First Round: Kelvin Benjamin, WR
Stats against Saints: 2 receptions, 24 yards, 1 touchdown
Season Totals: 59 receptions, 115 targets, 848 yards, nine touchdowns
Analysis: In the two games against the Saints, Benjamin has only had four receptions and 42 yards which are well below his game averages. This week he was able to find the endzone but was a non-factor after that opening drive. For some reason, Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis has found a way to shut down Benjmain, which is something that can’t be said for most other cornerbacks.
Benjamin has a really good chance to rebound this coming week when he goes up against the Tampa Bay Bucs. The first game against them he caught six passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Hopefully he can replicate these numbers on Sunday.
Second Round: Kony Ealy, DE
Stats against Saints: zero tackles, 1 QB hit, 2 QB hurries (according to Pro Football Focus)
Season Totals: 5 solo tackles, 8 total tackles, one sack, five QB hits, six QB hurries
Analysis: The rookie defensive end had a rough start to his career but has started to have better games recently. Over the past four games, Ealy has two QB hits and four QB hurries which is a substantial increase from his first eight games when he only had three QB hits and two QB hurries over that span. The Panthers have really been missing the pass rush of Greg Hardy and a steady pass rush from Ealy down the stretch could have a major impact on this defense.
Third Round: Trai Turner, OG
Stats against Saints: Start at right guard, played every offensive snap
Season Totals: Six starts at G
Analysis: Rookie Trai Turner has been a part of the Panthers offensive line revival over the past two weeks. The pair of Turner and Remmers at right tackle on the right side has provided some stability that has been lacking for the majority of the season. It hasn’t been perfect as Turner still struggles a bit in run blocking but as he gains experience, this should improve.
Fourth Round: Tre Boston, S
Stats against Saints: 3 tackles, 2 passes defended
Season Totals: 10 solo tackles, 17 total tackles, two passes defended
Analysis: After splitting time with Thomas Decoud against the Vikings, Boston played every defensive snap against the Saints and got his first NFL start. The combination of Boston and Roman Harper worked well together in New Orleans. They did a particularly good job of keeping the play in front of them. The one thing that is a concern for Boston is his lack of experience. He missed a great deal of training camp and the season due to injury. However the experience of Harper will be a huge help for Boston as he transitions to being a starting NFL safety.
Fifth Round: Bene Benwikere, CB
Stats against Saints: eight tackles, one interception, two passes defended
Season Totals: 15 solo tackles, 20 total tackles, 4 passes defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one interception
Analysis: Similar to Boston, Bene Benwikere got his first NFL start against the Saints at cornerback opposite Josh Norman. The rookie cornerback led the Panthers in tackles on Sunday and even had an interception on the second series. In a short period of time, Benwikere has shown an ability to force turnovers, which is something this defense has been unable to do this year.
This week, he won’t be facing a top tier quarterback like Drew Brees but will be going up against physically imposing wide receivers in either Vincent Jackson or Mike Evans. This will be a good test to see if he can play at the same high level he did last week.
Undrafted: Philly Brown, WR
Stats against Saints: 3 receptions, 42 yards
Season Totals: 17 receptions, 236 yards, two touchdowns
Analysis: The rookie from Ohio State has seen his role increase since the Panthers released Jason Avant a few weeks ago. He provides a different skill set to the wide receivers that has been lacking and has the speed to get past opposing defenses. In the past three games, he has two touchdowns receptions of 47 yards and 32 yards. This past week was the first time he wasn’t able to get in the endzone but defenses have to worry about his big play ability every time he gets the ball. This is going to force defenses to respect the deep pass and push defenders away from the line of scrimmage and open up running lanes for Jonathan Stewart.
Undrafted: Andrew Norwell, OG
Stats against Saints: Start at LG, allowed one QB hurries (according to Pro Football Focus)
Season Totals: Six starts at LG, allowed one QB sack, 10 QB hurries (according to Pro Football Focus)
Analysis: Aside from Ryan Kalil, Andrew Norwell has been the Panthers’ best offensive linemen this year. He has started at left guard the past six weeks and Pro Football Focus has given him a grade of 7.6, which is the seventh highest rating in the NFL among offensive guards. Norwell is an athletic guard who has shown the quickness to get outside on run plays and pick up key blocks to break long runs. It wouldn’t be surprising if Norwell was the starting left guard through the rest of this season and right into 2015.