Unheralded rookie looks like a total steal for Carolina Panthers

Could the Carolina Panthers have a steal on their hands?
Chau Smith-Wade
Chau Smith-Wade / Jacob Kupferman/GettyImages

Finding diamonds in the rough has been a difficult task for the Carolina Panthers over recent drafts. While some of the top-end picks have flourished, those lower down the order floundered more often than not. This is something that has to change if the new regime wants to restore some semblance of respectability to the franchise in the coming years.

This year's draft class was a mixed bag. There was an onus on surrounding quarterback Bryce Young with the weapons needed to excel - something that was evident throughout a busy free agency, too. Dan Morgan also picked up some intriguing defensive talent that can hopefully blossom into productive contributors.

It'll be interesting to see how these unheralded prospects perform during their critical early transition to the pros. Some will thrive with the spotlight glaring. Unfortunately, others are going to wilt under the pressure.

Carolina Panthers like what they see from Chau Smith-Wade so far

One rookie seems to be catching the eye more than most over early workouts. Looking at the roster, there's also an opportunity for playing time if the same trend continues in the weeks leading into Carolina's season opener at the New Orleans Saints.

When speaking to the media, Dave Canales was gushing in his praise of Chau Smith-Wade based on comments via USA Today Sports. In particular, the head coach was thrilled with the cornerback's work ethic, fit within Ejiro Evero's scheme, and his willingness to go that extra mile in pursuit of improvements.

"He’s a worker. The guys that we drafted, these guys are hard workers and tough football players. And that’s what we tried to do—is profile those type of guys that fit what we’re doing. He fits right in with the group. He’s active, he’s always workin’ on stuff, JUGS after practice and I just love his focus. He’s got a great smile, but then you see, like, he’s just locked in. And he’s really interested in what’s happening everywhere."

Dave Canales via USA Today Sports

This is undoubtedly positive and a good first step for Wade-Smith. The No. 157 overall selection has some intriguing athletic traits to build upon. That said, it's important to keep the bigger picture in mind where the former Washington State star is concerned.

It's no secret that the Panthers are desperately thin at the cornerback spot aside from Jaycee Horn, who isn't exactly the most dependable health-wise. Unless additional acquisitions come in before the regular season, Evero needs some of his fledgling hopefuls to seize the moment to avoid this group becoming a weak link.

Smith-Wade could be a candidate for extended playing time right out of the gate. However, throwing him to the wolves too early considering his lack of size is asking for trouble.

The Panthers need to find the correct balance. Smith-Wade could be a rotational asset and core special teams performer. His willingness to go above and beyond in pursuit of development should guarantee progress arrives as the campaign goes on. There's no great rush, in all honesty.

If those in power take things slowly with Smith-Wade, the early signs indicate they could have a steal on their hands. One doesn't have to look far around the league to see how first-year corners struggle. It could be a rollercoaster, but if anyone can help bring him along and find the right role, it's Evero.

At the very least, Smith-Wade has made the coaching staff sit up and take notice. That's always half the battle, but how the player builds on this will go a long way to determining his outlook for 2024.