Could the Carolina Panthers Select Safety Josh Jones in the Top 100?

Could the Carolina Panthers Select Safety Josh Jones in the Top 100?

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.

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Backyard Baller: Justin Hardy Combine Review

Backyard Baller: Justin Hardy Combine Review

The Man with the Golden Gloves attended the NFL Combine and performed well Saturday.  Never acclaimed as a blazer, Hardy packed his lunch pail and ran a respectable 4.56 40-yd dash. As expected, he showed off those golden gloves, dominating the gauntlet and making some pretty spectacular catches in the route drills. He showed quick feet in the 3 cone drill and showed off his strength on the bench.  None of these numbers are going to dominate the combine  discussion.  What the measurables do show is that he is athletic enough to produce for a NFL team.  

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Backyard Baller: Todd Gurley II

Backyard Baller: Todd Gurley II

Who doesn’t have a soft-spot for a hometown boy?  I know I do. It’s why to this day Julius Peppers still remains my all-time favorite Carolina Panther. He was the OG Backyard Baller, playing high-school ball about 45 minutes away from where I grew up. As a senior, one my good friends lined up across from Peppers, who was a freshman at the time, and he knew even then he was going to be special. 

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Backyard Ballers: Ten Prospects from Five Schools in the Carolinas

Backyard Ballers: Ten Prospects from Five Schools in the Carolinas

The Panther’s have a great home field advantage when it comes to scouting instate talent, the state of North Carolina currently has 7 division 1 football programs. This number may seem low, but it is actually tied for second in the nation behind Texas, and will move to solo second when the Charlotte 49ers move up in 2015. When you add the two outstanding football programs in the South Carolina Gamecocks and Clemson Tigers, the Panther’s have the ability to tap into backyard talent like no other team. Here is a couple prospects to keep your eyes on:

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Countdown to Justin Hardy: Another Day at the Office

He makes it look easy, effortless even.

Justin Hardy hasn't really dominated any one game this season--until today. He's been important, but he hasn't been the only weapon on the ECU Pirates' high-powered offense. Hardy took over today, however, reminding that he's the Pirates' main weapon. Reigning in 8 catches for 120 and 3 TDs, he also continued his march toward breaking the FBS all-time reception record held by Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles (346).  He's just 46 receptions away.

An accomplishment noteworthy under any circumstance, it is particularly impressive under Hardy's. From his freshman year, he's show he's a big-time talent that went overlooked. Walking on at ECU, he hauled in 64 catches for 668 yards as a freshman. Last season, Hardy registered a stunning 113 receptions for 1284 yards. His pace was a little behind, but today's performance showed it won't be by much.  Saturday's seem to be just another day at the office for Hardy.

How has he done it and how could he contribute to the +Carolina Panthers? He's done it through intelligent route running, insane hands, and football instinct. He can just play.

Hardy works man-coverage well and the zone better. His routes are deceptive and efficient. He never looks to be over-exerting himself. He's economic. He can sit down softly in the zone, providing a reliable target for the quarterback, or he can go and get the ball one-on-one. Just look at these hands:

Did I mention he returns punts as well? He doesn't blow them back for TDs (never took one to the house), but he's reliable and comfortable when opposing teams are bearing down.

Compliment this intelligent, polished receiver to Kelvin Benjamin and hopefully a speedster that can take the top off, and the Panthers offense could cook.  Let's keep this "Bayard Baller" home in the Carolinas.

Follow this golden-gloved prospect at  Visit the Countdown 2 Justin Hardy page.

The Man with the Golden Gloves: Justin Hardy

C3 is always working hard to scout talent that we believe would help the Carolina Panthers in the future.  Often this talent is in our own backyard.  It's the reason we started the "Backyard Ballers" series last season. This season, C3 has gone further by launching the official "C3 Countdown 2 Justin Hardy" campaign, where hope to bring Freak Magic, aka "the Man with the Golden Gloves," to the Queen City.  Adding Hardy to the Panthers would compliment the gigantic Kelvin Benjamin and give Cam a new weapon in a clearly unsolidified receiving core.

Hardy's performance against NCCU was the most effortless 3 TD game a guy could have. He sat out nearly an entire offensive series in the first quarter.

