The C3 scouts have been doing their work. Here's a quick look at some of their most coveted prospects.
JP's guys to watch!
Shilique Calhoun (6’5”/255 lbs) DE, Michigan State
When it comes to speed rush you really don’t have to look past Calhoun. I feel to many people fall into the idea that a DE has to be over 270 to be able to have success in the NFL. I fell into this group until I looked more closely at some of the more successful defensive ends in the league. Two interesting names jumped out of pass-rushers who are of a similar body type as Calhoun (6’5 255), Robert Quinn (6’5 265) and DeMarcus Ware (6’4 262). Calhoun isn’t that much lighter than some of the top speed rushers in the league. He fits with the Panthers because he is touted for his worth ethic, both on and off the field. Alongside some of the best run stopping DTs and LBS in the league, Carolina could compensate for any early struggles Calhoun may have with defending the run. Most importantly, Calhoun’s closing speed makes me thing he could be the great equalizer to the elusiveness of guys like Russell Wilson.
Eli Apple (6’1”/200 lbs) CB, Ohio State
Apple, the lengthy, sturdy, in your face corner who is an excellent tackler and great in coverage, doesn’t fall far from the Norman tree. I like this kid a lot! He may just be my top Panther prospect.
Apple is described as having a “my ball” mentality. He doesn’t shy away muscling receivers on the line nor putting his hands on the ball. He's big enough to play wideouts physically, disrupting timing routes, and he has fast enough feet to stick with guys in coverage. OSU has had Apple following opposing teams’ best receivers, whether they lined up outside or in the slot.
He does tend to get a little grabby, but the Panthers could fix that by putting the boxing gloves on him in training camp. He fits the Panthers nicely because adds another versatile corner who can defend all types of receivers. He also has the potential to develop into a number one if doesn’t invest in Norman for the long term.
Sterling Shepard (5’10”/183 lbs) WR, Oklahoma
The best hands in the draft award goes to this Oklahoma product. With only 3 drops to his name, he scouts have dubbed Shepard the vacuum. He is a good route runner with short burst speed. His small size and limited strength will limit him to the slot as a pro. That’s not a knock in this NFL. Teams will have a spot for a guy with great hands as more and more offenses tend to run through the slot receiver. Though I do feel that the larger high-end talent will cause him to fall a bit in the draft, much like Jarvis Landry did two years ago, Shepard could be a valuable addition to the Panthers, given Jerricho Cotchery retires and Carolina doesn’t look to free agency to fill that void. Sheppard would be an upgrade in both hands and athleticism. Projected round late first through late 2nd, a Funchess style trade up would likely be needed if Carolina hoped to nab Shepard in the 2nd.
Bralon Addison (5’10”/190 lbs) WR, Oregon
Another track star from Oregon, Addison has insane burst, accelerating from 0-60 as fast as anyone. He looked poised for a breakout year in 2014 before tearing his ACL. Impressively, Addison didn’t appear to lose a step in 2015, even a major knee injury, but he did, however. experience when Marcus Mariota, his star QB, left for the NFL.
When scouts look at Addison, they will see a very limited route runner with soft hands who relies solely on speed to make plays. Right now, he’s still a track star who catches footballs. He fits with the Panthers because Carolina can take time to develop the sprinter into a receiver. Carolina could work Addison in situationally, and when the time is right, he could replace Ginn in a couple of years. Addison is faster (and that’s crazy to say) and has better hands than Ginn. He would be a great deep threat, who can actually catch, for years to come.
Projected round late 4th though late 5th. He would cost the Panthers a high draft pick, and he would have added value as a kick and punt returner.
Eric Murray (6’0” 190 lbs) CB, Minnesota
At 6’ 200 lbs, Murray has the measurables of an NFL corner. His big issue, and what many scouts are saying, is that Murray is pretty well-rounded, but hasn’t shown elite traits for press-man zone and run support. He hasn’t been a ballhawk either. In three years as a starter, he has only tallied 2 interceptions. On the other hand, he’s forced three fumbles showing he’s a solid tackler. Murray fits very well with the Panthers because he will be able to cover fast guys, big guys, and shifty guys. He he can work both the slot and outside. He may never be an elite corner, but he will always be well rounded and a decently reliable option in coverage.
Grants guys to watch!
