NFL draft: Panthers take Kony Ealy, Trai Turner on 2nd day

jperson@charlotteobserver.comMay 9, 2014 

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said last week he wouldn't be afraid to draft a pass-rusher high in the draft if there was a good one available.

That's exactly what he did Friday night, taking Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round over players who would fill more obvious positional needs.

And while fans and draft experts hoped the Panthers would take an offensive tackle high in the draft, Gettleman went with a guard in the third round -- LSU's Trai Turner, a 6-3, 310-pounder who impressed scouts at the combine when he ran the 40 in 4.93 seconds.

Gettleman will be in Massachusetts on Saturday attending his son's graduation from Becker College in the morning. He'll be on Skype with the Panthers' draft room for the final four rounds, during which he hopes to take a cornerback.

Gettleman said last week he wanted to draft a wide receiver, left tackle and a corner. The Panthers got their wideout in the first round when they picked Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin.

The two picks Friday were about taking the best player available rather than checking a position box.

Ealy might not qualify as the "blue goose" Gettleman coveted, but he'll serve as an insurance policy if the Panthers don't get a long-term deal done with defensive end Greg Hardy or if highly-paid end Charles Johnson's production lags.

Ealy (6-4, 273) had 9.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback pressures in his final season at Missouri. He also forced three fumbles and returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown against Indiana.

Gettleman said Ealy was too good of a player to pass up.

"We had a first-round value on Kony Ealy. He's got a lot of potential. When I watched him on tape, I felt like I was looking at a young (Falcons and former Giants defensive end) Osi Umenyiora. He's got that kind of athletic ability," Gettleman said, referring to the Falcons defensive end, who was with the Giants when Gettleman was in New York.

Ealy was among the 30 players invited to New York for the draft, and waited until the 60th pick to be selected. Ealy said he didn't mind going to a team with two established pass rushers.

"I feel like if they need me to play in the middle or back up somebody, I can do that," Ealy said. "I know I have a lot of catching up to do. I'm just working to earn my spot."

The Panthers put the franchise tag on Hardy at a cost of $13.1 million this year, and there have been no indications the two sides are close to an extension.

Carolina has $29 million in salary cap space committed to Hardy and Johnson, who combined for 49.5 sacks the past two seasons. Hardy tied Kevin Greene's franchise record with 15 sacks last season.

"The guy's a beast, man," Ealy said of Hardy. "He plays with so much passion."

Some scouts have questioned Ealy's competitive fire and his consistency.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he initially viewed Ealy as a first-round pick before watching more tape of Ealy that Mayock believed showed inconsistencies.

But Ealy said he's competitive, and chalked up any perceived weaknesses to "technical things." Ealy has been working with former Panthers defensive end Chuck Smith and ex-Falcons offensive tackle Bob Whitfield on his footwork and hand placement.

"I hate losing," Ealy said. "I hate for a guy to make a play on my side, on my watch."

Ealy was a first-team All-SEC selection last season playing opposite of Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam, who was the SEC's Co Defensive Player of the Year.

Ealy ran the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds at the combine, and bench-pressed 225 pounds 22 times.

Ealy's 40 time was nearly the same as Turner's. Turner believes that speed and agility will help him with the Panthers, who ask their guards to pull a lot.

Turner joins a guard rotation hit hard by injuries in 2013, when four starters or regulars ended the season on injured reserve. The injuries prompted the Panthers to sign veteran Travelle Wharton, who started at left guard most of the season but is leaning toward retirement.

Turner's 40 clocking was the third-fastest time among offensive linemen in Indy, behind only a pair of first-round tackles -- Greg Robinson and Turner Lewan.

"I've always been pretty quick, pretty fast," Turner said. "I knew that was something I had that could set me apart from other guards."

This is the third consecutive year the Panthers picked a guard during the first four rounds. They took Amini Silatolu in the second round in 2012 and Edmund Kugbila in the fourth in 2013.

Both players are coming off reconstructive knee surgeries, and Gettleman said that fact played a part in the decision to draft Turner. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Silatolu is ahead of Kugbila in their recoveries

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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