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Ask The Old Guy: Feeling a draft

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CHARLOTTE — First things first, no matter how confidently anyone says it, no one knows how any of this is going to go.

But after a few days to let the dust settle on last weekend's festivities, it's fair to say the Panthers maximized the resources available to them.

Walking into a draft without a first-rounder is a bit of a buzzkill, but after sitting around for almost every minute of Thursday, they jumped back in late, and it got exciting in a hurry. And the dealing continued throughout the weekend, getting back a second-round pick next year and stacking up more players who should help Bryce Young and the offense immediately.

It starts at the top, and part of the reason the reactions seem so positive right off the bat is that Xavier Legette fills a few immediate needs. For starters, he's the big-fast wideout the offense lacked, and he's a guy who can make Randy Moss plays. (Please pay attention; no one is saying he's Randy Moss.) But he's also got a certain "je ne sais quoi" about him. It's hard to put a finger on now because this is all so new, but our first impression of Legette is just so... real.

He comes off as humble and accessible in a way a lot of highly drafted skill guys aren't. Christian McCaffrey was always on another level, with the family background and the famous relationships. And even DJ Moore, while a man of the people, still had a certain cool remove. This guy seems to be one of us right off the bat. If Legette plays the way they think he will, he's going to be great fun here and a guy fans will gravitate to. The vibe he's giving is genuine.

Again, none of this matters if he can't play, and we'll find out together whether that's the case. Things are different once you're in the NFL. But after walking into last weekend with little in the way of national buzz, the Panthers did some things to earn notice. So let's get to the mail and start sifting it out.

Dave Canales, Dan Morgan


This question has its roots in the mantra and reality that "a friend in need is a friend indeed." Would it not be safe to assume that the existing relationship between Dan Morgan and Buffalo's GM Brandon Beane was paramount in the Panthers securing their first-round draft pick? Beane calls Morgan with the heads up that they are receiving trade offers for the 32nd pick. . . if you want the pick, let's make a deal because you are about to lose Legette!" Chargers took a WR at 34, and NE took another at 37. I suspect either or both called Buffalo for a chance to grab a WR at 32. Your thoughts? — Craig, Lincoln, NE

It's a reasonable suspicion and certainly based on fact.

Beane was working here in football operations when Morgan was drafted in 2001, so they've known each other a long time. And after Morgan rose from intern levels in Seattle, Beane hired him to come to Buffalo in 2018. So yes, there's a familiarity.

They had talked early last Thursday and know each other (and each other's roster) well enough to have an idea of what's up. But before the Bills could do any business with the Panthers, they traded down with another team in the receiver market. Sending their 28th pick to the Chiefs (along with 133 and 248) for 32, 95, and 221 was part of a philosophy. The Bills were open for business. And after trading away the chance at speed receiver Xavier Worthy to the team that's knocked them out of the playoffs three of the last four seasons, it's clear how badly they wanted to move back and add assets. That had more to do with it than doing your buddy a solid.

To your point, Morgan didn't know what the Chargers and Patriots were up to, but he suspected.

Positions tend to go on runs during the draft as the basic market forces (scarcity increases demand) kick in. Once Worthy went 28th and Ricky Pearsall went 31st, Morgan had to be aware that somebody else might go get the guy he obviously wanted in Legette. So he went and got him himself, sending 33 and 141 for 32 and 200. Giving up 59 spots in fifth and sixth-round order might have been a slight overpay to go up one spot (14.1 points or the equivalent of a mid-sixth-rounder on the perhaps-archaic Jimmy Johnson chart, which didn't take modern economics into account), but they were getting something for their money — the certainty that someone else wouldn't steal Legette, and the fifth-year option on his contract. Of deals they agonized over, this was not one. It came together quickly, and everyone agreed it was worth it.