Noah Spence: (6’2”/254 lbs) DE, Eastern Kentucky
The Panthers pass rush has been lacking an explosive all around edge rusher since Greg Hardy’s last game in blue and silver. This draft holds several big name pass rushers for the Panthers to look into, possibly none better than Noah Spence. After posting big numbers as a sophomore at Ohio State, drug addiction and other off the field problems led to his dismissal from the university. After going to rehab and cleaning his life up, he transferred to FCS Eastern Kentucky where he dominated the lower level competition to the tune of 13.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. However, his performance is not truly indicative of his talents, as he continued to wreak havoc against stiffer competition at the Senior Bowl. His size may cause concern, as he is below average in height for a 4-3 defensive end, and many project him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I personally don't think his size matters whatsoever; his motor, quickness, and agility could project him to be one of the more unblockable ends at the next level. Spence is a top five talent with undraftable off the field concerns. If he falls below the 25th pick in the first round, the Panthers should do all they can to scoop him up. He is far more explosive than any three down ends Carolina currently boasts, and he and Ealy could form a pretty nice duo for years to come.
Javon Hargrave (6’1”/315 lbs) DT, South Carolina State
Another Senior Bowl riser was South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. After showing out the Shrine Game, he earned an invite to the more prestigious Senior Bowl after Sheldon Rankins dropped out. This past season he went ballistic, posting 16 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. He plays like a poor man’s Aaron Donald, with explosion and high endurance being key components of his game. With Star and Short entering the last year of their contracts, now is the time to add depth around them. Hargrave would be a great mid round get for the Panthers, and his upside is unquestionable. He looks like a guy who could rotate around both defensive tackle positions, and with time become a solid player against the run and pass.
Kenyan Drake (6’0”/210 lbs) RB, Alabama
The forgotten running back from Alabama is poised to be one of the draft’s biggest steals. A series of impressive practices at the Senior Bowl has scouts raving, and a report came out that the Panthers were highly interested in him as well. Possessing lightning quick feet and 4.4 speed, some could compare him to a bigger Reggie Bush. Though his potential to be a three down back is in doubt, he is a guy who can contribute in many facets of the game. In the NFL you could see Drake contribute on punt/kick coverage, kick returns, pass catcher out of the back field, and a 5+ carry a game guy. He is someone you just want to get the ball in his hands and let him work. As a Panther he could see action is all of these areas and possibly more. With Jonathan Stewart’s contract winding down, and without a proven runner behind him, look for the Panthers to address the position as soon as this offseason. The Panthers are last in the league with an abysmal 18.5 yards per kick return; judging by Kenyan Drake’s 95 yard kick return TD in the national championship, he could be the guy to help us improve in this category.
Kendall Fuller (6’0”/196 lbs) CB, Virginia Tech
Right now the Panthers are starting Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain in the nickel and on the outside respectively, this has to change. Though these two players are starting only due to injury, it shows exactly how much depth the Panthers have on the backend. With Benwikere back healthy next year to resume his spot in the slot, and Norman likely to return as well; the Panthers look to have two dependable starters at corner, but someone is going to have to be brought in to fill Tillman’s outside spot. Enter Kendall Fuller. Fuller is exactly what I'm looking for in a corner for the Panthers in that he’s zone oriented, quick footed, and has a nose for the ball. He is also confident and reminds me a lot of Josh Norman in his style of play and attitude. He lacks long speed which knocks him down a touch, but so does Norman and the Panthers always put their corners in the best position to succeed. In fact, NFL Draft Guru Lance Zierlein said Fuller’s best home would be a defense that values “physical, zone corners over speed.” Sounds like a Panther to me. His selection in preferably the second round would give the Panthers a good young outside corner who could develop across from one of the best in the league in Norman, and some stability at the corner position the Panthers have lacked this year.
Jayron Kearse (6’4”/220 lbs) SS, Clemson
The Super Bowl may be Roman Harper’s last game in a Panther uniform, and that in itself will make a lot of Panther fans very happy. With Tre Boston the only startable safety behind him, the Panthers could try to find their safety of the future in Kearse. Possessing freakish size and athleticism, he would definitely be a different type of player than old bones Harper. Kearse said he ran the 40 in 4.42 seconds, a very good number for a man of his size and one that has scouts salivating about his potential. Right now I can see him as a round 2-4 option for Carolina as he is a tad rusty on coverage and other technical nuances of the game. At strong safety, he would have a insane body type for his position, which could eliminate tons of mismatch problems. Drafting him would give the Panthers a healthy competition between two young athletic safeties in he and Boston, a type of competition most teams would love to have.