Panthers address needs, draft G Kugbila, LB Klein
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers closed out the NFL draft by addressing needs at guard and linebacker, then selected another running back.
The Panthers stuck to filling areas of need early Saturday by selecting guard Edmund Kugbila from Division II Valdosta State in the fourth round and linebacker A.J. Klein from Iowa State in the fifth.
Then came a bit of a surprise. The Panthers added “scat back” Kenjon Barner from Oregon to an already crowded backfield that includes former Ducks star Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
But new general manager Dave Gettleman believes Barner brings something the other backs don’t — a guy “who can flat out fly,” he said.
“When the ball is in his hands, the fun begins,” Gettleman said of Barner, who ran a 4.38 at his Pro Day at Oregon.
The 5-foot-9, 196-pound Barner had a huge senior season for the Ducks, scoring 23 touchdowns and rushing for 1,767 yards, the second-most in school history. He’s also returned punts and kickoffs, which could come in handy given Carolina’s open competition at both returner positions.
“My speed is what got me to where I am today,” Barner said.
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Kugbila figures to compete with 31-year-old Geoff Hangartner at the right guard spot.
He earned Division II All-American honors last season while helping Valdosta State to the national championship.
It marks the second straight year the Panthers selected a Division II offensive lineman, taking Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State in the second round in 2012. Silatolu wound up starting 15 games at left guard for the Panthers last season.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said that while Kugbila is “raw,” he’s the type of big body, high energy guy the Panthers want and doesn’t believe he’ll have a hard time transitioning to the NFL because of his willingness to work hard.
Kugbila said he’s eager to do whatever it takes to make the leap to the next level.
“I see myself as a complete player, but I know I have a lot of room to grow,” Kugbila said. “I love run blocking and I love pass blocking and I just love football.”
A native of Ghana, Kugbila moved to the United States when he was 10 after his parents won a visa lottery. He became the second player from Ghana taken in this year’s draft joining defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who was selected in the first round by the Detroit Lions.
Kugbila grew up playing soccer in Ghana and never saw an NFL game until watching the Baltimore Ravens defeat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl in January, 2001.
He immediately became a fan of Ray Lewis.
“I remember watching rugby one time growing up, but never the NFL,” Kugbila said.
Klein gives the Panthers added depth at linebacker.
At 6-1 and 250-pounds, Klein shared Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011 with Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander, whom the Panthers drafted in the fourth round last season.
A three-year starter at Iowa State, Klein played all three linebacker positions at various times, although his primary position was middle linebacker.
“Pretty much you can swap me out any of those positions,” said Klein, a two-time All-Big 12 first team selection.
Rivera called Klein “very versatile,” adding that he expects him to be a four-phase player on special teams.
Carolina’s starters appear to be set at linebacker with Luke Kuechly in the middle and Jon Beason and Thomas Davis on the outside. They also added free agent Chase Blackburn from the New York Giants to the mix earlier this offseason.
“That’s a very talented group of guys and I know I can come in and learn a lot from them,” Klein said.
On Thursday and Friday, the Panthers spent their first- and second-round picks on defensive tackles, taking Star Lotulelei from Utah and Kawann Short from Purdue.
Carolina didn’t have picks in the third and seventh rounds.
Gettleman said he expects Lotulelei and Short to be key contributors right away, while he hopes the other three can help out in various roles as they continue to develop as players.
“We felt like we didn’t reach for anybody and we got great value for every pick,” Gettleman said.
Surprisingly, the Panthers didn’t address their young defensive backfield in the draft, but Gettleman doesn’t seem all that concerned.
“Is there a position I’m worried about moving forward? I would say the answer is no,” Gettleman said.