Carolina Panthers rookie grades ahead of preseason Week 2

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Matt Corral
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Matt Corral /
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Carolina Panthers
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Brandon Smith /

Brandon Smith – Carolina Panthers LB

It’s easy to see why the Carolina Panthers traded up for Brandon Smith in the fourth round. He looks like a man amongst boys and straight-up flies to the football. That’s definitely something you bet on.

Smith made a couple nice plays on defense and certainly didn’t look out of place. It’s encouraging for someone who’s looked at as a raw prospect that could emerge as the starting middle linebacker over time.

Performance Grade: B

There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before we can say he’s an every-down linebacker. But the Panthers coaching staff has to like what they saw from the rookie during their game at the Washington Commanders and throughout an encouraging training camp in Spartanburg.

Amare Barno – Carolina Panthers DE/OLB

Amare Barno found himself around the ball a lot which is always a good thing for a defensive player. A fumble bounced into his hands early on and he got heavy pressure on Taylor Heinicke to force an interception later on.

This led many to believe that although undersized, Barno’s explosiveness and ability to get to the spot quickly could be of use within a positional group that lacks depth.

Performance Grade: B

The Panthers definitely need someone to step up at the pass rusher position. Barno making noise early on is a wonderful sight to see and could be a sign of things to come once other areas of his game get up to speed.