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General manager Marty Hurney felt he needed to upgrade team speed after the Panthers failed to win the NFC South the last two seasons.

He believes he's done just that in the NFL draft.

The Panthers selected field-stretching tight end Ian Thomas from Indiana and speed rusher Marquis Haynes from Ole Miss in the fourth round Thomas Davis Jersey , and middle linebacker Jermaine Carter from Maryland in the fifth. They closed out the final day by taking middle linebacker Andre Smith from North Carolina and defensive tackle Kendrick Norton from Miami in the seventh round.

Carolina placed a major emphasis on adding speed, a pattern established in the first two days of the draft when it took wide receiver D.J. Moore from Maryland in the first round, cornerback Donte Jackson from LSU in the second and safety Rashaan Gaulden in the third.

"I have always believed that you can't teach speed 鈥?and that is a big part of this game," Hurney said. "You have to be big and you have to be physical, but you have to be fast, too. Coming into this offseason that was one of our goals to add speed, especially to the skill positions."

The Panthers had won three straight NFC South titles before Atlanta won in 2016 and New Orleans triumphed in 2017.

They lost three times to the Saints last year, including a wild-card playoff loss at the Superdome.

"One of the things that you have to do is look at your division," coach Ron Rivera said. "To get into the playoffs you have to win your division. ... So when you compare those teams in your division with what you have you most certainly have to be able to match up with those guys across the board."

THOMAS' TOUGH ROAD

The Panthers got the third day of the NFL draft started by selecting Thomas with the first pick in the fourth round. They believe he is from the same mold as Greg Olsen with the versatility to catch passes and block.

Thomas was raised by his siblings after both of his parents died before he was 10 years old 鈥攈is mother from a kidney infection and his father from a heart attack a year later. Thomas has eight siblings in all, but was primarily raised by his brother, Clif Farmer.

"I always thank him any chance I get for helping us growing up and for helping me become the man I am today," Thomas said. "He knows how much love I have for him and how much love he has for all of us. I know it's just a blessing to have him as an older brother and a role model."

WHAT A JOKER

The Panthers are high on Haynes, even though he's slight for an NFL defensive end at 235 pounds. Still, he broke Greg Hardy's career record for sacks at Ole Miss with 32.

But Rivera also likes that Haynes can drop back in coverage and play the team's "joker" position.

Rivera says Haynes' pass-rushing skills remind him of current Panthers defensive end Mario Addison.

"I got a knack for my first step Rodger Saffold Jersey , getting off the ball, because it really makes the offensive lineman really think that they have to overstep, I could then take an inside move," Haynes said. "But if they don't, I can just run right around them and get to the quarterback."

SWAGGER TIME

When the Panthers pulled the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman two years ago, they lost some serious swagger in the secondary.

Well, that attitude appears back courtesy of second-round pick Donte "Action" Jackson from LSU. Although he's only 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, Jackson is plenty confident. When asked who's the fastest player on the Carolina roster he responded quickly, "Me, Donte Jackson."

"Yeah I'm fast, but my mentality and my toughness and my confidence and my swagger is all there, it's all football," Jackson said. "You know, that's one thing I like to pride myself on. I never really liked to listen to people say I'm too small because I've been listening to that my whole life and it just adds fuel to the fire."

Jackson's father was in prison when he was growing up; he said he still speaks with him every other day.

STILL NEED

The Panthers never did find a replacement for running back Jonathan Stewart Joel Bitonio Jersey , cut during the offseason in a salary cap move. Rivera said that Cameron Artis-Payne will get "the first crack" as the No. 2 back behind Christian McCaffrey. Carolina also didn't draft a guard despite losing All-Pro Andrew Norwell to the Giants in free agency.
The Montreal Canadiens could make the first real move in the NHL draft with the third overall pick.

If everything goes as expected in Big D on Friday night, play-making Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will be the first overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres. Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov will then go to Carolina.

”Obviously Rasmus and Andrei deserve it, they’re unbelievable players,” American prospect Brady Tkachuk said Thursday. ”From the third (pick) on, it’s just whatever the team wants, so we’ll see what happens. But it’s going to be pretty exciting to be a part of.”

So the real draft action should begin when Montreal goes on the clock.

The Canadiens will have their choice of the other top prospects like right wing Filip Zadina, who’s playing in the Quebec league, and Tkachuk, the left wing from Boston University who is looking to follow father Keith and brother Mathew into the NHL. Maybe Finnish center Jesper Kotkaniemi.

Plenty of other top defensemen will also be on the board, including Adam Boqvist, Quintin Hughes, Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard.

”The most important is going to be tomorrow when Montreal goes on the stage, and they will say my name or not,” Zadina said. ”I’m just glad I can be there in the top five Marlon Mack Jersey , top six players. It’s unbelievable.”

Or maybe the Canadiens, who have 10 picks in the seven-round draft over two days, make a deal and let another team move into that slot.

Trevor Timmins, Montreal’s assistant general manager, expects GM Marc Bergevin’s to be ringing.

”We’re ready to go,” Timmins said Thursday. ”The list is never set in stone until we go head to the draft from the hotel here, but we’re confident of the prospects that we like … right from that third overall pick to the last pick we make on Saturday.”

Timmins said centers, offensive defensemen and scoring wingers have the highest asset value on the Canadiens draft board, and that all are needs in their organization.

Ottawa has the fourth pick, and No. 22, and team officials were going through scenarios again Thursday.

”It was one of the best meetings I’ve had with scouts in 20 years talking about what we plan on doing at (No.) 4, what possibilities are at 22, how these players will impact our organization moving forward,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said. ”We’re just excited. We suffered this year. There’s no doubt we suffered as a team with the number of losses. But the one good thing is we know we’re getting a really good player here.”

Arizona Darren Fells Jersey , Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago, the New York Rangers and Edmonton hold the final picks in the top 10. The New York Islanders, who on Thursday hired Stanley Cup champion coach Barry Trotz, then have consecutive picks before the draft-hosting Dallas Stars select 13th.

The draft at the American Airlines Center comes 25 years after the former Minnesota North Stars moved to bring NHL hockey to Dallas.

Coyotes GM John Chayka said he has five players who would fit his team in the fifth spot.

”We understand that there’s a variety of outcomes that could exist and then we’re going to have a plan in place that accounts for any of the iterations of what could occur,” Chayka said. ”It’ll be an interesting draft. I’m sure there’ll be opportunities to move up and opportunities to move down and opportunities to stay and take the pick.”

While general managers and team officials did their final prep for the draft, several of the top prospects took part in other activities in the Dallas area.

The prospects first were at a youth hockey clinic with several players from the Dallas Stars. There was then a media availability at Reunion Tower, more than 500 feet above the ground. That vantage point overlooks the city and next to the open lot where once stood Reunion Arena, the home of the Stars when the won the Stanley Cup in 1999.

Dahlin said he wasn’t feeling nervous about the likelihood of having his name called first Friday night.

”I haven’t actually thought about it so much yet,” Dahlin said. ”It’s crazy to be here actually, I can’t believe it. … Sometime in the near future I will stop and think what I am going through. I’m just trying to enjoy this time as much as I can.”



AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.



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