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NFC South 2020 draft recap: Carolina Panthers

We take a look at the draft of one of the Saints’ NFC South rivals.

New Orleans at Charlotte David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers finished in fourth place in the NFC South in 2019 with a 5-11 record. That terrible result led to the biggest overhaul the franchise had seen since the 2011 season. That year, the team hired Ron Rivera as their head coach and drafted Auburn’s Cam Newton as the top pick in that draft to be their franchise quarterback. Now, both Rivera and Newton are gone, in their place come Matt Rhule at head coach and former New Orleans Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as their new starter.

Those additions address some concerns for the Panthers, but there is much more work needed to patch up this sinking ship, mainly their woeful defense. The Panthers fielded the NFC’s worst defense in points-per-game allowed (29.4) and 6th worst in yards-per-game allowed (374.5). Looking at this draft, Carolina desperately threw everything they could at their defensive inadequacies.

Let’s take a glimpse at the Carolina Panthers’ 2020 draft class:

Derrick Brown - Defensive Tackle - Auburn

Round 1 - Pick 7

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Auburn Julie Bennett-USA TODAY Sports

Just like they did in drafting Cam Newton in 2011, Carolina looked to Auburn with their first pick of the draft in 2020. Brown qualifies as a “big boy” at 6’5”, 325 lbs, and the Panthers look to him to fill a Gerald McCoy-sized hole in their interior defensive line. Brown was widely graded as the top DT prospect in this draft and was picked accordingly by Carolina as the first DT off the board in the 2020 draft. Brown will not likely get warm welcomes from Erik McCoy and fellow 2020 first-rounder Cesar Ruiz.

Here’s how CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco graded the pick:

Grade: A+. I love this pick. I love this player. I think Derrick Brown will be a force in the NFL. Plays with such power. Reminds me of the late Jerome Brown.

Yetur Gross-Matos - Defensive End - Penn State

Round 2 - Pick 38

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Totes McGotes er... Gross-Matos comes in as the second straight “big boy” selected by the Panthers coming in at 6’5”, 265 lbs, this time coming off the edge. While not touted as a dominant pass rushing prospect, Gross-Matos has been regarded as a solid run stopper from the edge. He was regarded as a top-five prospect at his position in a remarkably weak class that fell off a cliff after Chase Young, who was the only DE picked in the first round. He’ll surely have some “welcome to the NFL, rook” moments against the Saints’ tackles this season.

Here’s how CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso graded the pick:

Grade: A. Outstanding size, length, and strength. Three-down defensive end. Ascending pass-rush move arsenal. Solid athlete. Some bend too. Fun pairing with Brian Burns in Carolina.

Jeremy Chinn - Safety - Southern Illinois

Round 2 - Pick 64

NCAA Football: Southern Illinois at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Chinn was the fifth safety taken in this draft featuring an astonishingly poor draft class at the position. In fact, not a single safety was taken in the first round of this draft. Chinn saw his stock rise at the combine and is expected to serve as a safety/linebacker hybrid type player. Chinn represents the first of many attempts to address Carolina’s aggressively poor secondary in this draft.

Here’s how CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso graded the pick:

Grade: A. Panthers defensive reconstruction continues. Chinn is Isaiah Simmons-lite, and he might be more twitchy. Do-everything safety/linebacker with made-in-lab type athleticism. Will help Carolina’s defense in many ways.

Troy Pride - Cornerback - Notre Dame

Round 4 - Pick 113

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Pride was regarded as a top-15 cornerback prospect in this draft and landed right around where he was expected. A good 40 at the combine and a nice showing overall there is about the most that can be said about Pride. Be warned, “Can’t Guard Mike” isn't just a string of words in a Twitter handle, and it isn't hyperbole, it’s a warning to all cornerbacks.

Here’s how CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso graded the pick:

Grade: A-. Panthers needed to address CB. Pride has first-round athleticism and speed. Just has a real problem finding the football to make plays on it. Somewhat of a smaller frame but will mirror outstandingly down the field and has serious recovery speed.

Kenny Robinson - Safety - West Virginia

Round 5 - Pick 152

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson is the second safety taken by the Panthers in this draft and the third consecutive addition to the secondary. Double-dipping at safety makes sense considering their opponents ability to score at will so often last season, no more evident that the Saints’ 42-10 thrashing of the Panthers’ in Carolina to end the season. Stock up, boys!

Here’s how CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso graded the pick:

Grade: B+. Flashed deep middle range at WVU before leaving the school. Love the length and athletic gifts. Panthers going with a full defensive draft?

Bravvion Roy - Defensive Tackle - Baylor

Round 6 - Pick 184

Baylor at Kansas State Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Roy is the second DT taken in this draft for the Panthers. Their third “big boy” in this draft at 6’1”, 332 lbs. Roy is tasked to help plug up a defense that surrendered the second-most rushing yards-per-game in the NFC last season (143.5). Despite all these additions to their defensive line and secondary, what plans do the Panthers have for their linebacking corps? Which was, for years, the strongest unit in the entire franchise.

Here’s how CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso graded the pick:

Grade: B+. Roy looks like a nose tackle yet has twitch of a penetrating DT. Some hand work too. At times plays too high. When he does, blocks glue to him. Can chase laterally down the line. More defense for Carolina?

Stantley Thomas-Oliver III - Cornerback - Florida International

Round 7 - Pick 221

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Old Dominion at FIU Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thomas-Oliver is the Panthers’ final pick of this draft, and yes, its another body thrown at the secondary. It would be negligent to refrain from informing him that it is not only Michael Thomas that he can't guard, but Emmanuel Sanders is ready to burn down the Carolina secondary as well. So there's that to look forward to in the “Queen City”.

Here’s how CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso graded the pick:

Grade: B. Thomas Oliver is new to the CB position but really thrived in 2019. Click-and-close ability is tremendous. Ball skills from his WR days. Quality depth late.

Noticed a pattern here? Not a single offensive player taken here. The Panthers will put their faith in Christian McCaffrey, Teddy Bridgewater, and Robby Anderson offensively. Well, mostly Christian McCaffrey, of course. So they’ll lean on the youth movement to defend against former league MVP Matt Ryan, six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, and the NFL’s All-Time leader in passing yards, completions, and touchdowns in Drew Brees. Yeah, good luck with that.

Here’s how SB Nation graded the Carolina Panthers’ 2020 draft class:

The Panthers got things started in a big way with their draft... The Panthers needed to fix their defense, and they used all seven of their picks on that side of the ball. Grade: B+

This could easily be one of the most interesting seasons in NFC South history! Who Dat!