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Panthers’ Matt Rhule first to use all 7 NFL draft picks on defense
6:08 PM ET
  • David NewtonESPN Staff Writer

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    • Covered Panthers, NFL for 11 years
    • More than 25 years experience covering NFL, college football and NASCAR
    • Joined ESPN in 2006

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule hasn’t coached a down in the NFL and already he’s a part of league history.

The Panthers used all seven of their picks in the NFL draft the past three days on defensive players, the most in the common draft era to be made all on defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Carolina tied the 1985 Cleveland Browns for the most picks on one side of the ball. The Browns used all seven picks on offense.

Rhule said the Panthers didn’t go into the draft thinking they would take all defensive players, but knew it would be defense-heavy. “A few times we had an offensive guy as the next guy up,” Rhule said. “As it got within three or four picks that player went away.”

The Panthers made Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown the seventh overall pick on Thursday. They followed that on Friday with Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chinn in the second round.

They began Saturday’s final draft day with Notre Dame cornerback Troy Pride Jr. in the fourth round, then selected West Virginia safety Kenny Robinson in the fifth, Baylor defensive tackle Bravvion Roy in the sixth and Florida International cornerback Stanley Thomas-Oliver in the seventh.

Twice in team history (1998, 2018), the Panthers had used six of eight picks on the defensive side. In 2016, they used four of five picks on defense.

But after spending most of this offseason’s free-agency period rebuilding the offense, signing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receiver Robby Anderson in addition to trading for left tackle Russell Okung and giving running back Christian McCaffrey a four-year extension, they turned to the draft for the defense.

At times during the draft, Rhule joked virtually with offensive coordinator Joe Brady and the offensive staff: “Are we even paying you guys today? Are you guys even doing anything?”

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow wasn’t complaining at all.

“It’s a unique situation,” Rhule said. “The great thing is that you have a cohort of young guys who are now going to grow in Phil’s system.”

Shoring up the front seven was a priority with the early retirement of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and the decision to move on from defensive linemen Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Mario Addison in free agency.

The defensive front, in particular, was a priority, as Carolina plans to transition back to a 4-3 base defense after going to a 3-4 last year in Ron Rivera’s final season as coach.

“Marty Hurney has come in with a great plan,” Rhule said of his general manager. “We, together, have a vision for how we’re gonna move forward.”

Specifically, Rhule wanted defensive players who could play fast and aggressively. He got that across the board, starting with Brown.

“He dominated the entire year in the SEC versus the run and versus the pass,” Rhule said. “And [he’s] also just a great human, great competitor and a building block for the future.”

Roy, in particular, understands what Rhule wants to accomplish. He was a part of the defensive rebuild under Rhule at Baylor that helped the unit go from ninth in the Big 12 in yards and points surrendered per game in 2017 to third and first this past season.

So he understands why Rhule went with seven defensive players in the draft.

“Defense wins championships,” Roy said. “I’m not surprised by that.”

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