not a lot of plays or anything like that. So just becoming more knowledgeable about what I was being asked to do and the things going on around me.
How special this moment is to him considering the tragedies that have occurred in his family
We have all leaned on each other a lot. Celebrating us still being here and being in this moment means everything to us. I know I am freaking excited and I know my family is probably even more excited.
Why he thought that Panthers might take him
Just talking to (Marty Hurney), Coach Matt Rhule, and my position Coach Mike Phair I just felt really good. A lot of conversations, all teams dealing with them in different ways, I remember leaving that phone call thinking you know I felt really good about that one and hopefully it will make me a Carolina Panther and that is exactly what happened.
Describe himself as a player and person
As a player, someone who is always hard working and willing to learn. I am determined to be great. As a person, someone who brings positive energy and life into any locker room, any interaction. I try to conduct myself that way at all times, just carrying that mindset with me in each and everything I do.
Whether he knows Derrick Brown and whether the Panthers shared whether they were planning to target the defensive line in their early selections
They didn't tell me what they were thinking about picking. So it was kind of just lucky that I ended up being the one. I feel extremely blessed to have this opportunity. And Derrick Brown I obviously knew about him and heard about him. I never had a chance to speak to him though. I am looking forward to that as well.
On whether he had a previous relationship with Coach Rhule
I've never spoken to Matt Rhule before. Not during my recruiting process or anything like that. My dad just told me he offered me when he was the head coach at Temple and I didn't even know. I guess he's had his eye on me for awhile.
His approach to meeting expectations
My mentality is to show up and work. To show up and give my hardest each and every day. Try to be great. I know they're going to get everything out of me. At the end of the day, I have no lack of confidence in what that's going to be.
Anyone particular he's excited to sack this season
I mean... I think probably everybody would say the GOAT Tom Brady. I want to sack Tom Brady. There's no one else you'd really want more than Tom Brady.
How it feels to make it to the next level
It's incredible. These are the guys I've been watching on TV since I was a little kid. Now that I'm finally here, I know the work is just beginning even more. I'm ready. This is the best feeling I've had probably my whole life.
Which trait stands out most for him most as a defensive end
Athletically, that's where you find me being a lot different from a lot of other people that I was being compared against. I've just always been a tremendous athlete and thankfully through my hard work I was able to improve that. So athletic-wise, and technique-wise like I talked about earlier, I feel like I'm climbing this upward hill and I'm nowhere near the top still. There's more work to be done.
Whether or not the coaches see him exclusively on the edge or inside as well
I don't know yet.
How his versatility to play inside and outside helps him
I have plenty of experience rushing inside and outside in college. I was asked to move all around the front four. I have no problem going inside or outside. I have no issue with it preference wise. Wherever they need me to be, that's where I'll be at.
Plans to celebrate tonight
I am just looking forward to getting over there and hugging my family. That's my focus right now.
How the tragedies he's faced earlier in life have shaped him as a person
I take those things and they have put the rest of my life in to perspective. It's just about taking advantage of another opportunity, every second of every day. Give your best and love the people around you. Me and my family are a very close group. That's how it's affected me on and off the field and I'm just happy to be here in this moment with these people and I can't wait to celebrate.
How he's been working out
I've actually talked to my old training staff over at Penn State and they've given me a lot of workouts to do each and every day. I connected with my longtime trainer Sudan Ellington, he's been working me out, so I'm staying in great shape. There is a little creativity going on, running old conditioning tests and stuff like that every other day. Just doing whatever I can to stay in shape.
Player he models his game after
You're not really watching much football growing up. Even now, I try to focus on myself and being the best player I can be and obviously, looking to guys who are in the position that you want to be. JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) I watched JPP a lot when I was young, more than anybody else I should say. That would be the guy, I kind of want to take from his game.
If he's spoken to Coach Franklin yet
Yes, Coach Franklin has been texting me a lot. I called him the other day. When I finish up with the interviews, I'm going to give him a call.
Relationship with Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer
I view him as a second father to me. That guy, he's an extension of my family in every aspect. I have so much love for that guy. I'd do anything for him, absolutely. As a coach, he was phenomenal. As a mentor, even better. I couldn't be asked to be put in a better situation than playing for him.
Matt Rhule recruiting him while he was coaching at Temple
Yes, he said he offered me at Temple when I was in high school. I didn't realize that Matt Rhule was the coach back then.
If he's talked to Rhule about it yet
I have not...probably should've committed. (joking)
If he wore crocs tonight
I've got the Crocs with me right now. I've got all my favorite jibbitz in it too. Got my whole family a bunch of crocs, so everyone's croc'd out. They're my favorite shoe.
What started the obsession with crocs
I just put them on and I was like I don't really want to wear anything else. I feel like this is me in a shoe. It's just always been a part of my fit.