ECU quarterback, Shane Carden, spread the ball around all night, but Freak Magic made his presence known when his number was called.  Beginning with a trick play where he threw a TD, Hardy worked the defensive zone, beat defenders one-on-one, and just did all night what any Backyard Baller is expected to do--Ball Out. What was particularly impressive about Hardy's performance was the economy of effort.  He didn't look to be working all that hard.  Not to say he wasn't giving his 100%, he just made it look easy. It was a cerebral performance, one that demonstrates his maturation as a player and understanding of the position.  The performance certainly kicked off the Justin Hardy to the Queen City campaign bang.

Here's a look at his stat sheet:


Shane Carden and Justin Hardy have had a clear chemistry for some time.  Here the Pirates looked to adjust the play, and then Justin Hardy well just climbed the ladder and made an insane grab. 

Hardy accelerates and feigns a corner feign route, instead button just inside the goal line.

Backyard Baller: ECU's Justin Hardy

Panther Nation give a warm welcome for C3's newest contributor, Gerin Honeycutt, a journalism major from East Carolina University.  Most important, however, this up and coming sports journalist is one of us, a die hard Panther fan!  Give it up for the newest member of the Crew and leave a comment for his first story! 

Don’t beat yourself up Panther fans, your next great wide receiver could be right under your nose. Well, 250 miles east under your nose at East Carolina University. Greenville, North Carolina is where NFL recruiters have discovered what two years ago would have been considered a “diamond in the rough.” Enter current ECU Wide Receiver/Punt Returner Justin Hardy. After a jaw dropping sixty-four reception, 658 yard, six touchdown and Conference USA All-Freshman team campaign, Hardy has done nothing but amass two seasons of inspired offensive production—202   receptions and 2,389 yards, averaging over a first down every time he catches the ball and let’s not forget those nineteen touchdowns. Consistent play like this has elevated the 6’1 190 lb Hardy off the list of NFL possible gems and onto a lot of NFL recruiter’s top wide receiver’s board for the 2015 draft.

Hardy catching TD on Panther CB Melvin White
The two time first team All-Conference selection does not shy away from competition either. If there are any Pirate readers out there, you guys know that ECU, season after season, always plays one of the hardest non-conference schedules of any low-tier FBS school. Let that not be a knock to ECU, who is set to start their first year in the newly settled American Conference this year. Today’s fans, however, seem more critical of schools not matched with a powerful conference’s logo, such as the SEC, B1G 10, ACC, and PAC-12. Many players underestimate talent found at smaller market colleges.  Just because a player didn’t come out of a large magnate high school or enter into a large market college program doesn’t mean that there isn’t top level talent at the smaller market schools.  The talent may be less acclaimed, but Hardy shows it’s there and that they can compete at the highest levels.

Hardy battled this irritating situation from day one, where his only scholarship offer was from Fayetteville State.  Hardy to eventually choose to walk on at ECU with the hopes of earning a scholarship instead. Hardy spent his first year as a redshirt trying to make a name for himself by splitting time at quarterback and wide receiver on the scout team. He’s worked, fought, and scrapped from day one.  It’s paid off at the collegiate level where he has become the top offensive option for the ECU Pirates. His work isn’t over yet though. Hardy has one last season at ECU to prove to critical NFL scouts that he is NFL ready.  What’s scary about this is that he Hardy only has three years of experience and still has a full season to work on this craft. If he keeps pace with his improvement and dominance to this point, he could wind up being a national standout and a favorite among NFL scouts.  

I recently spoke Hardy’s former teammate and ECU receiver, Andrew Bodenheimer. He quickly emphasized Hardy’s high football IQ, stating “If you put Hardy with a set of NFL coaches, he has potential to be one of the more dangerous wide receivers in the league.” From what I’ve seen on film, the only downside to Hardy is his knack to push himself too hard causing him sometimes to make plays harder on himself than they should be. Occasionally, you’ll see Hardy’s fundamentals slip in the process. NFL scouts know this is an easy fix that can be coached out by even a sub-par wide receiver coach.

Another unsung attribute to add to Hardy’s skill set is his impressive blocking ability. He constantly finds a way to get into the chest of safeties and linebackers who trump him in size, yet his technique is so smooth he manages to win the higher percentage of those battles. He’s also tallied a good amount of crack backs, and every fan loves a good crack back! Hardy’s willingness to block downfield is an attribute cherished by the Carolina Panthers.  Every receiver they have brought in this offseason is willing to get on a defender in support of the run-game.  Hardy would fit right in the Carolina Culture.

