The Panthers’ 2016 draft was about strengthening. David Gettleman and his staff not only managed to add a quality player to an already strong Defensive Line, but also were able to help fix the gigantic crack in the dam left by All Pro Cornerback Josh Norman’s sudden departure. Surprisingly though, it wasn’t the Defending NFC Champions’ draft class that was the buzz, but the players they signed after the fact. Partially because the draft class lacked that sexy playmaker some had hoped for, but mostly because the UDFA group included a highly thought of local prospect, in Duke’s Jeremy Cash.
Cash comes into the Panthers much like standout Linebacker Thomas Davis did 11 years ago. After playing Safety for Duke at a high level, including an ACC Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2015, Cash will be asked to transition to Weakside Linebacker. While Cash doesn’t have the athleticism or movement skills that Thomas Davis does (look to last years 1st round draft pick, Shaq Thompson for that), he does have a potential future with the team at his new position.
Cash is a physical player in the box, and does not shy away from the violence of the game. He’ll come crashing down with little regard for his body and jar ball carriers trying to create a momentum changing play. He does a good job pursuing downhill and sideline to sideline, as well as diagnosing plays in the backfield and attacking. He also shows some ability to get to the Quarterback in the backfield, something he will surely be asked to do at the Will.
Something Cash will also be asked to do in either Outside Linebacker position, is cover in space. That is where Cash falls short when compared to his new teammates Davis and Thompson. Unlike the two former first round picks, Cash is stiffer in coverage and has difficulty moving in space. He struggles in Man coverage and is prone to taking the bait on double moves and misdirection. He tries to overcompensate for the trouble he has in space, which will likely leave him behind the play against the NFL’s elusive playmakers. He can also get lost on the field at times, zeroing in on the ball losing awareness of the situation.
While Cash is the name most familiar with Panthers fans, Wide Receiver Keyarris Garrett, is another potential gem from David Gettleman’s 2016 rookie free agent haul. Garrett spent 2015 destroying Conference USA and during the pre-draft process, some even had the Senior as a top-100 prospect. NFL personnel departments didn’t feel this way however, and college football’s most productive WR in 2015 ended up signing with the Panthers as a UDFA.
Garrett’s biggest asset is his combination of size and vertical play making ability. Built much in the mold of the Panthers’ Devin Funchess, Garrett is 6’4 220 lbs. He shows the ability to get on top of and pass by Defensive Backs on an island, making him a legitimate vertical threat.
Garrett also tracks the ball well in the air and shows the body control to adjust and make difficult catches. He doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to do so, but does show the explosion after the catch to be a playmaker on short and intermediate routes. Garrett has an incredibly large target zone thanks to his length, and competes well at the catch point to expand it.
That’s not to say Garrett is without his faults though, he didn’t go undrafted for no reason. He struggles far too often against press coverage, and he has difficulty hauling in contested catches. He needs to become more consistent catching the football overall and while he has good top end speed, it takes him some time to accelerate. His route tree is also extremely shallow, running mostly 9-routes, slants quick hitches and screens. He doesn’t accelerate effectively out of his breaks, and doesn’t always fight to get back to the ball. Still, with his skill set, he’s a player that could become something for the Panthers if given the time to mature.
Despite being highly productive college players, both Cash and Garrett have a long way to go before producing in the NFL. Cash is the most likely to stick on the 53-man roster, as he can be a valuable asset on Special Teams. Projecting a bit, I could see Cash beating out a player like Ben Jacobs if he shows he can be a consistent tackler on the coverage team. Garrett’s place is a little more difficult to find. He’s shades of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess without being as refined as either. Without the Special Teams ability, he’s almost certain to lose camp battles to Ted Ginn and Philly Brown. Garrett will likely be fighting Stephen Hill, Kevin Norwood and 2015 UDFA Damiere Byrd for the final WR spot, but is a likely candidate to be placed on the Practice Squad if he doesn’t win the job.
What do you think of Cash and Garrett? Let me know Follow @danny_g13 …