5 Carolina Panthers who must hit the ground running at rookie minicamp

These Carolina Panthers players need to make a good first impression at rookie minicamp.
Trevin Wallace
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Ja'Tavion Sanders - Carolina Panthers TE

The Carolina Panthers got themselves what many believe to be one of the 2024 NFL Draft's potential steals when Ja'Tavion Sanders fell into their laps at No. 101 overall. Although the tight end isn't exactly a dominant blocker, he could emerge as an immediate impact player in the passing game if everything goes according to plan during the preparation period.

Sanders is an exceptional route-runner with vice-like hands capable of making even the most difficult catches look easy. He's got the athletic profile to line up anywhere in pursuit of creating mismatches. Couple this with his increasing red-zone threat, hopes are extremely high where the former Texas standout is concerned.

He'll need to do some blocking, so that area of his game needs work. Expanding his route tree should also benefit Sanders en route to his fair share of targets right out of the gate. That said, the athletic scope is there to bring his game on considerably under Dave Canales' staff.

If Sanders hits the ground running, it'll provide further confidence that the Panthers might finally have a tight end capable of impacting the passing game. Something they haven't possessed since Greg Olsen left in 2020.

Chau Smith-Wade - Carolina Panthers CB

According to Joe Person of The Athletic, there's been no movement between the Carolina Panthers and Stephon Gilmore in the weeks following the 2024 NFL Draft. That came as a surprise to many, but it might be a sign those in power are relatively comfortable with what they have at their disposal right now.

This development shouldn't go unnoticed by Chau Smith-Wade in his attempt to gain prominent reps during his rookie campaign under defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Although the Washington State product is undersized from a muscle mass perspective, he's got the length and athleticism needed to potentially become a decent rotational piece in the slot with a strong offseason under his belt.

The Panthers need a spark of fresh energy at the cornerback position. It could genuinely go either way where Smith-Wade is concerned, but there is confidence within the building that he can far outperform his draft status if his technique and physicality improve before Week 1.