While all of these qualities help chisel Hardy’s sculpture, none help set him apart from other receivers more than his elite catching and playmaking abilities. With disproportionately humongous hands, Hardy is basically a wide receiver equipped with two catcher’s mitts, enabling him to catch anything in his area code. Let’s just say he’s no Brandon Lafell if that helps boost any Panther fan’s confidence. Hardy has made numerous circus catches throughout his career, many over top-tier defensive backs. The scariest part about Hardy’s game is his Dante Hall-like agility when he has the ball in the open field. Hardy even averaged nearly nine yards a punt return last year, showing he is an effective special teams’ contributor.

The young star has impressively been able to amass such numbers when being the focus of opposing defenses as well.  Facing double teams, game after game, Hardy has still put up monster numbers. Lincoln Riley, ECU’s Offensive Coordinator, loved putting Hardy in sets that isolated him on one side of the field. I’m sure he didn’t mind Hardy’s versatility to work the slot either.

Hardy’s speed isn’t out of this world.  He will probably clock in the mid to high 4.5s when we do see an official time.  Being a straight burner isn’t his game though.  Hardy has that rare skill set that translates in the NFL just as much as speed does.  He is fearless, hardworking, has crazy hands, and has playmaking ability.  We’ve seen the fast guys, Ted Ginn and Hayward-Bay that had the speed, but lacked the tools.  Hardy has better than average speed and a skill set that makes scouts drool.

Hardy is kind of a new aged Hakeem Nicks minus the injuries, but adding the voluntary team activities. Any team, not just the Panthers, would be fortunate to have this guy. To me however, the silky smooth Hardy looks like the perfect piece beside Kelvin Benjamin to load Cam up with for the future. Tune in this year to Justin Hardy folks.  After his opener against North Carolina Central, he and his Pirates take on the South Carolina Gamecocks on ESPN 2, Saturday September, 6th at  7 P.M. I guarantee you the show will not disappoint. S o in the words of the six-time pro bowler Terrell Owens, “Get your popcorn ready.”

By Gerin Honeycutt         

Backyard Ballers: Interview with Jimmy Legree, former Gamecock Corner

LIVE MONDAY, 4/28 @10 PM!


Jimmy Legree, former SC #Gamecock  and NFL prospect, joins the C3 crew to talk about his college career, preparing for the NFL, the #USC  pro day, and the #Carolina  #Panthers. Check C3's player profile on Jimmy Legree from our "Backyard Ballers" series. 

Jimmy Legree

Backyard Ballers: Carolina Gamecock Jimmy Legree

Jimmy Legree was a good corner for the Carolina Gamecocks for several years and spent the vast majority of his time as a starter after redshirting during his freshman season. In 2012 and 2013, Jimmy was an integral part of their defensive backfield.

When he came out of high school, he was either a 2- or 3-star recruit. Translation: decent player but probably won't be a star.

Inserted as the starting free safety in 2011 after a strong 2-pick showing in the spring game, Legree struggled and after two games the young player was used on special teams and from the bench.

In 2012, he moved to the cornerback position and that's where he hit his stride. Not letting his uneven play from 2011 keep him down, he got back up and went right at it with gusto. It didn't take him long to prove to the Head Ball Coach that he could cover wide receivers and appeared in every game since then, sharing time at the position with teammate Akeem Auguste.

You've gotta admire a guy who faces adversity, gets knocked down, gets back up, and is better than ever for it. It demonstrates character, resilience, and a can-do attitude that every NFL team desires in their players.

He had 44 tackles and 3 interceptions in 2012, leading the team in the latter category for the season. He also had his first career interception, a pick-6 against East Carolina University. Quite fitting that he "pilfered the Pirates" on that play, I'd say! He also had a couple of long returns on other interceptions but didn't find the end zone other than the 34-yarder against ECU.

So the story goes, he had his best game against a Georgia team favored to beat USC, but partially due to Legree's blanket coverage that game, Georgia QB Aaron Murray found the slogging tough and the Carolina Gamecocks found themselves a win.
Jimmy Legree
In 2013, he increased his tackle total to 55, notched three more interceptions, and showed better ability to play the run.

That's another thing coaches absolutely love - a guy who learns and broadens his game as he gains experience. As such, he had his finest play of his career on jumping a slant-route intended for Jordan Cunningham late in the Vanderbilt game, conserving a ten point lead for Carolina.