But yes, it never hurts to have relationships and maintain them. It's like any other professional network, you talk to people you trust. If the deals were equivalent, Beane might lean toward Morgan based on familiarity. But if someone else was offering more, he'd have taken the better offer for his own interests. He traded with the Chiefs who make his life miserable, so that should tell you how much of this is personal.


Whew! What an adventure that draft was, eh? Particularly the second round, before we even got to it! I liked adding that fifth-year option with just sixty spots of collateral in the 5th/6th round. I'm a believer in the Jonathon Brooks pick. That was some solid work on that pick.

It looks like we're one step closer to Brady Christensen's eventual take over of the center spot. I'm feeling like this season is a trial to see if they re-sign him to play that spot moving forward. Two questions (is this cheating?); The first one, is Stephen Gilmore a fait accompli? The second, who/what were you most impressed by in Dan and Dave's first draft running the show? I appreciate you, Mr. Gantt, you are a beacon in the storm. — Deric, Gastonia, NC

Deric packed a lot in there, including shameless praise of the host (which always works).

As noted above, the trade up to 32 was reasonable by any measure. Brooks could play a big role here early (and I suspect there are more questions about him this week).

As to center, I think a lot of people are overlooking the possibility that Austin Corbett could actually be really good at this. His college coach, Brian Polian (son of Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian), told Corbett 10 years ago he'd probably end up at center. And Corbett was talented enough to be taken 33rd overall by a GM who most people concede to be pretty good at evaluating (John Dorsey, the guy who drafted Patrick Mahomes the year before). If the Panthers had drafted Graham Barton 33rd and converted him to a new position (Barton was a left tackle at Duke and will play center for the Bucs), I imagine the tenor of the discussion would have been different. People like new and shiny, and the draft panders to that impulse as well as anything in American commerce. I'm sorry to break this news, but you have been marketed to. New is not always better than old.

Christensen could end up being the center of the future, since we've discussed for months that he has all the physical and intellectual traits. But so does Corbett, which is why he's got the first shot at it.

I don't think Gilmore is anywhere near a fait accompli, though others may. But he'll be 34 in September. He still deserves to get paid. There are likely teams interested in him who are considered closer to contending for the Super Bowl than the Panthers are. All that stuff matters.

As for what I was most impressed with, it was perhaps the way Morgan and Brandt Tilis and Canales worked together. We'll have more on this later, but these guys (particularly Morgan and Tilis) act like guys who have known each other for years. They have not.


Welp, my attempts to summon D'Onta Foreman by thrice referencing him in a recent mailbag appear to have failed (something about a contractual obligation to the city of Cleveland). At any rate, I was pleasantly surprised (and just plain legitimately surprised) by the selection of Jonathon Brooks with the round two pick in this year's draft. Though the football gods couldn't deliver Foreman, they did bestow a different rusher from that long(horn) pedigree of backs out of Texas. Seeing the tearful reaction from that young man and his family upon news of his selection was my highlight of the event. It provided a beautifully humane quality to a sport otherwise steeped in dollars, drama, and violence. Also, trading back to acquire a second next year while securing the best all-around player at a highly undervalued position is a brand of intellectually aggressive drafting, which I genuinely dig.

Our head coach and GM have professed a commitment to running the football, and after bolstering the backfield as well as the folks up front, they appear to be men of their word. I am excited to witness Brooks and Co. gashing opposing defenses this Fall. No question today, just a request that you pass my compliments along to Chefs Canales and Morgan. I look forward to seeing what they continue to cook up. I, for one, am in the mood for Pancakes! P.S. I really enjoyed your article about the economics of the running back position. Keep Pounding on those keys. — Jacob, Conway, AR

Jacob, I'd love to take credit for the running back story you referenced, but that was all Kassidy Hill. She's the rookie of the year, and she crushed her first draft here. I won't bore you with how the sausage gets made in our department, but she was able to process a lot of information and get it out there in a way that makes our readers smarter. Not everyone can do it. She can. I'm glad I have the fifth-year option on her, since I moved up in the draft to hire her last December. The franchise tag remains a possibility at the end of her rookie deal.

