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Panthers execute draft plan

CHARLOTTE – General manager Dave Gettleman wasn't kidding when he said the Panthers needs were effectively addressed in free agency.

He entered his first draft as a GM focused on drafting the best available players on his team's board, and that approach was reflected in Carolina five picks.

"We felt like we didn't reach for anybody. We felt we got great value for every pick. I feel really good about it," Gettleman said. "Of course, no one has ever sat at one of these and said they didn't feel good about it."

The success of Gettleman's first draft in Carolina will take time to evaluate. Gettleman has said you don't truly know what you have until a few years have gone by.

But here's what we know. The Panthers got bigger up front. A lot bigger.

First-round choice Star Lotulelei and second-round selection Kawann Short are expected to make an immediate impact at the defensive tackle position.

Both players were dominant in college. Both have the size and athleticism necessary to continue their dominance in the NFL.

And both defensive tackles should occupy space and blockers, enhancing the play of last year's defensive rookie of the year Luke Kuechly and an already dynamic linebacking corps.

"It gives Luke more protection, which makes our defense better," Gettleman said.

"Not just Luke," head coach Ron Rivera added, "but the other two linebackers. They are going to be able to run. With the athleticism our linebackers have, they are going to make plays."

Luke and the linebackers weren't the only ones to receive some protection.

Quarterback Cam Newton got some in the form of massive Valdosta State guard Edmund Kugbila, who the Panthers selected in the fourth round.

Is the Division II offensive lineman and Ghana native raw? Sure.

He also possesses physical attributes you simply can't teach.

"Guys that are big, heavy bodies that move and have great athleticism are rare and hard to find," Rivera said. "We're very fortunate to have a guy like (Edmund)."

The fifth and sixth round offered an opportunity to add depth. Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein has the versatility to play all three linebacker positions and all four phases of special teams.

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner brings game-breaking speed as a scat-back and will compete for opportunities as a returner.

They'll be a lot of Panthers competing for opportunities this season, and that's by design via free agency and the draft.

"The competition is going to be there," Rivera said.

The competition at wide receiver increased when the Panthers signed Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn, and a similar situation exists at the cornerback position – thanks to the arrival of Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore.

Lotulelei and Short are sure to demand significant playing time along the defensive line.

As for the other rookies? They'll be given a chance to move up the depth chart at their respective positions.

"One of the important things that everybody has to understand is when we break camp the best 53 guys are going to be on our club," Gettleman said. "Everybody has to get opportunities. These young guys are going to get a chance."

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