Now, he's hoping to get drafted in the deepest overall NFL draft class in over a decade. Whether or not he's chosen in the draft, one thing is for sure.

NFL scouts and coaches at least know who he is.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Backyard Ballers: Furman's Dakota Dozier

Hey gang. So far in our "Backyard Ballers" we've had two from S.C. and just Monday my fellow friends here at C-cubed did a great job interviewing Wake Forest WR Mike Campanaro.

Today I'm going to take a look at a guy who has a lot working against him - small school, unsexy position, and learning a new position in the NFL.

Dakota Dozier played left tackle at tiny Furman University - it's a small school in the upstate of South Carolina which has actually been a powerhouse over the years in their area of the pond.

Like many smaller-school tackles, Dozier is a guy who projects as a guard in the NFL. Remember, Amini Silatolu was the same way from Midwestern State and each season the NFL sees several college tackles coming in being drafted as interior linemen. 

Most get "kicked inside" because of a lack of a particular skill that tackles must have in the toolbox - especially left tackles, but the same goes for the right side as well.

Dakota's case is fairly typical of the experience. He projects as a very good run-blocker with a bit of a mean streak, which is pretty much a prototype rookie guard. Good run blocking, needs work on technique in pass blocking and in playing in space.

Dozier's no different. At 6-4 313 lbs, he has decent size for the position but could be asked to add 10 or 20 pounds depending on the scheme.

The scouting reports on him are mixed. CBS says he has good agility, athleticism, footwork, and a nice kickslide. says "Raw technician. Footwork is not clean. Shuffles instead of kicksliding and can get overextended attacking defenders."

Okay, so the reports are very conflicting. However, a few things are clear. He IS a good, athletic young man - usually those smaller-school tackles have raw athletic ability of some sort, but with deficiencies enough that they can't play tackle at, say, an SEC school or in the NFL.

Dakota Dozier does have decent reach (34" arms) and yes, he lacks some technical tools but, again, that's often the story and why players like him play guard in the NFL. It isn't known for sure if he can play center, but if a team thinks he can, it should increase his draft value.

He projects as a 3rd-4th rounder as a guard. His own particular issue in pass protection is that he sets his feet too quickly and is thus susceptible to being bull-rushed. He also tends to "get out away from his feet" - or "caught leaning" and can get neutralized easily when doing so. 

His upside is he's that typical "road-grading guard" with a powerful punch in the running game. His pass-blocking techniques need a lot of help, but NFL coaching should eventually clean that up.

As such, he probably wouldn't be a day-one starter but could crack the starting lineup by midseason or due to injuries on whatever team drafts him. He projects, at the moment, as the 3rd or 4th guard in a typical team's depth chart - with upside - and as a special team’s guy. Most non-skill-position rookies find their way to the special teams by default.

What does Dozier bring to the table that others do not? Versatility.
He looks like a right guard at the moment, can probably play either guard spot after soaking in a little coaching, and has some upside to possibly play at center.

CBS compares him to Jonathan Cooper, the first-round guard from UNC last year, but Cooper came in a lot more developed than will Dozier. To me, he sounds more like a Geoff Hangartner from the Panthers - a guy who can play any interior line position - but needs work. Hangartner has likely reached his ceiling; Dozier has not.

Indeed, it's a rare talent that comes out of the NCAA as a tackle and remains one at the NFL level. As much heat as Byron Bell takes from us fans, he made the transition. Sure, he's not a top-quality type, but it's one hard job and he was a UFA turned starting OT for the Carolina Panthers. Not bad.

Dozier appears not to be one of those guys. Silatolu is a good comparison. I don't think Dozier is going to be a Terron Armstead. He looks like that kid who will come in and play right guard as a reserve (or could start for the right team), be pretty decent in the running game, but offenses are going to have to adjust their blocking schemes to help out the rookie in pass protection.

They'll use him as one of the doubles on the nose tackle facing 3-4s. Against 4-3s, He'll be just as big as the 0/1-technique DT (Lotulelei on the Panthers), plays with good leverage in confined space, and should be able to pass-block some of the slower tackles in the NFL. He just needs to learn to keep his balance, play over his feet instead of leaning (that'll get you killed as an NFL OL) and needs to hone his technique. Angles are different from the guard spot and so are some of the tools you use.

