CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Panthers continued to address their defensive needs on day two of the NFL draft, selecting Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State with the sixth pick in the second round Friday night.
The 6-foot-5, 266-pound Gross-Matos had 35 tackles for a loss and 17 1/2 sacks in two seasons as a starter for the Nittany Lions.
He was a first-team all-conference selection as a junior after pacing the Penn State defense with 40 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks. The defensive end is expected to compete for a starting job with last year’s first-round draft pick Brian Burns and new free agent pickup Stephen Weatherly from the Vikings.
Carolina previously selected Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown with the No. 7 overall pick in the first round, a sign the team is making a considerable effort to upgrade a defensive line unit that was devastated by free agent departures like Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Vernon Butler.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said his team’s focus needed to be on upgrading the defense entering the draft after addressing mostly offensive needs in free agency. Carolina is looking to replace nine starters from last year’s defense that allowed 29.4 points per game, second-most in the league.
The 6-foot-5, 326-pound Brown figures to play a big role in Carolina’s defense and will help free up players like Gross-Matos to make plays.
Viewed as a three-down player by new head coach Matt Rhule, Brown give the Panthers a legitimate run-stuffer who takes up multiple blockers and can free up other defenders to make tackles while also making plays on his own.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Friday the Panthers got a “steal” with the No. 7 pick.
“There was a decent chance he would go in the first round last year (but) he chose to come back to get his degree, to finish with his teammates,” Malzahn said. “And his goal was to be a top 10 pick. First of all, I think that’s real special. He accomplished his goal. He came back and is a Top 10 pick.”
The Panthers have had tremendous success in the past with first-round picks, selecting the likes of Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross and DeAngelo Williams, but have had their fair share of flops in the second round including Jimmy Clausen, Everette Brown, Eric Shelton, Dwayne Jarrett and Bruce Nelson.
Carolina has fifth pick in the third round (69th overall) later Friday night.