CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers set out to improve their defense in the NFL draft, and general manager Marty Hurney is optimistic they've accomplished that goal.
But he acknowledged you can never be sure.
Hurney says he and coach Ron Rivera really like what happened over the course of the three-day draft but "you really don't know until two or three years down the road."
Nonetheless, Hurney said for the most part things fell Carolina's way and they got the players they wanted in each round in the three-day draft.
The Panthers selected linebacker Luke Kuechly from Boston College in the first round, defensive end Frank Alexander from Oklahoma in the fourth, cornerback Josh Norman from Coastal Carolina in the fifth and safety D.J. Campbell from Cal in the seventh in hopes of shoring up a defense that ranked 28th in the league a year ago.
In Hurney's eyes, the big key for the Panthers was landing Alexander in the fourth round.
The Panthers traded away a third round pick next year and a sixth rounder this year to move up into the fourth (103rd overall) overall to get him.
"I think really the fourth round and having that fall into place was probably the key," Hurney said. "I think we felt like that kind of spurred the rest of the draft. We feel good. We feel like we helped our defense."
The Panthers turned around and took punt returner Joe Adams from Arkansas with the 104th pick to help out their special teams.
Alexander was the pass-rushing defensive end Hurney coveted and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to move up and get in the third round.
As luck would have it, Alexander he slid into the fourth round.
Hurney desperately wanted to move into the third round — they didn't have one coming into the draft — to get Alexander and Rivera even implored him beforehand to "work his magic."
It never materialized though.
Some of the teams that listened to trade offers wanted too much in exchange and others didn't want to trade their pick.
"We weren't able to get a third round pick and that was frustrating," Hurney said.
Hurney said the Panthers had "an old first-day value on" on Alexander, meaning they'd him projected as a second-round pick.
"We thought the value was good, we liked the player, we thought he could come in and help us and provide depth to our defensive line and we did that," Hurney said. "We also wanted to get Joe Adams the punt returner and we were able to get both of them back-to-back."
The 6-4, 270-pound Alexander had 20.5 sacks during his career and will figure into the mix as a pass rusher coming off the bench on obvious passing downs.
"What happened in the fourth round was tremendous," Rivera said. "Being able to get Frank Alexander, a guy that we've liked for a long time, a guy that could come in and help us and be part of that rotation as far as our defensive ends were concerned, that was great. We're excited about him and who he is as a football player."
Kuechly was a guy the Panthers couldn't pass up given his production in college.
Rivera said he still doesn't know where they'll play him when the rookie minicamp begins in two weeks, but at some point either he or Jon Beason will need to move to outside linebacker.
Both are traditionally middle linebackers, although the Panthers like Kuechly's versatility.
Norman, who had good size and length, is a player the Panthers are hoping can help in nickel and dime packages in a pass-happy NFC South that features quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman.
"If you look around at what's happening in our division and then in the league itself, people are having these big receivers and Tampa Bay did themselves a great service getting a guy like Vincent Jackson and Atlanta did last year when they went out and got Julio Jones," Rivera said. "So you've got to be able to compete against those guys and you've got to have guys that have that kind of ability."
Rivera likes Campbell's special teams ability and thinks he can be a playmaker at safety given time to develop.