Carolina Panthers, NFL Draft Retrospective

Carolina Panthers 2016 NFL Draft Retrospective and Regrade

How does the Carolina Panthers 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?

Fresh off an impressive 15-1 regular season and Super Bowl appearance, the 2016 offseason was shaping up to be one of the most important ever for the Carolina Panthers. After not being able to capitalize on the opportunity to bring Charlotte its first Lombardi Trophy, general manager Dave Gettleman appeared only a few pieces away from constructing a championship roster.

A major piece involved the cornerback position and Josh Norman, who was coming off both his first Pro Bowl nomination and a first-team All-Pro selection. Originally, Gettleman placed the team’s franchise tag on Norman but rescinded it just prior to the NFL Draft, letting Norman – at the time one of the game’s top corners – leave for nothing in return.

The move dominated headlines and although Norman hasn’t been as productive in Washington, the Panthers have been trying to remedy their defensive backfield ever since, including trading a fourth-round pick and swapping positions with the Cleveland Browns in Round 3 and Round 5, in this 2016 draft.

Original Grade

Sports Illustrated: B

“You think Panthers GM Dave Gettleman was loading up on cornerbacks after dropping Josh Norman? After selecting Butler in the first round—a no-argument player who may be the next Muhammad Wilkerson—the Panthers went CB with three straight picks. The most intriguing could be Bradberry. He transferred from Arkansas State when then-coach Hugh Freeze wouldn’t let him move from safety and played well enough at Samford to gain a Senior Bowl invitation. He’s a big press cornerback who needs development like Norman once was.

Worley led the Big 12 in picks last season and has every attribute but blazing speed downfield. Sanchez is an interception monster whose size may keep him in the slot, but he’s a real player. The debit in the grade here goes to the fact that the Panthers didn’t do anything to address the offensive line that may have kept them from winning Super Bowl 50″ – Doug Farrar

FanSided: C-

“The selection of Vernon Butler is a terrific one in a vacuum. The problem is where is he going to play? Butler is a defensive tackle on a team with Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short. It doesn’t appear he will be seeing any real time. General manager David Gettleman could have gone with a corner or a defensive end, but instead built on strength. The rest of this group is also underwhelming.” – Matt Verderame

Draft Class

Round 1 (No. 31)

Vernon Butler

DT, Louisiana Tech

Current Team: Carolina Panthers

The selection of Louisiana Tech defensive lineman Vernon Butler was a confusing one after letting the Panthers star corner, Josh Norman, leave. His vacancy left a gaping hole at the cornerback position but Gettleman elected to target a lineman instead. Despite having both Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short under contract, Butler was chosen as a developmental pick.

Round 2 (No. 62)

James Bradberry

CB, Samford

Current Team: Carolina Panthers

Undoubtedly the best selection during this draft, James Bradberry earned an immediate starting role replacing Norman. He continues to be a presence on the outside for the Panthers as opponents routinely shy away from challenging Bradberry. Often drawing the assignment of covering a team’s best receiver, Bradberry has developed into a quality cornerback over the past three seasons.

Round 3 (No. 77)

Daryl Worley

CB, West Virginia

Current Team: Oakland Raiders

Halfway through his rookie season, Worley played well enough to earn a starting position opposite Bradberry but his effectiveness quickly dissipated. Eventually, he was dealt to the Philadephia Eagles for receiver Torrey Smith prior to the 2018 season. Since then he was released by the Eagles after being arrested due to an altercation with police. He was then signed by the Oakland Raiders.

Round 5 (No. 141)

Zack Sanchez

CB, Oklahoma

Current Team: Free Agent

Needing to replace Norman, the Panthers selected a third straight cornerback in order to provide some competition at the position. Sanchez flashed moments of sustainability but ultimately was a liability on the outside and fell out of the league.

Round 7 (No. 252) 

Beau Sandland

TE, Montana State

Current Team: Free Agent

Hoping to achieve some depth at tight end and potentially land a replacement for Greg Olsen when he decides to retire, Gettleman selected Sandland late. He’s since spent time with two other organizations either during the offseason or as a member of the practice squad, and is currently a free agent.

Retrospective Grade

Three seasons into their professional careers the first two selections have been solid for the Panthers but trading away a pick to move up in order to draft Worley didn’t pan out. A series of misses following the second round leads to similar analysis as that from the original draft conclusion.

Landing Bradberry was the highlight of the 2016 NFL Draft, although if Carolina can afford to retain him after the rookie contract remains to be seen. Vernon Butler has increased his playing time over the past few years but still doesn’t appear ready for a full-time role along the Panthers defensive line.

Other than those first two selections, the draft was uneventful. However, if Torrey Smith can stay healthy and contribute to the offense, his arrival thanks to a trade of Worley could increase the overall impact of this draft class.

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