And for giving me a chance to say that out loud, I'm making Jacob this week's Friend Of The Mailbag and will get the appropriate honorarium on the way to Arkansas soon. (Also, my grandmother's middle name was Arkansas, but she pronounced it are-CAN-zuss. Legette ain't the only one here who grew up country.)

Brooks is a great story and a good piece of business.

But getting that 2025 second-rounder from the Rams was the unsung key to this draft.

We could get deep into the analytical weeds (as ESPN's Bill Barnwell brilliantly did), but even an old dog like me knows that if some is good, more must be better. Having that pick makes them whole in 2025 (when they have nine total picks), and deals for future picks generally work out best for the team accumulating more stuff. The Rams won a Super Bowl by going "F them picks," but that's not the position the Panthers are in right now. Again, we've got more of this story to tell in the weeks to come, but that move was an inflection point for a lot of people.

And as much as any player, that move might define how they want to do this thing.


I'm an original PSL owner and have been a Panther fan from day one. I'm also a huge NC State fan and wish the Panthers would have drafted Payton Wilson, who a lot of analysts had rated as the top inside linebacker. I guess the only reason they didn't was because of injury concerns? — Jay, Salisbury, NC

Saying the only reason someone didn't draft Wilson was because of injury concerns is like saying the only reason Steve Smith wasn't a first-rounder was because of height concerns. You think? Maybe a little.

Wilson is kind of beat up anyway (sing a couple of bars of "Head, shoulders, knees, and toes," and you're getting there), and reports last week revealed that he lacks an ACL in one knee. Hines Ward played with distinction for the Steelers with just one, and Panthers legend Jimmy Hitchcock played nine years in the league without any.

But man, can he play. Maybe some of these guys have too many ACLs. He may be one of those players who goes to Pittsburgh for a good time, not a long time. The concerns are legitimate (ask Morgan about his shoulders sometime), and Wilson also has 30-1/2-inch arms, which are shorter than ideal. So as well as he played for the Wolfpack, he's not a spotless prospect.

Time will tell if passing on Wilson was the right call, but they like third-rounder Trevin Wallace a lot. Morgan loves the way he finishes.

"Athletic freak, a guy that can run sideline to sideline, strike ball carriers, and I think his ceiling is really high," the GM said. "I think he's a guy that's going to develop, keep developing and turn into a good linebacker for us."

We don't know today whether it was the right call. But you're tempted to give Dan Morgan the benefit of the doubt on drafting run-and-hit linebackers because he was one.


I am excited about the guys that were drafted, but the Panthers draft class didn't seem to get the best reviews from pundits and draft analysts. What do Dan Morgan and Dave Canales know that the others don't? — Deirdre, Tena Cay, SC

I'm old enough to remember Mel Kiper Jr. saying that if Jimmy Clausen wasn't a quality NFL quarterback in eight years, he'd retire. That was more than eight years ago. Jimmy's down. Mel remains.

And maybe I'm just old and tired, but I have very little interest in what pundits say (other than a few I trust to be operating in good faith). The modern internet economy is based on creating outrage and hot takes, and getting people to respond emotionally to it for engagement. Hard pass.

I saw a lot of Bs and Cs, and that seems fair. Bs and Cs get degrees. Or as the noted Eastern philosopher John Fox liked to say: "You know what they call the guy who finished last in his class at med school? Doctor."

The only honest answer to post-draft analysis is not C but "we'll see." Most of the opinions are based on evaluations that may or may not have merit (He was a seventh-round value on my big board, and you took him in the third! -- Never mind that my big board is made of plywood I got from the Lowe's scrap bin next to the rip saw).

