Panthers Select S Boston, CB Benwikere, RB Gaffney
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers wrapped up the final day of the NFL draft Saturday by bolstering their depth in the secondary and adding a running back.
As for filling the huge void at left tackle, they’re hoping the answer is already on the roster.
Carolina took North Carolina safety Tre Boston in the fourth round, then traded up 20 spots in the fifth round with Minnesota to take San Jose State cornerback Bene’ Benwikere. Carolina added Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney in the sixth round.
Carolina traded away its fifth- and seventh-round picks to Minnesota to get Benwikere.
After the draft, general manager Dave Gettleman said on a teleconference the Panthers drafted Boston in part because they’ve decided to move veteran safety Charles Godfrey to cornerback.
That’s a bit of a surprise. Godfrey was a five-year starter at safety for Carolina before a torn Achilles in a Week 2 loss at Buffalo ended his season. Godfrey, who already took a $4.1 million pay cut this offseason, hasn’t played cornerback since college in 2007.
“We are going to start him at corner and let him do all the drills and give him an opportunity to play that position as well as the nickel position — that’s why we made the move,” Gettleman said of Godfrey.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Boston brings depth to a safety position that includes free agent pickups Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud, and returning backups Robert Lester and Colin Jones.
“He’s very smart and can get everybody lined up,” Gettleman said of Boston. “He’s a physical player who sets a tone.”
Boston played two seasons at cornerback for the Tar Heels and finished with 12 interceptions during his college career.
“It’s a dream to play on this defense with how they great they are,” Boston said of joining the NFL’s second-ranked defense in 2013. “Just talking about it I’m just getting chills because I know I can learn so much from those guys.”
Gettleman said the 6-foot, 192-pound Benwikere, who started 30 games at San Jose State and tied a school record with 14 career interceptions, will compete for a starting nickel back spot in Carolina.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Gaffney could provide a long-term replacement for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart at running back.
The Panthers like his athleticism and ability to pick up the blitz.
Gaffney left Stanford in 2012 to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league team in State College, Pennsylvania. He hit .297 in 38 games, but said he missed football and decided to return to Stanford for his senior season.
In 2013 he won the starting job and ran for 1,709 yards with 21 touchdowns.
“I found out I love football,” Gaffney said. “You step away and find out this is what you want to do.”
The one position of need the Panthers didn’t address in the draft was offensive tackle.
Jordan Gross, an 11-year NFL veteran and three-time Pro Bowler, retired this past offseason creating a huge void at left tackle. Gettleman said the Panthers were never in a position to upgrade there after the five tackles went off the board in the first round before their pick.
Instead, the Panthers selected wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State instead at No. 28 overall Thursday night.
Carolina used its second round pick on Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy and third round choice on LSU guard Trai Turner.
“Once you got past that top tier of tackles there was a huge drop off,” Gettleman said. “For us, we just felt the guys we have on our roster that are going to compete for those spots were just as good if not better than what we were staring at. Plus the value wasn’t there.”
Byron Bell, last year’s starting right tackle, and Nate Chandler will battle for the right to protect quarterback Cam Newton’s blindside.
“Sometimes the best players are already on your roster,” Gettleman said.
Gettleman ran the third day of the draft remotely through Skype from Worcester, Massachusetts, where he attended his son’s graduated from Becker College on Saturday morning.
Gettleman said he was set up and ready to go to work after the ceremony ended.
He said the day, which included the trade with the Vikings, went off without a hitch.
“This is one of those things I believe I needed to do,” Gettleman said of attending his son’s graduation.
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