With their two final picks of the draft, the Panthers have taken chances on two players they are hopeful can contribute to their roster. The first, selected at 234, was Andre Smith, who was thought to be one of the best linebackers in the country before suffering a knee injury and the second, selected at 242, was a space-eating defensive tackle from Miami.
Smith, a 6′, 240-pound linebacker from UNC who spent most of the 2017 season on the sidelines after suffering a season-ending torn lateral meniscus against Lousville in Week 2 – before he was injured, he was having a great season with 21 tackles and an interception returned for 73 yards (but not a score, which still haunts him) in just under two games worth of work. Coming off of his sophomore season, Smith was expected to be rated amongst the top linebackers in the league after compiling 113 tackles in the 2016 campaign in which he started 12 out of 13 games; he played almost that entire season with a torn pectoral muscle where he said he was playing with “one and a half arms.”
“The first six games, honestly, it was pretty painful,” said Smith. “As the season went on, it got stronger and stronger; after games, when it would be at it’s worst, it would be stiff and just really painful. It was something that I had to just battle through.”
Again, to repeat: Smith had 113 tackles while recovering from a torn pectoral muscle.
Smith says that his nicknames are “10 Toes Down” and “56 Nightmares” – there’s an extremely convoluted story involving Future and changing teams that explains it, but it boils down to Smith wanting to “add some swag to his numbers”.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 28, 2018
With their second pick, the Panthers selected defensive tackle Kendrick Norton from Miami – contrary to popular opinion, Norton is not related to boxer Ken Norton, Sr; Norton was voted 2017 all-ACC honorable mention as a junior when he finished with 26 tackles and two sacks. The 312-pounder will occupy a lot of space in the middle of the line in the mold of Ndamukong Suh, Dontari Poe or Star Lotulelei and will compete with a crowded tackle room that includes Poe, Kawann Short, former first-rounder Vernon Butler and Kyle Love. Smith says he doesn’t like to compare himself to any current players, because he’s not a big NFL fan and only knows the most famous defensive tackles – but he’s not scared to talk about his own game.
“I go hard,” Norton said just moments after being drafted. “Every play, I leave everything I have out there on the field, whether it’s running 20/30/40/however many yards down the field, jumping on the pile to make a gang-tackle, helping out, going hard and having fun.”
“You could call me a bully. I play like a bully.”
In an interesting twist of fate, both seventh round picks attended Trinity Christian High School together in Jacksonville, Florida; now both will be competing for a job on the Carolina Panthers’ defense.