And I'm operating from somewhat of a position of strength that others aren't here because of the access working for a team provides that allows you to hear certain things, but I'm not going to lie to you. I have no idea how this is all going to work out. But I can tell you that they employed a normal and thoughtful and calculated method to arrive at these decisions. The process was sane. So what they've done makes sense at this moment. Until we see what it looks like on the field, we won't know for sure. That'll happen soon enough. Until then, we'll always have Mel, and apparently, we always will since he told us a fib about Jimmy.


My question is why didn't we trade down and go after a receiver like Ladd McConkey from Georgia? He is a really fast and pure route runner, and basically, we have Leggette, but the rest of the group is pedestrian at best. Adam Thielen is a good possession receiver and Diontae Johnson from Pittsburgh will be a good addition but we don't have any ballers at wide receiver except for Legette. All of the good teams have two to three really good pass catchers on their rosters. — Jonathan, Rock Hill, SC

Well, the group you described as pedestrian includes a cat who caught 103 passes in one of the worst passing offenses I've ever seen, one of the league's best route runners, and a first-round pick. Double-dipping at receiver never seemed likely, because they had other needs, and there are some other guys you kind of want to get a look at in a normal system like Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Jonathan Mingo.

We're not talking about the 1999 Rams here, but it's certainly better than it was two years ago, or definitely last year.

Adam Thielen


What do you think XL will be able to provide in the near future for this franchise and how much will Bryce Young be able to utilize a fast and large target within the offensive scheme of the new staff. Will XL start this season? Also, will Mingo develop this year with all the new additions at wideout? — Steve, Charlotte

Of all the things Legette brings here immediately, his surplus of nicknames is welcome.

You could go XL, you could go X-Man, Professor X. "X marks the spot" will become a favorite of announcers when he's close to the first down sticks. So many options.

As for what he'll provide immediately, it's hard to tell, since they're still installing offense the first time around, and he's not here yet. My suspicion is that because he's unique among the group on hand — he's a big, fast, up in the air go-get-it receiver — he's going to have opportunities quickly.

Mingo has size and some of those qualities (maybe a little less in the top-end speed department), but every time there's an addition to the room, it creates more competition for targets. It would be a mistake to write him off already, since a new staff will have a new view of him and new methods to teach. And considering the work Canales and those he brought with him have done with receivers in the past, giving them options to work with seems wise.


Are you a little surprised that the Panthers did not pick up at least one offensive lineman in this year's draft? I know we signed some linemen through free agency (though their names escape me at the moment), but I always thought the offensive line was their weakest area. — Mark, Windsor, CA

Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. Say their names, Mark. They're important as people and football players.

Yeah, that's about $150 million worth of contract for (an alleged) 650 pounds of guard. That's a significant investment. And with tackles Ikem Ekwonu and Taylor Moton locked up, and a guy they trust in Corbett at center, they're at least solid there, and possibly quite good.

You can never fill all the needs in one draft, though if you trade around and end up with extra picks next year, you have a better chance.

I've seen some shabby lines here. This shouldn't be one unless a plague of locusts like last year descends upon us. Brooks on his own could be a good pick. Brooks behind this line, with that investment, is a statement of intent.

Robert Hunt, Austin Corbett, Damien Lewis


Looks like the Panthers front office gets it. You can't expect great things from your quarterback if he gets sacked 60+ times, and when he has time, outside of Thelein, no one is open. So, kudos for shoring up the middle of the offensive line and receivers with the free agent signings. But what are they going to do at LT? Are there prospects for Ickey to get better? It appeared like he regressed last year. I don't hear much focus on drafting at that position. What's your take? — Norm, Greenville, SC

The benefit of being old and having seen a lot of stuff is that I was around here when Ekwonu went 10 games without giving up a single sack. Checks notes, ... oh, that was way back two years ago.

This comes up in a lot of contexts, but it's absolutely unfair to pass judgment on any individual part of last year's Panthers offense, because the whole thing was irretrievably broken.

