CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers entered the 2016 NFL Draft holding picks toward the end of each of the first five rounds.
And regardless of any outside opinions, general manager Dave Gettleman believes the Panthers exceeded the value of those picks while shoring up a position of need potentially for years to come.
"I don't care about the outside noise," Gettleman said. "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. We know what we need for our team to be successful, and those are the kinds of players we're looking for.
"I feel very good about where we selected these guys."
The Panthers used their seventh-round pick on a player they had graded to go right around there in tight end Beau Sandland, but the other four players they drafted – including three cornerbacks – were picked where their grades exceeded their spot in the draft order.
Gettleman couldn't believe defensive tackle Vernon Butler made it to the Panthers at No. 30 overall, and Carolina had a mid-second-round grade on cornerback James Bradberry, who they took at the tail-end of the second round.
The Panthers traded up to take West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley – who they also had a second-round grade on – early in the third round. That cost them their fourth-round pick but didn't cost them in terms of value, because the resulting move up in the fifth round allowed them to take Oklahoma corner Zack Sanchez, on whom they had a solid fourth-round grade.
The selection of Sanchez made Carolina just the third team to ever select three consecutive cornerbacks in a draft, but Gettleman said it was exactly what the Panthers' draft board called for and exactly what the team needed at the position.
"We've been rotating players through there since I got here, and you don't want to do that," Gettleman said. "You want to have a core, want to have stability. All three of these young kids are talented enough to play in this league."
Gettleman added that the Panthers successfully fought human nature and didn't artificially inflate the grades of the cornerbacks in response to the recent departure of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
"You can't deny your need, but you can't overdraft, either. It's a fragile balance," he said.
The talent and the athleticism of Carolina's draft class is obvious – from the stunning nimbleness of the 323-pound Butler to the speed and ball skills that should allow Bradberry and Worley to compete on the outside and Sanchez in the slot.
Sandland brings a complete game to the tight end position, and the completeness of the entire class is something that Gettleman thinks is easily overlooked and certainly undervalued by those outside of the building. The Panthers brought all five of the players they ended up drafting in for a full pre-draft visit, and now all five are preparing to return to Bank of America Stadium to start showing why they're so valued.
"One of the things we really focus on is intelligence. Can they learn it?" Gettleman said. "(Head coach) Ron (Rivera) and his staff, their fannies are on the line every Sunday, so at the end of the day, we're not bringing in dumb guys. I don't care how talented they are because by the time they get it figured out, Ron and I get fired.
"It's great that we got five guys that we feel like we really, truly know."