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Grading the Panthers defensive selections on Day 2 of the Draft

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Carolina continued to build up its defense on Friday, adding another piece to the defensive line in DE Yetur Gross-Matos, and then drafting a versatile new addition to the secondary in hard-hitting S Jeremy Chinn. Carolina used a fifth-round pick that they had acquired in a trade with Washington to move up five spots into the end of the second round to grab Chinn.

While GM Marty Hurney and coach Matt Rhule were pleased both with the value and overall athletic talent they picked up on Tuesday, NFL pundits roundly gave the Panthers solid grades for drafting an edge rusher that many thought could have gone in the first round, along with a safety that was a sleeper pick on many boards.

"The Panthers needed help on the edge across from Brian Burns, and finding Gross-Matos available early in Round 2 was a steal. He has power and length to be a factor as a pass rusher and against the run. Chinn has an all-around game worthy of his draft position. He's able to play in the slot and at safety (not unlike former Panthers CB James Bradberry, by the way), meeting a big need for Carolina."

Grade: A

Benoit posits that Gross-Matos' selection signals a return to "an aggressive four-down gap-penetrating front four" under new defensive coordinator Phil Snow. He describes Gross-Matos as a "classic, imposingly built 4-3 style defensive end who, thanks to the departure of veterans Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin, will likely assume a significant rotational role right away."

Gross-Matos Grade: B

Benoit was more pleased with Carolina's next pick in the second round, giving depth behind Juston Burris with a versatile safety who played a lot of quarters coverage at SIU and could fit in to a matchup zone coverage if the Panthers move to that more consistently.

Chinn Grade: A-

On Gross-Matos: "Outstanding size, length, and strength. Three-down defensive end. Ascending pass-rush move arsenal. Solid athlete. Some bend too. Fun pairing with Brian Burns in Carolina."

Gross-Matos Grade: A

On Chinn: "Panthers defensive reconstruction continues. Chinn is Isaiah Simmons-lite, and he might be more twitchy. Do-everything safety/linebacker with made-in-lab type athleticism. Will help Carolina's defense in many ways." 

Chinn Grade: A

"Gross-Matos had first-round talent written all over him, and he fell into Carolina's lap at No. 38. The Penn State product was the fourth-best edge rusher in our pre-draft rankings. The Panthers' defensive front is officially very scary.

Carolina made another nice pick at No. 64 with safety Jeremy Chinn, our sixth-ranked player at the position. Chinn is a versatile, athletic freak who can play both cornerback or safety. He'll make an immediate impact on a Panthers team that is making all the necessary moves to improve their defense."

Grade: A-

On Gross-Matos: "Gross-Matos is a fluid, agile athlete who defeats blocks by out-positioning his opponent and using his arms to swat the blocker's hands away. He can win the leverage battle in run defense and is good at recognizing misdirection plays and finding the ball. He isn't twitchy nor a true pass-rushing technician, and he will look like just another guy for long stretches, but he has the tools to be a dominant every-down defender. Gross-Matos and Derrick Brown will form the core of an all-new defensive front for Matt Rhule's Panthers." 

Gross-Matos Grade: B+

On Chinn: "Chinn was a combine superstar. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, had a 41" vertical (tied for the second-best among defensive backs) and a 138" broad jump (best among defensive backs) at 6'3" and 221 pounds. He has the measurables of an ideal box safety/outside linebacker hybrid: big enough to thump the run, fast enough to chase Travis Kelce up the seam. 

But while Chinn was a productive starter at a top FCS program, his career is dotted with injuries, and his tape shows him arriving a step late more often than a step early. He has a lot of developmental upside if he stays healthy, and he had some first-round buzz entering the draft. He's a solid building block for an organization that got many great years from Thomas Davis, one of the original safety-linebacker hybrids."

Chinn Grade: B+

On Gross-Matos: "Gross-Matos is an intriguing prospect, but he is a bit of a project. It will be up to the Carolina coaching staff to turn all of that athleticism and strength into a dominant player."

Gross-Matos Grade: C+

On Chinn: "Chinn is an explosive athlete with impressive ball skills. He might be a box safety in the NFL, but he has some coverage ability and could be a poor man's Malcolm Jenkins for Carolina."

Chinn Grade: A-


A handful of media outlets picked the Panthers among the winners of the draft so far:

CBS Sports praised Carolina's drastic steps toward improving a defense that was 31st in points allowed last year with a Day 1 prospect in Gross-Matos and one of the top safeties in Chinn.

Sports Illustrated highlighted Rhule's unique perspective on draft prospects after spending the last few years recruiting and competing against them. They say that "this was a foundational draft for the Panthers, who seem to be expediting any kind of rebuilding process. At nearly every critical position this winter and spring, they've gotten cheaper, younger and faster."

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