Months of hype in Carolina approaching the 2023 NFL Draft culminated in the selections of Bryce Young and Jonathan Mingo. The new quarterback and wide receiver duo have been front and center in the media ever since, promising an exciting new connection for the Panthers.
As any good football fan knows however, the later rounds of the draft are often just as crucial. So with Young and Mingo set aside, who are the lesser-known rookies who can shake things up in Carolina?
DJ Johnson, an edge rusher from Oregon was selected by the Panthers with the 80th overall pick in the draft. He wasn’t talked about nearly as much as the guys who were taken in the same range, but it’s clear why the Panthers took a chance on him.
His physical gifts are truly incredible, as he displayed in his final season at Oregon, and again at the NFL combine. He has impressive strength and explosiveness, a combination that helped him get six sacks for Oregon last season.
Most of the questions surrounding Johnson concern the technical side of the game. He shifted positions multiple times throughout his collegiate career, including spending 2020 as a tight end. He settled in as an edge rusher over the last two seasons, but still has a lot to learn about the ins and outs of the position.
If the Carolina coaching staff can help him take advantage of his physical gifts, he could be a steal for the Panthers. We’ll see if his level of grit and dedication can match up to that of the late Sean Taylor, who Johnson has tattooed on his right arm.
Looking to bolster the depth of the offensive line, the Panthers took Chandler Zavala from NC State with the 114th overall pick. It was noted on multiple occasions that Zavala desperately wanted to be a Panther by the end of the draft.
A large part of his reason was to reunite with his college teammate and fellow offensive lineman, “Ickey” Ekwonu. The Panthers took Ekwonu with the 6th overall pick in last year’s draft. He likely won’t be a day one starter with his former Wolfpack teammate, but could find himself playing a big role in the case of an injury.
Zavala was seen as a prospect with a high-IQ and a great build. Like Johnson though, he still has to refine the skills specific to his position. If he can do just that, he could continue to play alongside Ekwonu for years to come.
Widely regarded as a top 100 prospect, many fans were shocked when Jammie Robinson was still on the draft board heading into the 5th round. The defensive back shined in his two years at Florida State, earning first-team All-ACC honors in both.
When the Panthers found themselves on the clock at the 145th pick, selecting Robinson must have felt like a no-brainer. He’s listed as a safety, but possesses the skills required in order to play in the nickel as well.
His slide down the draft board was likely the result of his size and athletic profile. He was reported as being underwhelming in both of those categories, but makes up for it in sheer determination. He’s known for playing intensely on every down, which helped him lead the Seminoles in tackles in 2021 and 2022.
Similar to Zavala, Robinson will also be reuniting with a college teammate within the same position group. He played alongside Jaycee Horn at South Carolina, where Robinson spent two years before transferring to Florida State.
Looking to in-state talent once again, the Panthers signed Appalachian State running back Camerun Peoples as an undrafted free agent. Being a small school prospect likely hurt Peoples’ chances of getting drafted, but we’ve seen plenty of undrafted players make a difference in the NFL.
Peoples is an explosive back, who also has the strength necessary to power through tackles. He accumulated 33 touchdowns and over 2800 rushing yards in his five year collegiate career.
His most notable performance came in the 2020 Myrtle Beach Bowl, where he torched North Texas for 317 rushing yards and five touchdowns. That set the all-time record for most rushing yards in a bowl game, which Peoples held for two years. Frank Gore Jr has since broken it after rushing for 329 yards in the most recent bowl season.
Peoples will likely start a ways down on the depth chart, but will inevitably find opportunities should he make the 53-man roster.
Known for his unique name, Bumper Pool was picked up by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent. He grew up as a fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks, and turned down multiple top SEC schools in order to fulfill his dream of playing there.
Pool was Arkansas’ top linebacker during his time there, earning second-team All-SEC honors in both 2021 and 2022. He even ended as the school’s all-time leader in tackles with 441.
Most of the questions surrounding Pool deal with his athletic potential. Limited or not, he’s proven he can be effective through his impressive instincts and understanding of the game. As a captain and three-year starter for Arkansas, Pool is a low-risk acquisition who can benefit the players around him.
Featured image courtesy of the Carolina Panthers
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