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Draft wrapup: Panthers add versatility, competition to roster

240425 NFL Draft Day 1-45

CHARLOTTE — From the moment Dan Morgan and Dave Canales took over here, they started talking about adding competition to every position.

And after filling a few specific needs in the first half of the draft, they continued that theme through the third day.

And as they look at the big picture after a far busier than normal free agency, they feel like they've created the kind of upgrades on offense they needed.

Free agency brought a pair of high-end starting guards in Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis, so the team was able to add skill position talent throughout the draft in first-round wide receiver Xavier Legette, second-round running back Jonathon Brooks, and fourth-round tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders.

"I feel like we really took advantage of some of those spots to bring a bunch of talent into our roster," Canales said Saturday night. "Specifically talking about the offense, with a running back, a receiver and a tight end, skill-wise, just really bringing a little bit of juice there to really challenge that whole group and elevate the offense.

"So I'm really excited about what we did there."

Getting Sanders with the first pick on Saturday particularly energized Canales, since Sanders has 10 1/8-inch hands that allow him to go up in traffic and make catches in a way that few can.

"Versatility, right?" Canales said. I sound like a broken record, but it's really what we're looking for for our system and the things that JT showed on film: just being able to use him as a receiver, use him in the run game in creative ways. He's definitely not the traditional in-line type of tight end.

"He's a guy that can do a lot of different things. He's made some dynamic plays with the ball in his hand, and he's really strong at the catch, and that's probably one of the biggest things that we saw in him is just the contested catch part. He's got massive hands, and he really does attack the ball. Any more in this league, tight ends to really get that separation from man to man is pretty hard. Most of them are around the same speed, except for a few guys. So since they're going to be covered, the contested catch is big, and that's where he really separated himself from the rest of the guys."

The Panthers did not add any more offensive line help, but Morgan said they continue to feel good about Austin Corbett moving into center. They have experimented with Brady Christensen in minicamp this week as they look for backup options.

That search for depth will continue on the other side of the ball, as the Panthers used the third day of the draft to bring in Washington State cornerback Chau Smith-Wade in the fifth round, Mississippi State defensive tackle Jaden Crumedy in the sixth round, and Michigan linebacker Michael Barrett in the seventh.

Smith-Wade offers an intriguing bit of depth in the secondary, and his size suggests he could play nickel. They brought back veteran Troy Hill to play that role after a successful first year here.

Otherwise, they added some depth to a team that needed it.

Third-round linebacker Trevin Wallace doesn't have a path to a starting job with veterans Shaq Thompson and Josey Jewell, but Thompson's in the final year of his contract, and he and Barrett offer some young depth.

And adding Crumedy to the mix on the defensive line adds another need body up front, as they've tried to get bigger there this offseason after extending Derrick Brown and signing free agent A'Shawn Robinson.

Morgan said the "door was still open" when asked about veteran Stephon Gilmore, but cornerback and pass-rushers will be in demand during the undrafted free-agent period since the Panthers didn't add to the outside linebacker room (other than the free agency additions of Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Wonnum, and K'Lavon Chaisson).

"Again, we're gonna try to create depth and competition everywhere," Morgan said.

He didn't want to compare this roster to any others, but he clearly has done a lot of work in the last four months.

"I think that we have to make this roster the best that we can for the team this year in 2024," Morgan said. "That's our goal, is to take it day by day and just try to build it and make it the best that we can with what we have. And me and Dave, we talk every day about the roster and which ways we can make it better.

"And, you know, I think we're headed in a good direction."

Xavier Legette was welcomed with fanfare during his first day as a Panther. The first round pick banged the Keep Pounding drum, met with coaches and got the first glimpse at his new jersey.