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Why the Panthers drafted Xavier Legette

Xavier Legette

CHARLOTTE — Trading up to draft Xavier Legette made sense for the Carolina Panthers — in terms of both Xs and Os and dollars and cents.

As important as getting a player they both needed and wanted for a new offense, they also bought themselves an extra year in the process by making a minor deal to move from the 33rd pick to the 32nd.

The difference in the last pick of the first round and the first pick of the second round won't pay off until 2028, when they can use a fifth-year option to retain his services at what could be a significantly below-market rate.

"Definitely important," general manager Dan Morgan said in one of the understatements of the night. "I think that was obviously a big reason to trade up into the first round."

With the way top-end contracts for wide receivers are exploding every year, it's key. The Eagles gave AJ Brown a three-year, $96 million extension Thursday, which is the latest in a market that hasn't even gotten to Justin Jefferson yet. And even if superstar contracts aren't a fair comp for Legette at this point, the option years turn this into an affordable five-year contract.

So if Legette turns into the kind of player they think he can, having that extra year of cost certainty will likely be worth the 59 spots of difference between the 141st overall pick they sent Buffalo, and the 200th pick they got back from the Bills.

That made the pick an easy call for Morgan, who talked to his former boss in Buffalo, Brandon Beane, about a potential deal before the draft even started.

But as much as that helps, Morgan kept coming back to one simple fact — they wanted Legette on a roster that needed playmakers.

"You know, besides the player, we love Xavier," Morgan said. "Everything he bought, not, not only as a person but as a player, like his ability to attack the ball when it's in the air, his ability to run with it after the catch. It's just big, he's strong, he's physical.

"I think he has a lot of upside. So, we wanted to take that opportunity to go get our guy."

But beyond the economic benefit, the Panthers roster will benefit from this one because he's unique here.

The Panthers have a couple of receivers at the top of the depth chart who were on the smaller side in Adam Thielen and Diontae Johnson, and incorporating the 6-foot-1, 221-pound Legette offers them some different options on offense. Considering that Thielen will turn 34 during training camp and Johnson has one year left on his contract, it's an investment in the future as well.

But having a receiver with size that can run (a 4.39-second 40 at the scouting combine) opens up things for head coach Dave Canales that may not have previously existed.

"The versatility is huge for us," Canales said. "So when you get a guy who can really run a guy who can high point the ball, a guy that can carry it and you can give him the ball different ways. He just brings a lot of versatility.

"Now with that being said, he's got a long way to go. He's got to learn our stuff. He's got to figure out the system and, and find out how he fits into the whole thing, not just the pass game, but the run game as well.

"So, just speaking to that, I'm just really excited to bring his talents to our offense. At the same time, I'm sure he knows, too. He's got a lot of work in front of him."

Canales has worked with larger receivers in recent years, from DK Metcalf in Seattle to the taller Mike Evans in Tampa Bay last year, but hesitated to make comparisons.

"Other than a big fast guy, you know, it's a different player, it's a different type of player," Canales replied when specifically asked about Metcalf. "I don't really want to get into too much of the comparisons, but I definitely do see some of the physical traits. This is a rare combination of athletic ability."

Canales also pointed to the fact that Legette excelled at South Carolina in an offense called by longtime NFL assistant Dowell Loggains (who coordinated for the Titans, Bears, Dolphins, and Jets). And when Legette came in for his 30 visit, he was able to break that offense down in detail.

"He's a guy that I know and he credited him for, you know, giving him exposure in a pro-style type of offense," Canales said. "And the way that they used him this past year was impressive. He was able to articulate all that. He was able to teach our coaches what he was doing what the offense was, and that all that part was really impressive as well."

In short, he's a player who fits what the Panthers were looking for in a lot of respects, which made it worth this kind of move.

Canales joked that watching Morgan work the phones in a hurry just before midnight Friday was like watching him play linebacker here in the early 2000s.

"There was daylight, and he went bang, and he hit the hole just like everyone has seen him do in his career," Canales said.

In that fashion, Morgan had a typically direct way of expressing his feelings.

"We really liked him," he said of Legette. "And we went and got him."

View photos of South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Legette, drafted by Carolina in the first round of the 2024 draft.

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