CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule hasn’t coached a down in the NFL and already he’s a part of league history.
The Panthers used all seven of their draft picks on defensive players the past three days, the most in the common draft era to be made all on defense, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Carolina tied the 1985 Cleveland Browns for the most picks on one side of the ball. They used all seven picks on offense.
The Panthers made Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown the seventh overall pick on Thursday. They followed that on Friday with Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chinn in the second round.
They began Saturday’s final round with Notre Dame cornerback Troy Pride Jr. in the fourth round, West Virginia safety Kenny Robinson in the fifth, Baylor defensive tackle Bravvion Roy in the sixth and FIU cornerback Stanley Thomas-Oliver in the seventh.
Twice (2018, 1998) in team history the Panthers had used six of eight picks on the defensive side. In 2016 they used four of five picks on the defensive side.
But after spending most of free agency rebuilding the offense, signing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receiver Robby Anderson in addition to trading for left tackle Russell Okung and giving running back Christian McCaffrey a four-year extension, that left the draft for the defense.
Shoring up the front seven was a priority with the early retirement of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and the decision to move on from defensive linemen Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Mario Addison in free agency.
The defensive front in particular was a priority as Carolina plans to transition back to a 4-3 base defense after going to a 3-4 last year in Ron Rivera’s final season as the head coach.
“Marty Hurney has come in with a great plan,” Rhule said of his general manager. “We, together, have a vision for how we’re gonna move forward.”
Specifically, Rhule wanted defensive players who could play fast and aggressive. He got that across the board, starting with Brown.
“He dominated the entire year in the SEC versus the run and versus the pass,” Rhule said. “And [he’s] also just a great human, great competitor, and a building block for the future.”
Roy in particular understands what Rhule wants to accomplish. He was a part of the defensive rebuild at Baylor that saw that unit go from ninth in the Big 12 in yards and points surrendered per game in 2017 to third and first this past season.
So he understands why Rhule went with seven defensive players in the draft.
“Defense wins championships,” Roy said. “I’m not surprised by that.”