Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ GM Gettleman deals picks in NFL draft but fills key positions


Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman conducted the final day of the draft last year via Skype from Massachusetts, where his son was graduating from college.

The way Gettleman was trading away late-round picks to move up in the draft this year, it was as if he had to get to a Derby party.

But Cam Newton is the one who should have been throwing the party.

The Panthers’ quarterback spent large portions of the 2014 season picking himself off the ground. Newton was sacked 38 times, a total that would have been higher if not for the two games he missed.

That’s no way to treat a player you’re about to spend $120 million on.

In the weeks leading to the draft, analysts and other interested parties (read: Newton) wondered whether the Panthers would get their quarterback help with more protection or another weapon.

Gettleman did both, thought it cost him four picks to do so. Seems like a small price to pay to keep your franchise quarterback upright and happy.

After moving up 16 spots Friday to take Michigan wideout Devin Funchess in the second round, Trader Dave was at it again Saturday, giving fifth- and seventh-round picks to Oakland to jump up 22 places for Oklahoma offensive tackle Daryl Williams.

No, Williams likely isn’t the long-term answer at left tackle. He made 34 of his 35 college starts on the right side, which he called his most comfortable position.

But after Arizona grabbed D.J. Humphries one pick ahead of the Panthers’ selection in Thursday’s first round, Gettleman resigned himself to the fact he wasn’t going to find the next Jordan Gross in this draft.

But in Williams, the Panthers get a 6-foot-5, 327-pounder who – judging by the picture that accompanied his Oklahoma bio – isn’t going to play nice on Sundays.

Asked to describe his best attributes, Williams said: “I’m nasty. I’m a road grader, I’m technically sound.”

After trying to fill the tackle void following Gross’ retirement with in-house candidates last year, Gettleman realized while watching Newton get banged around last fall he had to do more.

During a six-game losing streak that in most years would have sunk the Panthers’ playoff hopes, Newton was sacked 25 times. That included a nine-sack night at Philadelphia when Newton was treated worse than the Santa pelted with snow balls by Eagles fans during a 1968 game (RIP Frank Olivo, who died last week at 66).

“We’re 3-7-1, he’s running for his life,” Gettleman said. “At some point ... I’ve told you guys a million times, Tom Coughlin said it the best, ‘Big men allow you to compete.’”

Gettleman brought in several big men this offseason, signing free agent Michael Oher, picking up Jonathan Martin off waivers and drafting Williams.

Oher is a reclamation project following a disappointing season in Tennessee, and a player Panthers coach Ron Rivera says is critical to the line’s success.

“I think he’s very key,” Rivera said. “We didn’t bring him in and Dave make sure he signed a two-year deal to have him here and let him go.”

If Oher plays at the level he did in Baltimore, he buys Gettleman two more years to find his long-term left tackle. If not, at least there’s more depth at the position this year, which is to say David Foucault won’t be starting any more games.

Au revoir, Mssr. Foucault.

As for Funchess, the idea of lining up two enormous wideouts every week is intriguing. With a quarterback whose misses tend to be high, it’s also practical.

Given their youth and tall statures, Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin could find a place alongside the Duke Energy and Bank of America buildings as fixtures in Charlotte’s skyline.

The players the Panthers picked up with compensatory picks in the fifth round – Texas State linebacker David Mayo and Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne – both have interesting stories of perseverance.

Mayo paid $450 a month to live in a shed during junior college because of the exorbitant rent in Santa Monica, Calif., while Artis-Payne worked a couple of warehouse jobs in Pennsylvania while he was out of football for two years.

But this draft class ultimately figures to be defined by the first pick, which is the one that generated the most debate.

Shaq Thompson won the Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, having played three positions at Washington. But he’ll be a linebacker for the Panthers, which happens to be one of their deepest positions.

Thompson is expected to take over for Thomas Davis one day, and the Panthers say Thompson’s skill set allows them to diversify their 4-3 scheme in the meantime. But the consensus among draft experts is the Panthers could have gotten him in the second round.

Gettleman could have tried to trade out of the first round to pick up an extra second-round pick and might still have landed Thompson. But Gettleman didn’t want to give up the flexibility of the fifth-year option for a first-rounder and didn’t want to take the chance of missing out on Thompson.

“One of the guys we really targeted and really wanted was Shaq,” Gettleman said. “Everyone can sit and say, ‘Oh, he would’ve been there at 34.’ You don’t know.”

Analysts are already assigning draft grades, but it will be a year or two before the Panthers know how they did this weekend. Given Gettleman’s track record in two years as GM and two decades as a scout, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

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