What position he thinks he'll be playing for the Panthers
I can't wait to actually get to Charlotte. As far as position wise, it's been very opened ended as far as what I'll be playing. Safety, being able to cover tight ends and running backs, and also getting that experience with receivers as well. As far as the position, it's not something that I'm locked in to.
Most unusual thing he's encountered in his path to the NFL
The most unusual thing is probably quarantine. That's probably the same answer for everybody, but definitely being under quarantine, being locked in the house instead of taking 30 visits. That's probably the most unusual thing for everybody in the process and me as well.
Which secondary position in the NFL best suits him
The past four years primarily I played safety. I played both safety positions, as far as the secondary. I played corner as well, but I think primarily a safety and that's where I'm excited to just get rolling there.
Impressions of Matt Rhule at the senior bowl
Me and Matt Rhule had a really good conversation at the senior bowl. I actually went up to his suite and talked to some other guys on the staff. We definitely formed a relationship back at the senior bowl. Saw him again at my pro day and the relationship continued and clicked from day one.
When he realized the strength of his skill set
I started playing football at a young age. Since being in second grade I've always left an impact on the football field and I continued to do so all the way through my career. And then through high school I was a little bit under recruited. I got an opportunity at southern Illinois and took advantage of that opportunity and continue to progress my game. Hitting the growth spurt helped a whole lot. Definitely after that, probably my sophomore year of college is when I actually realized that this could be my future.
Impact Steve Atwater has played in his life and how he's related to him
I'm related to Steve on my dad's side. He's definitely been a mentor for me. Especially in this process I've been able to talk to him about the way life is about to change. From before being an NFL athlete and afterwards and relationships and things like that. Also, he answered a lot of questions for me throughout the process. He's definitely helped a lot.
His playing style and personality
Playing style. I'm just someone who's always going to be around the football. Where ever the football is I'm going to get there. You'll see me running all around the field when you turn on the tape. I can run with anybody. I'm always going to be around the ball. As far as a person, I'm a very high character guy. I hold myself to a very high standard and I hold the people around me to a very high standard as well.
On the help he gains from his uncle, Steve Atwater, Pro Football Hall of Famer
Being in this position, I'm one of the fortunate ones to actually have those types of contacts. I actually just had a conversation with Steve as soon as my name got called. He just let me know he's just one phone call away. Any questions I have about anything in the process, about my rookie season, anything - he's just one phone call away.
What he loves about football
I love this game. Whatever is going on in your life, whatever is going on outside the football field - as soon as you step on the field, everything goes away. It's therapeutic in a way. When you really love the game, when you step on the field, you're a completely different person. A whole different monster just kind of comes out of you. I just love that feeling every time I'm on the football field. That initial reaction was a lot of emotion. It's obviously something I've worked for my entire life to get to this point and it's just manifested.
Carolina trading up to draft him
That's big time. Coming into a program that just believes in me and trades up to get a guy like me is something I'm excited about. For them to take a chance on me, Carolina's going to get everything out of me.
Being drafted in the NFL after minimal scholarship offers coming out of high school
It's a complete 360. Being the zero-star (recruit) with zero FBS offers to being traded up for in the second round, it's definitely a dream come true and it's just the beginning.
NFL players he models his game after
There are a lot of guys in the league that I just try to pick things out of. At the end of the day, I'm a unique player and I take pride in being a unique player. But there are certain things that I take from guys. Harrison Smith, I love watching Harrison Smith. Minkah Fitzpatrick. Earl Thomas. Tyrann Mathieu. Those are all guys I try to take certain things from and try to incorporate into my game.
His college recruiting process being a chip on his shoulder
One-hundred percent. That'll be with me the rest of my life. One-hundred percent.
What he took from not being recruited by major college programs
Going to the FCS and playing in the FCS, you always look at guys who come out of the FCS and make a splash in the league. Guys liek Carson Wentz. Guys like David Johnson. Going way back, Rodney Harrison and things like that. Being an FCS player, you always look for the FCS guys in the league who made a splash and did that as an inspiration coming out.
Watching the draft from home
Yeah, I was here watching at home in Indy. I have four of my close friends from high school here. My mom, she's right next to me. Very much so an emotional ride.
Getting the phone call from the Panthers
My heart started racing. I knew it was a call from someone coming up. i didn't know who it was. I think it was a Washington number. I had no idea who it was and I answered it. It was Matt Rhule and he asked me if I was ready to be a Panther. Here I am.
The best players he had to cover in the 2019 season
Arkansas State had a really good receiver, Kirk Merritt. He's a really good receiver. Tight end, I can't think of a tight end. North Dakota State had three really good tight ends. Those are probably the top guys.