SPARTANBURG – When the Panthers signed Matt Paradis to a three-year contract, they acquired one of the best centers in football.
His teammates in Denver loved him. Head coach Ron Rivera has called him a technician. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the fourth-best center in the NFL since he became a starter in 2015.
But what is it that makes Paradis so good?
The Panthers have begun to find out through the first week of training camp. Paradis was working his way back from a fractured fibula this spring, so practices in Spartanburg were his first opportunity to participate in team drills.
Here’s running back Christian McCaffrey's analysis after working with the new center.
“He has all the physical things you want in a center,” McCaffrey said. “He fits all the right gaps. He’s done such a good job stepping in and making the calls. It makes it easier for us backs to know exactly what’s going on.
“He's a heck of a player, so it's been a lot of fun getting to know him, getting to develop with him, and we're really excited he's here.”
Left guard Greg Van Roten had the luxury of playing next to five-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil last year (Kalil retired and recently agreed to play another year with the Jets). Now he’s got Paradis alongside him, another highly skilled center.
“He’s got a combination of intelligence, strength and agility,” Van Roten said of the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Paradis. “That’s what it takes to play center, especially in this offense. We put a lot on our center to get up there and start the play call for the quarterbacks. If Cam wants to change it he can change it, but more often than not, we go with what the center calls.
“Ryan was special. Matt has got big shoes to fill. But I’m not worried about him.”
Whether it be in the run or pass game, defensive linemen like Gerald McCoy have quickly realized why Paradis was highly sought after in free agency.
“He’s picked up that offense really fast, calling out the protections,” McCoy said. “He’s a great run blocker. He’s really quick with his reach blocks. He’s got a really good grip, so once he gets his hands on you he’s pretty good at latching on and moving his feet.”
As we all know, leadership is a big part of the job description for centers, and that’ll take shape for Paradis over time.
Right now he’s simply trying to earn the respect of his new teammates and get to know them better each day. He’s off to a terrific start in that regard.
“I think leadership, first you got to prove that you’re doing the things and it’s not a ‘do as I say’ type of situation,” Paradis said. “You have to earn that right – you can’t just walk in day one and be like, ‘Okay, I’m the leader.’
“It’s just a feeling. I can’t quantify it or tell you when it is. You just kind of have to start working yourself in that role.”