All said and done, Furman University's Dakota Dozier should hear his name called no later than the 4th round, and could be a top-five NFL guard prospect.

Not bad for a kid from a tiny school that perennially gets overshadowed by Clemson and Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks, huh?

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Carolina Panthers Backyard Ballers: USC's WR Bruce Ellington

Backyard Baller: Bruce Ellington 

In this series' initial installment, I took a look at Clemson's offensive lineman Brandon Thomas and how he may project to the NFL, but the recent bad news on him is that he tore his ACL in training.

Now, we move to in-state rival University of South Carolina and have a look at one of the "other" players on their roster....someone whose last name doesn't rhyme with "frowney."

I did attend South Carolina's Pro Day last week, so I got to see him run his routes and catch some passes from QB Connor Shaw, so at least I did get an unfettered view of him in a comparison with his fellow WRs and the guy did stand out with crisp routes in general and smooth in his cuts.

That said, you have to give anyone's game tape a lot more weight than a few "backyard" pass patterns in shorts and a t-shirt without defenders. That was about the only drill he did, positional or otherwise, that I was able to see very well. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of other people all over the field.

We all know about Jadeveon Clowney, undoubtedly the premier athlete at ANY position in this year's NFL draft. In fact, it has been a number of years since such a freakish, productive college football player has entered his name into the hat for the next level.

But football is a team sport - again, as we all know - and several Gamecocks have been slowly but surely creeping up the draft board since the NFL combine.

Ellington is one of those guys.

First, let's review his vitals: He's only 5'9" but weighs in at 197 lbs, making him a very solidly-built young man very reminiscent of ex-Carolina Panther Captain Munnerlyn (5'8" 195 lbs.).

Bruce ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, demonstrating very good speed for the position. He recorded 15 bench press repetitions at 225 lbs, showing very nice strength for a wide receiver prospect which puts a number of sorts on his frame and his strength for his stature. With a 39 1/2 inch vertical jump, ten feet even on the broad jump, a sub-4 seconds in the short shuttle and a very quick 6.69 seconds in the 3-cone, he shows agility equal  to his strength and speed.

Put this all together, and he compares well to another ex-Panther named Steve Smith.

Usually, smaller guys like Ellington (or Smitty) are relegated to the slot at the NFL level, but Ellington's strength may mean he's an exception to that general rule. It all depends on what team and system he finds himself in.

With that in mind, let's take a look at his strengths and weaknesses.

One strength is just that - his strength and his frame. He has a thick body and very strong legs, which would explain his prowess in his measurables at the combine. He uses his strength and has a few moves to get off the line of scrimmage, which tells me it's quite possible he could play on the outside in the NFL.

He's also a pretty good route-runner who stays under control throughout his pattern and has a great nose for the ball. He tracks it extremely well in-flight, can adjust when needed, and plays bigger than his 5'9" size would suggest as he has great hand-eye coordination to get the ball at the high point - just like Smitty did in his heyday.

Bruce is one of those smaller guys who does have very good ability to make the catch and run for additional yardage. With his quickness and agility he can make defenders miss and his acceleration will help him get up the field for additional gains, but he does lack that "high gear" to pull away from defenders. However, that's often enough to get to the endzone if in the open field.

Ellington was also the starting point guard for the basketball team which should tell you he's very quick as well. His older brother is Andre Ellington, a rookie for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 who was known for his burst and receiving ability out of the backfield, so Bruce's pedigree is there as well.

He's also a very good kick returner - something not all small, fast WRs or CBs have a knack for. It adds to his value for any team for sure as you can never have too many good ones. His ability to run after the catch goes hand in hand with his ability as a kick returner and just highlights his overall athleticism. He has very good hands and that should immediately separate him from the likes of....*gulp*...a draft bust like Joe Adams.

Some of his weaknesses are more obvious, or predictable off of his short stature. He wasn't asked to do everything as a WR at South Carolina, so he will need to be coached up in the NFL on the entire route tree. As a smaller receiver, he would rely on his acceleration to get open but NFL corners are going to have that similar burst so he will have to be taught proper techniques to use in order to create separation in the NFL. Bruce is part-way there, as he was good at getting off the line of scrimmage in college, but will need to build heavily upon that at the NFL level to become a consistent receiving threat.

