Given the departures of every significant defensive free agent and all the releases, you knew the Panthers were going to lean heavily toward defense during the 2020 NFL Draft.
They did more than lean, they went exclusively on that side of the ball.
By using their seventh-rounder on Florida International cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver, the Panthers completed a clean sweep of their draft on players who play defense. That’s the first time that’s happened.
Considering linebacker Luke Kuechly retired, and they blew out their defensive line (Mario Addison, Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy, and others) and their secondary (James Bradberry, Eric Reid) this offseason, they had plenty of rebuilding to do.
The only quality parts left to work with were defensive tackle Kawann Short, linebacker Shaq Thompson, and 2019 first-round pass-rusher Brian Burns, so the filling in of blanks was necessary. Signing free agents such as defensive end Stephen Weatherly and linebacker Tahir Whitehead was a start, but they needed a major infusion of talent.
They responded by drafting defensive tackle Derrick Brown in the first round, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and safety Jeremy Chinn in the second, cornerback Troy Pride in the fourth, safety Kenny Robinson in the fifth, defensive tackle (and obligatory Baylor guy) Bravvion Roy in the sixth, and then Thomas-Oliver to close out the day.
Going all-in was an interesting strategy, and they’ll expect to take some abuse in the near term considering the division they play in. But in a couple of years, Tom Brady will likely be done in Tampa Bay, and Drew Brees might eventually retire in New Orleans, and Matt Ryan (a month from his 35th birthday) will be getting to the age when teams start making decisions about quarterbacks.
By that time, coach Matt Rhule might look back on this draft as the start of something big.