CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The 2019 NFL draft began for the Carolina Panthers with new owner David Tepper saying his role in the team’s war room was to make sure “we don’t do anything incredibly stupid.”
It ended with the Panthers doing nothing incredibly stupid.
They did a lot incredibly well.
It began with the selection of Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns with the 16th pick, filling a huge need with the retirement of future Hall of Fame end Julius Peppers and with coach Ron Rivera making a transition to more multiple fronts.
Trading up 10 spots in the second round to get Ole Miss’ Greg Little, one of the few legitimate left tackles in the draft, solidified the top end of this draft as a success.
Drafting West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, who grew up in the Charlotte area and was only three miles away at his uncle’s house when he got the call in the third round, was the feel-good moment of the Carolina draft. It also was necessary insurance with quarterback Cam Newton coming off shoulder surgery for the second time in three offseasons.
It is a class that might not get a lot of A-pluses from the so-called experts, but should get solid B’s and maybe a few A’s.
“He asked a lot of great questions during the whole process,” Rivera said of Tepper, who purchased the team last summer for an NFL-record $2.275 billion. “It was fun.”
Here’s what stood out:
Spider-Burns: Burns is a huge fan of Spider-Man, so for his introductory news conference at Bank of America Stadium, he wore red Spider-Man socks. The Panthers have been super fans of Burns since they first began researching him. He fit better than almost any player in the first round because he can play end in a 4-3 scheme and outside linebacker in a 3-4. He’s also super fast. “When you watch the tape, all the games he flashes,” Rivera said. “[General manager] Marty [Hurney] made a point that he’s good for at least one-and-a-half. Whether it’s one-and-a-half sacks, one-and-a-half caused fumbles where he’s involved in it. I mean when a guy has a number like that, you know you’re going to get an impact at some point in the game from his skill set, his ability, and I think it’s going to translate very well into the league.”
Steal of the draft: Fourth-round linebacker Christian Miller gives Rivera another edge rusher with position flexibility. Miller’s father, former South Carolina linebacker Corey Miller, called his son the best outside linebacker in the draft. Christian Miller didn’t get a lot of attention because of injuries that limited him to 28 games in four seasons. But his eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 14 games this past season are an indication of his potential. “As a father, every father should feel that way,” Christian Miller said. “As a person, as a player, I definitely have to look at myself that way. You have to have that kind of confidence, and I think where it comes from is he feels that overall as a complete player, being able to rush off the edge, set the edge, play the run, drop into coverage, stack back — he feels that I truly can just do it all. Like he said, I check every box.”
Most tense moment: The trade to move up to draft Little. The Panthers had to come away with a left tackle to compete with Taylor Moton and Daryl Williams. After going with Burns in the first round, trading one of their two third-round picks, along with No. 47 in the second round, seemed a small price to pay for a potential starter. Little probably will battle Moton initially at left tackle. There’s also the possibility the Panthers will let Little and sixth-round pick Dennis Daley battle it out on the left side, with Moton and Williams competing at right tackle, their more natural position. Little raises the bar and gives the Panthers a hungry player at a key position, a players who could start for the next four years at a bargain price. “We came out of the weekend with two guys that have played left tackle, which is probably more than we could have wished for,” Hurney said. “That was probably the key to the weekend to move up and get a guy that everybody thought had a chance. … Really, we think both these guys have a chance to come in and have long careers for us.”
The Grier-eatest moment: Grier starred at nearby Davidson Day School for his father, Chad, and watched Carolina games from section 229 at Bank of America Stadium. It was closing in on midnight of the second day of the draft when the Panthers called to say he was their third-round pick. After his introductory news conference, Grier went around the room and shook hands with all members of the media. He was genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to back up Newton and play in his hometown, even though he says he believes he was the best quarterback in the draft. “It’s unbelievable. It’s a dream to play in the NFL, but never really thought it would be this way. I’m really excited,” Grier said. The Panthers are excited, too. If there is a setback in Newton’s rehab, they have a proven winner to compete with Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke for playing time. Rivera compared Grier to veteran Derek Anderson, who was Newton’s backup in his first seven seasons.
Red flag: Fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett, a running back out of Florida, was suspended in 2017 for his role in a credit card fraud scandal and he missed a bowl game as a rookie for a misdemeanor marijuana charge. But Rivera and Hurney insisted the way Scarlett battled back from those incidents showed character, and that Scarlett showed great remorse when asked about it. “They just wanted to see if I learned from it and would it happen again and what kind of person I was. Through them talking to me and talking to other people that knew me, they spoke very highly of me. So I think they were pretty confident in taking me, knowing that I wasn’t going to get into any more trouble.” Maybe the bigger red flag is Scarlett isn’t a proven receiver out of the backfield, so he might not be the guy to give running back Christian McCaffrey a break. But Scarlett is a tough, between-the-tackles runner who could be a change-of-pace back.
Big-stage guys: Bill Polian, Carolina’s first general manager, prided himself on finding diamonds in the rough from small schools. There’s also something to be said for getting players who have proven their value at the top programs in the country. This class checks that box. “These are guys who have done it at a high level,” Hurney said. “Five SEC guys, one Big 12, one ACC. We’ve seen these guys do it on big stages. They’re comfortable with being on a big stage, and that’s a plus.”