As such, it'll take time developing chemistry with his NFL QB, whoever it is, and get more consistent with his moves and timing to become that reliable receiver. Early on, he may be limited to the slot as he learns the route tree and the tools he needs to work the outside.

One big negative he has for the Carolina Panthers specifically is his lack of run-blocking prowess. It's a very overlooked area by most casual fans, but in some offenses (especially Carolina's) WRs that can run-block are coveted.

If you'll recall DeAngelo Williams' 74-yard screen pass catch-and-run for a TD against the New York Jets last season, Williams needed one downfield block to spring him to the endzone. That block was thrown around the Jets' 35 yard Brandon LaFell.

Ellington, on the other hand, doesn't have that "edge" in run-blocking and doesn't extend his arms and get a good punch on his target in this regard.

In the NFL as a comparison, think of Randall Cobb - an undersized WR/KR who took a couple of seasons to really hit his stride and Ellington is going to need time to learn to properly run the entire route-tree before he could seriously be compared to Cobb, but his frame and athletic ability are similar as rookies. Cobb improved in critical areas he needed to. If Ellington can do the same, he could become as dangerous as Cobb is, assuming everything falls into line and he develops as well as Cobb did.

Once he enters the NFL and his attention will be on football instead of being divided between it and basketball, his athletic ability and intelligence should all be strong points in helping him get to where he needs to be...I just wouldn't expect him to come in and be a thousand-yard receiver as a rookie.

One thing that is notable: he had career highs in the biggest game of his career - the Capital One Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers. He had 139 yds receiving....and three touchdowns.

Overall, Ellington has an outstanding work ethic and I feel like that's going to be what makes him a big success down the road in the NFL. He'll put in the time, sweat, and studying to perfect his craft. He also has already graduated from South Carolina, underscoring his smarts.

I can see why his draft stock has been on the rise ever since he showed off his talents at the NFL Combine. Now that people have looked into him past the numbers, they find a very smart young man who should have a career that's closer to his projected ceiling than a bust due to his off-the-charts intangibles.      

While I don't see him going in the top two rounds, he could be a nice pick near the end of the third round for the Panthers and it would be a crime if he's still there in the 4th and the Panthers pass him up.

After all....the 4th round was where the aforementioned bust Joe Adams was taken. Speaking of Adams, if the Panthers select Davante Adams of Fresno State over Ellington, with both on the board, that will really make me question their scouting and/or their reasoning. During my research I have noticed Davante rated higher, but Ellington seems to have a much better skill-set and is a better athlete...he only lacks height (where Davante Adams is 6'1") but Davante was catching passes from Derek Carr, possibly the most physically talented QB in this year's draft class.

When you watch the draft or read about it later, see which of those two guys gets drafted first and if D. Adams goes first, make note of the team that took him. I'll be willing to bet you it's a perennial losing team that does it if it should happen.  

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

(S.C Pro Day: Ellington is #23)

Carolina Panthers' Backyard Ballers: Clemson's Left Tackle Brandon Thomas

This is the first of a series of articles, titled Backyard Ballers, which will spotlight draft prospects from the Carolinas.  As a fan focused site, we too love our hometown boys.  Let's cheer those backyard ballers and follow them in their transition from Carolina colleges to the pros.  We wish they call could become successful Panthers one day, but we know that is unrealistic.  Their path may not go through Charlotte, but they will always be Carolina ballers to us!

Brandon Thomas, Clemson LT. 

We've all heard of Clemson University's Sammy Watkins of course. He's considered the top prospect in the entire nation at wide receiver and in a class replete with talent at the position. He and in-state rival Jadeveon Clowney get all the (non-quarterback) press, and frankly it's unusual for the state of South Carolina to have so much attention on multiple kids heading into the draft.

With so much attention on Watkins, Clemson's offensive guard Brandon Thomas has largely escaped the spotlight and that's exactly why I wanted to do a little digging to see what I could find out about him so I could relay that info to you, our loyal readers.

Also, since the Carolina Panthers are in need of an offensive lineman - or three - there remains a very good possibility that they could write down Thomas' name on a draft card in May, so let's take a look, shall we?

First, Thomas is a redshirt Senior coming out so he has developed in college as much as anyone, unlike the record number of underclassmen in the 2014 draft. With Tajh Boyd at QB and Watkins at WR, the Tigers from upstate South Carolina have been an offensive juggernaut during much of Thomas' tenure. The guys with the ball get the limelight, but we fans know everything starts and ends up front with the blocking.

