With many Panther fans hoping Jamal Adams slips to Carolina at #8, there's a strong possibility that both Adams and Malik Hooker are gone in the Top 5. Will these early selections start a run on safeties, leaving Carolina out of the mix until later rounds or will the safety market equalize after that early run?
Carolina may be eying a safety in the Top 100 picks as Tre Boston looks less and less like he will be a substantial contributor. Veteran Mike Adams, who the Panthers added this offseason, is clearly a short-term fix. Carolina will need to find an answer for this position which has been a patchwork of players since Gettleman took over.
NC State's Josh Jones could be that guy.
At 6'1, 220 lbs, Jones has the size and speed of an NFL strong safety. He destroyed the combine, running a 4.41/40-yd, racked 20 reps on the bench, and soared with a 37" vertical. Obi Melifonwu is the only safety who looked more athletically gifted than Jones, and he is projected to be a first or early second round selection.
The problem with Jones is getting him. The Panthers have shown the interest, bringing in Jones for both a private meeting and private workout. With four picks in the Top 10, Carolina has the ammunition too.
Wouldn't be surprised if NC State safety Josh Jones went in 1st round. Tape is great, height/weight/speed, tough & productive.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 22, 2017
Jones has shot up draft boards since the combine, so if Carolina does really want this hard-hitting safety, who some compare to Mike Mitchell, they will have to probably pull the trigger by their third selection (#64 acquired from the Patriots).
Jones does compare somewhat well to Mike Mitchell. Big, fast, and love to lay the wood like a strong safety should, Jones and Mitchell's draft profiles are eerily resemblant.
"Excellent size/speed combination with well-developed upper and lower bodies. Lights up receivers coming over the middle and running backs in the flat. Flies up from the deep backfield on blitzes and levels unsuspecting quarterbacks and ballcarriers coming into the hole. Has the range to cross the field after reading the quarterback's eyes. Good, not great, hands for the interception and has the speed to make yardage on the return. Fairly smooth in his backpedal, can change directions quickly when maintaining his balance."
"the prototypical combination of size and speed. Has acceleration and top-end speed to range all over the field. Plus athletic ability and reactive quickness. Has ability to disguise his coverage before sprinting back to centerfield. Has experience with both safety spots. Fluid in his movement and is an explosive leaper when challenging at the high-point. Has the ball skills to rake it or take it. Plays with eager eyes that stay glued to quarterback's intentions. Has the closing burst to challenge throws. Extremely aggressive.
Even their weaknesses are similar NFL.com cautions about Jones:
"His aggression is a double-edged sword. Will come in too hot looking to lay the lumber and end up missing his mark as a tackler. Needs to do better job of coming to balance as a tackler. From zone coverage, can be a little slow to anticipate routes and squeeze the throwing windows. Gets hyper-focused on quarterback and will lose track of his assignments. Will bite on play-action bait and get drawn out of position."
In 2009, they warned about Mitchell:
"His interest in making the big hit causes him to miss tackles in the open field. Missile with limited instincts, and could be an injury risk because of the play he ways. Runs around blocks instead of taking them on and shedding using his hands. Usually sees the play in front of him; a read-and-react player who may struggle with misdirection and double moves at the next level. Has the speed to recover against MAC opponents, but may not against NFL receivers. Faced lower level of quarterback play and used his speed to catch up to weak downfield throws."
Much like Jones, Mitchell wasn't high on the big boards prior to the pre-draft workouts. Mesmerized by his size and speed, Oakland surprised everyone by selecting Mitchell in the 2009 draft. Most were puzzled by Mitchell's selection so early. While he looked the part, he was unpolished. Sure, he hit like a Mack truck but would often become hypnotized by quarterbacks and lose his coverage assignment.
Mitchell fell into obscurity in a bad Oakland defense. Finding second life in Carolina, he played a nice role in the 2013 Panthers 12-4 season and was rewarded with a nice free agent deal in Pittsburgh the following year.
Like Mitchell in '09, Jones won't come cheap. While draft projections vary on Jones, he's being mocked largely in the 2nd round.
CBS Sports: #48
Walter Football: #50
Draft Countdown: #81
Carolina has four selections in the Top 100. At some point, both a defensive end and safety are defensive additions that Carolina will consider. If Carolina misses out on the Jamaal Adams lottery or if Meliwonfu is gone by #40, Carolina may hope to go with Jones at #64 or even hope he slips to #98.
While Jones goes early in many mock drafts, he isn't as highly regarded in comparison to other safeties in the class, which may help Carolina get a valuable prospect simply because there isn't a shortage of talent in this the position group. Despite Jones's athleticism, PFF has him ranked as the 14th best safety. He favors a bit better on Walterfootball.com 9th and DraftCountdown at 10th.
Over the past five years, an average of 6.2 safeties have been selected in the Top 100. In Dave Gettleman's first year as a GM, 2013, nine safeties went in the Top 100. Gettleman didn't address the position that frenzied year. The following season, he moved on at Tre Boston #128 overall. Boston's failure to show he can take on a starting role and the recent 2016 draft, which placed a high value on safeties like his first draft in 2013, may encourage Gettleman to move on a safety with one of those earlier picks. Likewise, there's an outside chance Jones is there early in the 4th round because of this abundance.
When Mike Mitchell jumped up the draft boards in 09, there were seven safeties drafted in the Top 100. If there is another surge this year, Carolina may be looking to get on that action earlier rather than later.
By Tony Dunn
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