Panthers’ Short has reached elite status

When Dave Gettleman took over as the Carolina Panthers general manager, he knew the team needed a heap of talent.

His first crop of free agents wasn’t anything to write home about. His first draft wasn’t either, if you exclude the first two picks — which have made a major difference for the Panthers.

Star Lotulelei was taken with the 14th pick, and Kawann Short with the 44th. Both play defensive tackle, and Gettleman was taking a huge gamble, akin to splitting eights in blackjack.

The tandem has become a big winner, though, paying Gettleman and the Panthers major dividends. No more in any season than 2015, when Short recorded 11 regular season sacks and two in the postseason.

He finished the regular season as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked defensive tackle, behind only Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins and Ndamukong Suh.

Star defensive end Jared Allen said:

“Kawann is doing a great job. As a defensive end, defensive tackles are like my best friend. I say the best thing for him is that he is athletic and he has all those tangible things, but one of his best qualities is how he recognizes blocks at a young age. I mean to have that kind of block reaction and understanding run or pass so that he can use his attributes to defeat the opposite player faster, I think that is the biggest thing that I have enjoyed watching on film.”

Short played in multiple fronts during his three seasons with the Purdue Boilermakers, starring as the team captain and recording 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks as a redshirt sophomore.

He tangled with the idea of declaring for the 2012 NFL draft after that season, but opted to return to Purdue with the news that he was projected to be a third round pick, as the NFL draft advisory committee told him.

Short duplicated the production during the 2012 season, earning second-team All-America honors, along with making first-team All-Big Ten.

His 2015 season with Carolina makes his college numbers seem like chump stuff — 11 sacks, 36 tackles, and four passes defensed.

Short humbly says that the numbers are just that, and the dynamic of the Panthers defense is a group thing:

“We’ve all got different attributes so we all bring something different to the table. From the defensive line to the linebackers to the secondary. You just see everybody has something different. The way we all play unselfish ball, we’re not trying to do too much. Everybody knows their role on this squad so that’s what makes it a lot more fun and a lot better to win.”

His draft brother, Lotulelei, agrees:

“Everybody is unselfish. We have guys out there where nobody really cares who gets the credit. We have guys in all positions making plays. Everybody plays unselfish defense, everybody plays unselfish football, so I think that’s a special thing.”

Short tries to pass off his abilities and efforts as something to do with the next man. Part of that is true. You can’t get to a double-digit sack number if the opposition can run at will, or if the defensive backs can’t cover well.

But there’s something about Short that made Gettleman drool. The general manager considered Short the best pass rusher of the draft class, with Lotulelei’s role being a run-stuffer.

That doesn’t mean Short was anything close to a finished product out of college, but Gettleman says that the draft is almost entirely made of players who need work:

“The way we looked at players, the way we scouted, just understanding that the average college player just isn’t fundamentally sound. You have to look at it differently. For example, you take a linebacker, so the scout watches him and he says, ‘Well he doesn’t know how to use his hands.’ So he knocks his grade down a little bit. Well did anyone ever teach him? We don’t know.”

The work Short has put in since being drafted, though, has helped him become a premier player in the league, whether fans are paying close attention or not.

Allen said:

“Obviously Kawann has had a tremendous year and he kind of anchors that defense in the middle. It’s special and it’s fun to watch and be on a defensive line like that where young guys are coming into their own. As long as Kawann keeps working, he is going to be a force in this league for a while.”

Short turned 27 on Tuesday, and might very well be giving himself the present of a lifetime.

Practice recap

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was a full participant in practice, and according to pool reporter Jarrett Bell, Davis is due for another exam on Friday. Bell also notes that Davis’ practice load clearly indicated that the veteran is on track to play against the Broncos this Sunday.

Davis has been an integral part of the Carolina coverage unit, and often manages the tight end — historically Peyton Manning‘s best friend on the field.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.