Thomas played in the Senior Bowl a few months ago, but Notre Dame's Zack Martin was the guy who turned the most heads out of all the linemen, but again that's not so unusual. Martin's a tackle and faced off against the pass rushers and interior linemen like Thomas generally don't get much notice...unless they do something wrong. Guard and center are the most un-loved positions in all of football.

Martin and Thomas both were tackles in college, but Thomas may project better as a tackle in the NFL due to his physical stature. Thomas was a 2-time first team All-ACC left tackle, a three-year starter, and according to's scouting report, he held his own against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney...without help.

That in itself is pretty eye-popping and worthy of attention.

Thomas was playing tackle late in the Senior Bowl while Martin had been moved inside to guard. Martin's T-Rex arms make him a question mark as to his NFL position and many think he will move inside to play guard at the next level...but what about Thomas?

Having seen his team play once or twice but not looking at a lot of tape on him and reading the scouting reports, he will likely be slotted as an NFL guard. He has the long arms (34 3/4") that scouts and coaches look for at the tackle position but struggles against speed-rushers. He has average size at 6'3" 317 lbs, but  those long arms combined with quick feet gives him a large "blocking radius" to protect the passer - but his limited range in space will keep him confined to the inside unless taking over for another tackle in an injury situation or something.

He's a good athlete with good power and pop with those arms, working inside-out and rarely lets defenders get inside his frame to out-leverage him as he also plays with a good, solid base and bends his knees well. He also has a powerful initial punch.

Sounds wonderful you say, right? Well, everyone has weaknesses and Thomas is no exception. While his pass-protection is pretty well-developed, his run-blocking needs refinement. He needs more coaching in hand placement and multiple techniques to use.

He's also not someone who is a "workout warrior" and doesn't have preparation skills for different opponents, so some question his motor, but some of that can be ingrained at the NFL level...especially with a very physical team like the Carolina Panthers. A large part of effective run-blocking is the mindset and Clemson was a passing team by and large, so he'll have to adjust his game and preparation at the next level.

He also can sometimes be fooled on delayed blitzes or when a rusher appears in an unexpected area. Thomas is "average" in space, despite having nice, quick feet, so I myself am theorizing it's a field-awareness issue that should improve with time, practice, and learning the intricacies of complex NFL defensive schemes. He has only average lateral movement ability, reflected in his struggling against speed-rushers on the outside, again, which is the biggest reason he projects as a guard.

Personally, I love versatile players like Thomas who can contribute at different positions when injuries inevitably hit and could help keep the chemistry intact without any drop-off in ability. Problems occur when linemen play out of position due to need, and Thomas would be a great asset especially down the road.

No, he isn't a first-round guy and possibly not even a second-rounder. If he's available in the third, however, that's where the organization might start taking a good, hard look at him as a guard to solidify the inside.

The problem is that Silatolu is the young incumbent left guard, barring another injury, and Thomas projects best at....left guard. I'm sure he could learn to play the right guard spot, but his run-blocking would have to improve dramatically.

It's fairly rare to have an incoming guard that's a better pass blocker than run blocker. Usually, it's the other way around.

While I feel Brandon Thomas could be a solid NFL guard one day, I don't see an All-Pro ceiling for him and his skill set, while nice, is a poor fit for the Panthers given the presence of Silatolu and Thomas' need for development and his average run-blocking.

Additionally, he's probably going to be a 4th-round pick but could be considered by Carolina as a value if available in the 5th or beyond for good depth with some upside, even if it's limited. Realistically, he'll have to fall a couple of rounds for the Panthers to really give him draft consideration, in my opinion.

Actually, reading about his play against Clowney in addition to Thomas' limitations with speed rushers, something doesn't add up. Is Thomas a player who can rise to the level of his competition or did Clowney not play well against him?

It seems to raise a lot of questions about Clowney that I didn't know existed before. Keep your eyes open, folks, and try to sponge up everything you'll hear about Clowney from here on out.

His situation just gets curiouser and curiouser as the layers of the onion peel back.

UPDATE 4/8/14 - Brandon Thomas tore his ACL in training and will miss any football action for 2014.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Carolina Panthers: Trading Experience for Hope

The Carolina Panthers aren’t known for making a whole lot of noise in the off season. Being the second youngest team in the NFL, they tend to just sit back and prepare for the draft. That’s exactly what was expected in the 2014 off-season, but what Panther fan’s got was the complete opposite.

