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Panthers filled some needs, now head into final day

Cole Spencer, Scott Fitterer

CHARLOTTE — Saturday could be a short day for the Panthers, but mostly because they worked ahead — and put in plenty of overtime earlier.

The Panthers have just two picks left today, their own fourth- and fifth-round selections (114th and 145th overall). The rest are elsewhere, part of their history of trades. Their sixth belongs to New England for the 2021 rental of Stephon Gilmore, and the seventh is in Jacksonville in exchange for wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr..

And thematically, Shenault kind of connects to the broader theme for head coach Frank Reich to what's happened this weekend. They've already gotten a glimpse of the skill-position weapons they're putting around quarterback Bryce Young at a minicamp earlier this week, so they think adding second-round wideout Jonathan Mingo just creates more competition and more playmakers for Young.

"We have done a lot of work, a lot of really good work," Reich said just before Friday turned into Saturday. "It started in free agency. Talking about obviously drafting Mingo, but before that signing the receivers that we signed (Adam Thielen, DJ Chark Jr.), Miles Sanders, and Hayden Hurst. That's why getting Mingo today was incredible because we already felt good about this room. I mean we just had three weeks with these guys, and it's been dynamic. Then last week, we got on the field, and I look at that receivers room; it's great, but you can never have enough playmakers.

"When you have a quarterback like we have, you want to give him options, and we move guys around, we spread the ball around. I am excited to get all of these guys involved. We did all this work, Scott (Fitterer) did an amazing job in free agency, and now in the draft. We just have to finish this up with a strong day tomorrow. But everybody is going to have to earn it, even Mingo; he's going to have to earn it. He's not just going to be anointed to go in there and step right on the field. He's going to have to earn his spot as well."

Their other pick Friday night, a late trade-up to the 80th spot to get Oregon outside linebacker DJ Johnson, was about a different dynamic that's played out this offseason. In converting to the 3-4 defense new coordinator Ejiro Evero wants to play, they needed a handful of guys just to be able to line up. They addressed the glaring need for 3-4 down linemen in free agency when they signed Shy Tuttle, DeShawn Williams, Henry Anderson, and John Penisini to go with holdover Derrick Brown. Then they went and got veteran safety Vonn Bell so Jeremy Chinn could slide into a versatile role and play nickel and be closer to the line of scrimmage.

That left a significant void at outside linebacker, where they had a proven pass-rusher in Brian Burns and a lot of question marks. And with Burns out of minicamp last week after ankle surgery (he's expected to make a full recovery by training camp), that need was only more glaring.

So while some online draft pundits had projected Johnson to go lower, Fitterer looked at their actual draft board compiled by professional scouts and evaluators and saw a void coming at the position, so they made a deal. They gave up their late fourth-rounder acquired from San Francisco (132) to go from 93 to 80 and get a guy their coaching staff loved.

As you may have heard, Fitterer doesn't mind pushing the envelope when it comes to trading for things they need.

"When you really look at it, there was like a run," Fitterer said. "Pass-rushers went, and you get in that third round. If you don't go up and get a pass-rusher at that point, there's really not much left. We're looking at the board now, and you can argue it both ways. But I think we did the right thing based on our board, based on our team. We went up and were aggressive and did that.

"Like I said, he was one of the last pass rushers on the board. You never want to force a need. But this is a 6-4, 260-pound guy that ran 4.4. He's got rare traits. With our staff and the conviction that EJ (Evero) and Dom (Capers) and our coaching staff had with him, the way our scouts felt about him. There's a ton of development with him. His upside is huge. He's a guy that's played tight end, and he's played defensive end. Once he settles in and gets the coaching, this guy could be a force off the edge. I think his best ball is in front of him."

The Panthers still have a few needs heading into this final day, and they won't fill them all with two picks.

They need some more offensive linemen in particular. They have 10 on the roster at the moment, and since you like to carry three full units into training camp, that means they need four or five more guys there. Cornerback's probably the next need based on roster numbers, but they could also use another linebacker, running back, and tight end as well. After drafting Johnson, they have 68 roster spots accounted for and can carry 90 into camp.

That's why after the 145th pick comes off the board, they won't be finished (assuming they don't trade back for more stuff), as Fitterer and the scouting staff will move into action working on undrafted free agency.

"I think it is really important," Fitterer said of that post-draft work. "There are different ways to do it. As you know, every year, there are guys that fall through the draft that make 53-man rosters that become good players.

"Our scouts do a tremendous amount of work on these guys, and it is a day that we trust them to do their job and highlight the guys that we are going to go after. We will get the numbers from the coaches, how many tight ends do we need, how many linemen do we need. We'll fill those in, because, roster-wise, we are little bit low right now. There are going to be some good players that fall through the draft; there always are. So it is a big day for the scouts."

View photos of Bryce Young's arrival to Charlotte.

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