Each day that passes, we get closer to the frenzy of NFL free agency. The Panthers did a terrific job building the interior of the defensive line last year by drafting Derrick Brown with the 7th overall pick and signing free agent Zach Kerr. Now, Carolina will be looking to strengthen the inside with quality, experienced depth players.
Today, we look at four options that the Panthers should consider as we near free agency.
Johnathan Hankins (Raiders)
Analysis from Hondo Carpenter of Raider Maven on Sports Illustrated: The Ohio State product (28) was productive for the Raiders in 2020. He played in 15 games, and while productive, he was underwhelming. He had 48 tackles (27 solo) and one sack. He provides depth but didn't demonstrate the consistency that the Raiders needed. Strong at the point of attack, Hankins' skill set is strong in attacking the run. Liked by the staff and team and is not a boisterous leader, he does present a lead by example approach.
My analysis: Hankins has a very similar skillset to that of Panthers rookie Derrick Brown but he does have a tad more experience. He hasn't quite lived up to his expectations since being drafted in the 2nd round by the New York Giants, but don't let that scare you away. The Panthers need to clog up run lanes better than they did this past season and that's what Hankins does best.
Davon Godchaux (Dolphins)
Analysis from Alain Poupart of All Dolphins on Sports Illustrated: This perhaps is the most intriguing situation involving a Dolphins unrestricted free agent. Godchaux had the misfortune of sustaining a pectoral injury five games into his contract year, which obviously didn't give him the chance to raise his market value. While he's been a starter for three years, the stats show the Dolphins' run defense last season was much more effective after Godchaux was sidelined — though some of that could be explained by simple natural progression. Still, the Dolphins gave up 126 rushing yards per game and a 5.0 average in their five games with Godchaux, and those numbers dropped to 112 yards and a 4.3 average over the final 11. Even more significant, the Dolphins gave up 86.7 rushing yards per game and a 3.9 average in the final six games as rookie defensive tackle Raekwon Davis continued to develop. Godchaux isn’t going to provide much help as a pass rusher — he has three sacks in 52 career games.
My analysis: Although he is coming off an injury, I believe signing Godchaux would be a solid get for the Panthers. Much like Hankins, his best football is still ahead of him. It can't hurt for Carolina to take a flyer on him and with his recent injury and how Miami's defense performed without him as Alain mentions above, it could make him a very cheap option.
Justin Ellis (Ravens)
Analysis from Todd Karpovich of Raven Country on Sports Illustrated: Ellis amassed 17 tackles (six solo) and one pass defended over 13 games (three starts), helping Baltimore’s defense rank No. 2 in both points allowed (18.9) and third-down efficiency (34.0%). Ellis could re-sign with the team, but the Ravens will look to give second-year players Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington more opportunities.
My analysis: After posting a solid year in 2017, we haven't heard much about Justin Ellis. Much of that can be contributed to a knee injury that forced him to miss 22 games from 2018-19. In his first "full" year back Ellis played in a very limited role and totaled just 17 tackles. He too will be extremely cheap and will provide the Panthers with some depth on the interior of the defensive line. I don't think he's a starter but could morph into that if he outperforms Zach Kerr.
Kawann Short (Panthers)
Look, we all know that this is probably not likely to happen but there have been multiple reports stating that the Panthers would entertain the idea of bringing Short back on a much friendlier deal if he is unable to find the right fit in free agency. He's had back-to-back season-ending shoulder injuries which is definitely a concern. The Panthers could do a mainly incentive-based contract so that they are not tied up to paying out a few million for him to not be on the field.
Short knows how Phil Snow wants to run the Panthers' defense and he also has experience mentoring rookie Derrick Brown.
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