After scratching off red-zone target from their list of needs with the selection of 6-foot-5 WR Kelvin Benjamin in the first round, the Carolina Panthers set their gaze to the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft Friday night. Still having a glaring need on the offensive line and cornerback position, Panthers GM Dave Gettleman bypassed need for best player available on their big board.
When the Panthers stepped to the podium with the 60th overall selection, Missouri‘s stud defensive end Kony Ealy was tabbed the newest member of Carolina’s defensive unit, “Monsters, Inc.” Ealy, a 6-foot-4, 274-pound rangy defensive end helps the Panthers’ roster improve in a few ways.
Ealy is a disturbance on the defensive front. Watching tape of his play at Mizzou, his athleticism and speed-to-power shift catches your eye. Going up against SEC talent every week also helped boost his confidence knowing the level of competition that he faced. Capable of playing as a five-technique (lining up outside the tackle) or six-technique (lining up over the tight end), he is also able to kick inside over the guard. This latter element of flexibility is what perked Gettleman’s interest.
Athletic enough to play outside the tackles, Ealy might find early success on the interior. Lacking an explosive first step, Ealy can definitely win with athleticism, and is agile enough to play the same role that allowed New York Giants‘ Jason Pierre-Paul to flourish in New York. Rotating Ealy with Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Mario Addison will grind opposing offensive lines into submission.
Ealy has a wide wingspan and the athletic frame to continue to add muscle. He does lack the versatility to dominate on the edge and will need to polish his skills to grow, as he is still a little raw compared to other defensive ends in this draft class. Ealy received a late first-round grade from many scouts and analysts.
Ealy will come into camp amongst an already well-stocked defensive line, but in order to see the true value of Ealy, you must look ahead to 2015 and beyond.
In 2014, the Panthers will be entering into Year 4 of Johnson’s massive six-year, $76 million contract. The 27-year-old Johnson is still in his prime and a devastating force on the Panthers’ line, however, the Panthers also have another difference-maker on the opposite end that is just entering his prime. Hardy, also known as “The Kraken,” is a lethal blend of speed, strength and attitude that is salivating at his potential payday. Hardy, 25, was slapped with the franchise tag by the Panthers in March of 2014, but his looming contract is on the horizon. It is difficult to imagine Carolina plucking down almost 25 percent of their total cap into the defensive end position.
Carolina’s defense was their calling card in 2013. Their front seven beat opponents into submission on a weekly basis by crushing quarterbacks, stifling running backs and dominating the trenches. Ealy fits exactly what the Panthers’ blueprint calls for. His addition also allows the Panthers to not stress the potential loss of Johnson or Hardy after 2014. Ealy is a young and promising insurance policy who will threaten to start in 2015 if he puts his head down and attaches himself to the hips of Johnson and Hardy.
Lots of fans expected the Panthers to snag an offensive tackle in the second round, but the wise Gettleman looked at the big picture versus the short-sighted immediate need area. Panther Nation added another weapon to their 53-man roster on Friday. Opposing quarterbacks, you have officially been put on notice.
Bryan Palmese is a Carolina Panthers writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @BryanPalmese “Like” him on Facebook.