Jan 3, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Kony Ealy (47) during the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Missouri won 41-31. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie Impact Projections: Carolina Panthers


As teams near training camp and preseason action in the National Football League, I continue my look at the potential rookie impacts for every team heading into the 2014 regular season. The team up is the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers rocked the NFC South last year, taking the crown at 12-4 with one of the best defenses in the league. The offense however just couldn’t put up the points needed in the postseason and the Panthers were a first round out, making it clear they needed to upgrade the play makers on offense. Every pick of the Panthers 2014 rookie class will be graded on a scale of one to ten, with one being little to no impact this season and ten being an immediate high impact player. The Carolina Panthers made six selections in the 2014 NFL draft.

Kelvin Benjamin (Wide Receiver) – 1st round (Pick 28)

Kelvin is in the mold of the new age receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. He’s a big physically imposing pass catcher (6’5”, 240 lbs) who gets the ball at its highest point. However, when a receiver is that size they have to strive to maintain their fitness and that is something that has come into criticism many times for Kelvin Benjamin. He is still a bit heavier than desired, but he has shown good strides in camps thus far. Kelvin must stay focused on progressing his game at every level, because his size alone won’t make him an effective play maker. Look for Kelvin to start week one, and to struggle a bit this season especially if he is not in shape.

Impact Projection: 7 out of 10

Kony Ealy (Defensive End) – 2nd round (pick 60)

Ealy was pegged as a first rounder throughout much of the 2013 season. His stock didn’t necessarily fall, but with the way the draft shook out, Ealy found himself still available in the second round when the Panthers called. This will be a perfect fit for the athletic end. Ealy won’t  be asked to produce immediately, but will provide solid depth and a back up plan in case stalwart Greg Hardy faces any discipline from the league. He will become a solid rotational pass rusher, but won’t likely be an every down player for the Panthers this season.

Impact Projection: 6 out of 10

Trai Turner (Guard) – 3rd round (Pick 92)

Turner is a solid guard who came out of college earlier than expected. Many experts believed he would have been one of the better guards in next years class had he returned and gotten more experience. What the Panthers get in Turner is a road grating run blocker, ideal for their offensive style. However Trai is still a little raw in movement techniques and will need to get a little leaner to be able to block down field effectively. He will likely compete for a starting spot along the depleted offensive line and could see many snaps this season given his versatility among the interior line positions.

Impact Projection: 7 out of 10

Tre Boston (Strong Safety) – 4th round (Pick 128)

A hometown product out of the University of North Carolina, Boston is an average athlete but has good starting experience. He’s a solid run stuffing safety, but often finds himself just out of reach of the play. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, he just does everything well enough. He will likely have to make a real impression on special teams to get a crack at playing in the secondary, barring an injury. Even with the limited secondary depth, I don’t expect much out of Boston this season.

Impact Projection: 3 out of 10

Bene Benwikere (Cornerback) – 5th round (Pick 148)

Bene is a solid late round pick up for the Panthers. He is a very smooth and fluid corner, who would fit the nickel back role perfectly. Bene also possesses phenomenal ball skills with incredibly soft hands. He could fill in as a ball hawk very quickly. The only real negatives are his physicality, strength, and the fact that he played weaker competition at San Jose State University. However this kid has all the right tools to become a starting nickel corner for this Carolina defense this season, and could make an impact comparable to Brandon Boykin of the Philadelphia Eagles during his rookie campaign.

Impact Projection: 6 out of 10

Tyler Gaffney (Running back) – 6th round (Pick 204)

Gaffney is a solid all-purpose back with good hands and a great competitive attitude. He doesn’t possess breakaway speed or agility, but runs downhill well, and fights for every yard. He has all the talent to be an ideal backup power runner like fellow former University of Stanford back and current Jacksonville Jaguars starter Toby Gerhart. However this football team is stacked with running backs, and Gaffney isn’t likely to see many opportunities this season.

Impact Projection: 2 out of 10

The Carolina Panthers came into the 2014 NFL draft knowing they needed to find an immediate high impact player for franchise quarterback Cam Newton, especially after dismantling the entire 2013 receiving group. Picking up Kelvin Benjamin is a high risk high reward option, giving Newton the new style big physical down field target he needs. The Panthers followed up with a great selection of potential starters in Ealy, Turner, and Benwikere, who all should provide a solid impact immediately this season. A solid rookie class for the Panthers in 2014 truly all hangs on the success of Benjamin. This team will be looking to their rookies early and often this season.

Look for the Chicago Bears rookie impacts coming soon! Joe Kleine is also co-host of the finsradio.com show The Direct Snap, alongside fellow Phin Phanatic and Rant Sports writer Tyler McMullen. Please check out our facebook at www.facebook.com/theofficialdirectsnap or check us out on Twitter at the handle, @Direct_Snap. Our show will be coming back on air live starting in a few shorts weeks. Please stay reading for more details as we hope to have many fans join us this season on the show as well as our fantasy football leagues!

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Rookies

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