All things told, the Carolina Panthers 2013 season is among the most successful in franchise history. Their offense was about league average, with Cam Newton throwing to the corpse of Steve Smith, and the defense was the best in team history. Instead of grabbing all of the receiving and offensive line help they could get in this year’s draft, the Panthers seem to have held to a “best player available” strategy. While they did add a big receiving weapon in Kelvin Benjamin with their first pick, it’s unclear how much he’ll be able to contribute immediately. I’ll discuss Benjamin and the rest of the Panthers incoming rookie class in the conclusion. Our featured prospects will be the rare offensive line prospect who declares for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, LSU right guard Trai Turner, along with North Carolina safety Tre Boston.
ROUND 3, PICK 92
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
It’s not often you see an offensive line prospect declare after his sophomore season, and after only 20 career starts, but that’s exactly what Trai Turner did. He only just turned 21 on June 14. From a physical standpoint, Turner is a grown-ass man at 6’3″, 310 lbs., with long 34″ arms, and he plays like one, as we’ll get to shortly. Turner was the #1 “pure” guard on my draft board (behind tackle/guard prospects Greg Robinson and Zack Martin) and I thought Carolina was stealing in broad daylight when they selected him 92nd overall.
Keep an eye on the right guard #56, that’s Trai Turner. What I am looking for in an offensive line prospect are rudimentary things such as agility, strength, pass protection, etc, and I’ll leave the more detailed play-by-play oriented analysis for Zone Reads contributors Needle and Matt W (extra thanks to Matt for help on this piece). Consistent play is key for an offensive lineman and I kept an eye on that in my preliminary research. If there are any areas which strike me as a concern I’ll give an example and inform you what my concern is about. For this post I’ve taken a look at LSU’s 2013 games against Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama (via CJ Mosley), and Florida (via Hill and Mettenberger). If that sounds confusing, it isn’t. We’re always going to be looking at the right guard.
All of Trai Turner’s mistakes come in pass protection. That is to say, there are no flaws which show up in his run blocking either at the point of attack or at the second level more than a handful of times in these four games combined. As a run blocker Trai Turner is among the best you’ll ever see at the college level. His ability to reach the second level and sustain blocks there is tremendous. None of his issues in pass protection appear to be unfixable and they are rare enough where it isn’t likely to keep him from immediately starting.
First we’ll take a look at his strengths and weaknesses in pass protection. There were a number of plays in Turner’s tapes where his technique could use some work. On this first play Turner is a split second too slow on his engagement and allows the defender to get to his outside shoulder and is forced to hold with his right arm. The refs didn’t throw a flag here so hooray for the big gain. On this next play a similar issue happens where the defensive tackle is able to get ideal hand placement on Turner and win the leverage battle. If there’s a positive to take away from these two instances it’s that Trai Turner rallies well when beat. The defenders are unable to get to the quarterback on either play in large part because Turner has learned the subtle art of holding and not getting flagged. You may laugh but this is much better than giving up a free rush to your quarterback and it’s a skill every offensive lineman needs in his toolbox.
More often than not Turner does play the proper technique in pass protection. On this play Turner gets his hands out earlier with more depth in his drop and what really sticks out here is how well he uses his hands to consistently attack the defender. Once again Turner plays the correct technique by shooting his hands first and not waiting to be attacked.
In these four games there are only two plays I identified where Trai Turner completely blows the assignment in pass protection. The first play is similar to the previous two where he doesn’t engage the defensive tackle quick enough and loses the leverage battle once the tackle reaches his outside shoulder (this time he’s beat too much to even hold). On this one Turner fails to recognize a stunt, doesn’t get any depth in his drop, and a rusher comes free with a shot at the quarterback. Compare that play with this play where Turner gets plenty of depth on his drop and is able to briefly help the right tackle before sliding over to the middle in order to meet a stunting defender. Perfect. In fact, there are several instances where Turner slides over to help the right tackle before ‘his’ man needs to be blocked. I’ve suffered through seeing so many guards who lack the athleticism to make this kind of play that I’m in awe when there’s a player like Trai Turner makes it look easy.
If you’ve made it this far then surely you want to see why I described Turner as one of the best run blockers I’ve ever seen. He can ride defenders down the line, turn his man away from the run, pull around to the left, or simply plow straight down the field. These plays don’t require much in the way of explanation. See target, destroy target. The single most impressive play to my eye was this one against Arkansas where Turner fakes a ‘down’ block to his left, pirouettes his feet in the complete opposite direction, charges full steam ahead into the cornerback, and takes him for a 12-yard ride. That isn’t a ride you’ll find at your local amusement park. It was difficult to pare down my rather lengthy collection of Trai Turner ‘highlights’ into a few for display here. I have enough of them to write another 1,000 words, but I’ll spare you the time and urge you to check out his tapes over at Draft Breakdown if you’re interested in seeing more.