So it seems reasonable to think it's possible that Ekwonu looks more like the 2022 version than the 2023 version. Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert are very good at what they do, and the guys next to Ekwonu should be better and more stable as well (he played next to seven different left guards last year, to go along with the eight right guards). Having the same guy next to you helps a lot, even if he's not the best in the world, because familiarity matters. But Lewis is not just some guy, and if the offense as a whole is coherent, Ekwonu should benefit from that as well.

Ikem Ekwonu


Hi, Darin. I've followed the Panthers since the beginning (which means I'm an old guy, too). This is the first time we've gone the wunderkind route for a coach (Dan Morgan doesn't quite fit into that category at 45, but that's still young) so the vibe seems almost foreign. I am glad they've kept Dom Capers and Jim Caldwell around, though. They'll be examples of how high-character professionals operate, and I've always thought it's a good idea to have a former head coach (two is even better!) around to offer advice to first-timers like Dave Canales.

All of that said, there's something I've been wondering about since January. The searches for coach and GM were going on simultaneously, with Morgan being promoted three days before Canales was hired. How involved was Morgan in the rounds of coach interviews before he was promoted? Since he wasn't let go along with Scott Fitterer, was the plan to keep Morgan in some capacity all along? Given the apparent chemistry between Morgan and Canales, it's certainly hard to imagine things going differently now. I know organizational dynamics aren't as sexy as Mock Drafts or trade fantasies (which are different than fantasy trades), but, well, I've got enough sexy in my life. As an old guy, I'm pretty darn thankful about that! Keep Pounding! — John, Savannah, GA

Don't let anybody tell you older can't be sexy, John, and don't get me started on Emmylou Harris. And as if you needed it, I'm going to add to your obvious mature appeal by making you this week's bonus Friend Of The Mailbag, and sending you the T-shirt that all the hottest models are wearing this season. Though I will warn you, be prepared for the increase in admirers, not all of whom will have wholesome thoughts.

While the concurrent GM and head coach searches were going on in January, Morgan was interviewing for the GM role, while also being in on the coach interviews (along with Adrian Wilson and Cole Spencer). It wasn't an automatic that he was staying (new guys often have their own guys, and staff changes are part of the business), but Morgan getting the job shows you that his counsel was valued.

And let's face it, that's still a young vibe they've got going, even with Morgan at the ripe old age of 45.

Capers was 44 when he got the job in 1995, and Fox was 47 when he took over in 2002 for George Seifert, so yes, the 42-year-old Canales is the young one here. Dom had guys like Richard Williamson and Don Breaux with him, and Fox had Dan Henning, and when you're a first-time head coach, that is useful in ways you might not even envision at the time. So having seasoned leaders like Capers and Caldwell is valuable since they've lived experiences that Canales is learning on the fly. Being able to compare notes with someone who has done it always helps.

So trust me, when you wear the shirt, be prepared to get noticed. If the dress code at the club calls for "grown and sexy," you're covered.

Ejiro Evero, Dom Capers


With multiple players with first-round grades begging us to draft in the second round, we trade down, gaining a second-rounder next year. It was a big drop in the round but a big, worthwhile reward. Then we give up some new ground gained to move back up to select, drum roll please, a running back. It was one of the lesser needs, and, unless he is the second coming of CMC, something that was available in abundance 2-3 rounds later. Are we realistically expecting a player with rehab remaining to be a 1,500-2,000 total scrimmage yarder?

Please help me understand what the rationale behind this move is. We have multiple needs. We have no answer for needing help with edge rusher, cornerback, tight end, or nose tackle. I realize we can pick up some developmental players in the next four rounds, and we know we'll get some more in the draft next year. We have a lot of folks with only a year left on their contracts, including most of our safeties. I realize the plan of the head coach and front office is not for publication except in generalities. Xavier Legette should be a starter or at least play a substantial majority of the snaps on offense. What should fans be expected to see from the selections in rounds two through seven, all of which are rated by the talking heads as developmental players? How do we become improved during 2024? — Thomas, Garner, NC

I push back on this one because I am not afraid of an unpopular opinion.