Carolina ended the 2013/14 season with a winning record and a trip to the playoffs, where they were embarrassed on their home turf against the San Francisco 49ers. It’s a tough loss that will haunt the team and fans forever.
On the bright side, the Panthers finally had a solid foundation to build an excellent football team. However, due to egos, politics, and money, the Panthers successfully got rid of half of their starters, including the man who brought passion and fire to the offense, Steve Smith. Nobody will ever know the truth about what happened behind closed doors, but from a fan’s perspective, it looks as though the Panthers are giving up already on next season. With the export of players exceeding the amount of players imported, the Panthers need to really do their homework and make every pick in the 2014 NFL draft count. The Panthers need to focus on the later round picks to try and sniff out the talent that might be flying under the radar, such as a Michael Campanaro from Wake Forest. 

I still stand by my previous articles and think the Panthers need to draft Offensive Linemen back to back in the first two rounds. We need guys to protect Cam Newton and provide a safety net in case of injuries.

However, the Panthers desperately need of wide receivers. With Smith leaving the Queen City for Baltimore, Brandon Lafell going to New England, and Ted Ginn travelling to Arizona, the Carolina Panthers are left with a very inexperienced group of guys. Although the Panthers just signed veteran’s Jericho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood, the Panthers are still in need for more weapons.

Obviously, if Sammy Watkins is available when the Panthers take their 28th pick in first round, no questions draft and sign him, but won’t be the case. In the third round, I can see the Panthers considering a wide receiver. If he is still available, I like the kid out of South Carolina, Bruce Ellington. The later rounds are when it gets tricky and more important. Beyond the fourth round is when teams show who did their homework and try to draft the sleeper that will positively affect the team come the start of training camp and ultimately the season.

Someone the Panthers need to keep their eye on is a young man who played college football in the state of North Carolina, Campanaro. He made a name for himself over the last four years at Wake Forest. With such a deep draft class at receiver, there’s a real opportunity to grab a quality receiver in the later rounds.

Campanaro would be a great option in the 6th round for several reason.
First, he played at Wake Forest. I don’t personally have ties with the school, but his local ties in North Carolina make him a potential fan favorite. He is also a very versatile player. In high school, he was utilized more as a running back, so he knows how to run hard and look for holes. From 2010 to 2014 he returned kicks and punts for Wake Forest. Coaches have to love a player who can also play on special teams and make plays.

Should the Panthers pick him up late, he would be a perfect slot receiver and return specialist. He is 5’9” and weighs 192 pounds. He doesn’t carry a lot of height but he makes up for it with his vertical jumping 39inches, which was 7th highest in the wide receiver group at the combine. He also has a solid build and a strong frame. He was able to show it placing 4th amongst WR’s at the combine benching 225lbs 20 times.

His quickness and his ability to dodge traffic and find the quick hole in the defense would make him a solid slot receiver. He isn’t the fastest guy on the field running a 4.46 40 yard dash, but his quick feet help him beat defenders off the line. Seeing his college film, it was amazing how many times Campanaro was able to find the hole in the defense. He is smart player and it shows his last three years at Wake.

Campanaro also seems to have hands. He is able to go out, get it, and then bring the ball back into his body well. It’s important for a wide receiver to be able to catch the ball with the finger tips so the ball doesn’t bounce of the body.  Campanaro’s steady hand would make his a reliable guy at worst and reliable playmaker at best.

Added to his quickness, Campanaro is remarkably agile. If he catches the ball in space, he can run guys over, but more often just make them miss. He frequently dances around for extra yardage, but also isn’t afraid to tuck the ball barrel into the defense. In 2012 he had the lowest average yards per catch with 9.7 yards. Even in his worst year his average yards per catch would get the team inches from the first down marker.

With only one experienced wide receiver on the roster, Cotchery, every guy has a chance to make spot on the starting squad and we will see many chances fly their way.
Campanaro is a smart, young, athletic guy, who can make a difference on the Panthers roster at a small cost. The Panthers can still address their offensive line issues and pick up a solid wide receiver in the later rounds. I’d like to see Campanaro put on a Panther’s jersey come the start of training camp and make plays that help us forget about the old guys who left.

Follow Patrick on Twitter @SirNewton17