ROUND 4, PICK 128
Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
Tre Boston started 40 out of 48 games at North Carolina either at safety or cornerback. There’s not anything eye-popping about his combine numbers but all across the board he scores similarly to the highly touted Alabama safety and Green Bay Packer 1st-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix. There are 5 tapes available for Tre Boston at Draft Breakdown – two from 2013 and three from 2012 – and I’ve taken a look at all of them for this post. Disclaimer: safeties are the most difficult position to get a feel for with the TV camera but it is what it is.
Boston is a sure tackler. By my count Tre Boston missed 5 tackles in the 5 games with only the 2012 contest against Duke being more than one missed. Mind you, Boston accounted for 17 tackles in that game either as an assist or solo. Two of these tackles came in critical situations near the goal line. On this play as soon as Boston recognizes the runner he sprints to him and gets in on an important tackle. In fact, I believe Boston hesitates just a moment too long as you can see him barely moving at the 5:38 mark; but the play also shows how quickly he can close when he recognizes the offensive attack. Later in the same game Boston shows no hesitation during a critical play (check the score and time remaining). Duke went on to win on a pass the very next play but alas this play isn’t on Boston’s tape.
In the 2013 game against Duke Tre Boston accumulates 15 tackles. My favorite is this tackle on a well disguised blitz where Boston drops the runner for a loss. Boston can be seen both in making plays around the line of scrimmage or deep in coverage in the Tarheel’s defensive scheme. One issue of concern is biting on play action as he does on two plays in different games here and here. On this play Boston stands flat footed in no man’s land following a simultaneous double move from the wide receiver and pump fake from the quarterback. While I don’t even know went wrong here since the TV camera on both the play and replay fails to key on the secondary, I do know a safety isn’t supposed to be sprinting to chase down a receiver in his area as the ball sails by him.
Many defensive backs in the ACC feasted off of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris these past two seasons and Tre Boston was no different. Boston’s interceptions highlight some incredible in-game athleticism. Watch as he locates and high points this ball. If not for a pointless shove from a teammate later in the same game then this interception wouldn’t have been called back for pass interference. Boston has a field day against Miami in 2012 with those plays and this pass deflection – not his only one. In these 5 games I counted a total of 9 plays which were either deflected or intercepted by him. The same peeking in the backfield which got him busted earlier also results in some plays such as this one where he eyes the quarterback the entire play and returns an interception for a touchdown.
What I like about Tre Boston is his aggressive play. As we’ve seen in these plays I linked he’s not afraid to throw his body around near the line of scrimmage or react to defense a ball flying in his general direction. He’ll be tested on his eye discipline early and often throughout his rookie season as I really don’t see Roman Harper holding Tre Boston back from starting for particularly long.
The Carolina Panthers are coming off of arguably their second best season in franchise history, behind their appearance in Super Bowl XXXVIII. They accomplished this with significant weaknesses along the offensive line and in their receiving corps(e). A lot will be asked of 1st-round pick Kelvin Benjamin to make an immediate impact and I think fans may be disappointed in those early returns as Benjamin isn’t nearly as polished as the similarly sized sophomore entry Mike Evans. One thing Benjamin has going for him over Evans is Cam Newton throwing him the ball; if Benjamin is to succeed he’s in the right spot to do so.
Zone Reads contributor Needle made a 20 minute video on 2nd-round pick Kony Ealy which I recommend checking out. Short and sweet cliffs: Needle loves Ealy’s inside move. Being able to rotate Ealy in along a defensive line which already includes Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Kawann Short, and Star Lotulelei is nothing short of terrifying. I didn’t love Kony Ealy as a player to come in and start immediately and he certainly won’t be doing so in Carolina but with these players commanding attention Ealy will see a lot of 1-on-1 matchups as a rookie.
The only other Panther’s draft pick which I watched some of was 6th rounder Tyler Gaffney. He’s a powerful short yardage runner who seems to fill no specific need for the Panthers but, hey, you can never have too many running backs. I kid, I kid. Overall I love what the Panthers did in this draft. They drafted a lot of very talented young prospects to go with those already on the team. A run at the Super Bowl is very much in play, even in a loaded conference.