(In a related story, there's never been an athlete in Charlotte more people have been wrong about than Nic Batum. You don't hate Nic, you hated his contract, which he didn't give to himself. He wasn't nearly as bad as the difference between your expectations and his performance, but that's kind of on you too. He is a sublimely gifted and wise basketball player and a fine human being. Give up your anger, it is misplaced, and enjoy him and Hornets legend Kyle Lowry as long as the 76ers are in the playoffs, which may be tonight.)

Where was I? Oh yes, running backs.

You can get A back anywhere. But if you want THE back, you usually have to invest in him. And as McCaffrey continues to prove for the 49ers, having THE guy can change an offense in so many ways. So Brooks was THE guy in this year's class by a significant margin.

They're working on a rehab plan from his November ACL injury, but with a solid tandem in Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders, they have the ability to be patient. Brooks has burst. He gained 1,139 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 10 games, averaging more than 113.9 a game (#sportswritermath), and 6.1 per carry.

When Canales was asked about the perception of running back value, he was willing to sound old school, saying that for his offense, it was "non-negotiable."

The Bucs weren't great at running last year, but they ran "stubbornly" to steal Canales' term. They also didn't have a stud like Brooks in the backfield, who still has plenty of tread on the tires. He only carried the ball 238 times in three years of college (because he was on a loaded Texas depth chart with Bijan Robinson [picked eighth overall last year] and Roschon Johnson).

Was it the biggest need? No. But people get blinded by need and that's why every GM in the league swears he takes the best player available.

The thing you have to balance is the value of the sixth pass-rusher or fourth or fifth cornerback vs. the very best running back in the class.

When healthy, Brooks can add something to the room it did not previously have. That's important and the kind of thing you sometimes have to take a chance on.

Also, stop listening to the talking heads, they stopped making sense a long time ago. Listen to the Talking Heads, instead.



And on that note, let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.

Good morning! Or afternoon, depending on when you answer this. I feel like I ask this every year, but with a regime change, I think it's warranted. Are we getting the behind-the-scenes look for free agency, draft, and even hire Dave and Dan? The Panthers digital team does a great job every year and there is nothing better than having offseason Panthers content. — Cody, Four Oaks, NC

Since it's the lightning round, I can answer this one simply — yes.

When will they show the guys that the Panthers picked up that were undrafted? — Sharon, Saint George, SC

That market is always a fluid one. Once there was an international player who agreed to terms but couldn't get a work visa, so he never made it to camp. Things can change. So we'll have those for you next week when they sign and are official official. Some of the names you know, some you don't.

Ange Postecoglou, Son Heung-min

Who do you have more confidence in, Big Ange or Canales? — Jordan, Burlington, NC

Jordan obviously knows I'm a Tottenham man, so I love me some Big Ange Postecoglou (despite Thursday's result). The gaffer has a way with words, and tactics (If not players. The big Australian said earlier this year he wasn't there to "give them a warm, fuzzy cuddle." He's done an incredible job with Spurs and mostly got us back on the front foot playing the kind of football we've always played and back to Europe. Love him. Let me see a season of Dave before I start comparing him to that high of a bar. If Dave had an Australian accent though, ...

Hi Darin. I hope you are doing well. The draft was interesting. Of the guys we acquired, is there anyone in particular that you are intrigued by? And, by the way, thank you for Ask The Old Guy. It's so much fun to see what is on the minds of fellow Panther fans. — LeeAnne, Lincolnton, NC

I'm digging on Legette for all the reasons stated above. But I'm also intrigued by the fact that Ja'Tavion Sanders has 10-1/8-inch mitts, and is willing to call himself "Man Hands." Now, Dude, that's a name no one would self-apply where I come from.

But thanks LeeAnne, I appreciate it. We do it for the people, and we know how interested everyone is this time of year. So it's worth it.