Senior Bowl: South Carolina’s Darius Rush among standouts who could interest Panthers

Dwayne McLemore/

The Carolina Panthers got an up-close look at several notable prospects this week in Mobile, Alabama.

While the Panthers are in the early days of the Frank Reich era, the scouting process took a major step forward as GM Scott Fitterer and the front office studied some of the top talent in the upcoming draft at the annual Senior Bowl.

Although the all-star game is part of the process, scouts spent most of their time focused on the week of practice. During those workouts, Fitterer and company were able to get an understanding of the depth at specific positions in the draft pool.

The Panthers have quite a few needs entering the offseason, and the Senior Bowl served as the first major stop within the roster-building process.

Here are some of six notable standouts from the Observer’s trip to the all-star game:


Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane

The 5-foot-9, 204-pound playmaker put on a show to close out the Senior Bowl practices on Thursday. At one point during individual competitive drills, Spears drew gasps of excitement from the crowd after running a whip route to shake Pittsburgh linebacker Dennis Sirvocea. During team drills, Spears caught the ball cleanly and zig-zagged around defenders for big gains.

D’Onta Foreman’s impending free agency looms large around the Panthers’ running back depth chart. If Foreman were to leave town, Spears would be an interesting target for Reich’s offense. Spears has shown he can be a playmaker in open space, which is something Reich looks for his in offensive weapons.

Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State

Musgrave offers an impressive mix of size and speed at the tight end position. On Wednesday, Musgrave got open with regularity and caught several passes. While he did deal with occasional drops this week, Musgrave has shown the ability to win one-on-one coverage matchups, as he can get down the field in a hurry. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end could develop into a starter in the NFL.

The Panthers need a pass-catching complement to Ian Thomas at tight end. Reich depends heavily on tight ends as possession receivers and Musgrave’s speed and size make him an ideal fit for the head coach.

Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina

Rush was all over the field this week. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback had a handful of pass breakups and two interceptions during the last two practices and showed some physicality in coverage. Rush uses his size and length well to get in front of receivers. Like fellow South Carolina alum and current Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn, Rush tends to jump routes with little wasted movement.

This past season, the Panthers were burned for having a lack of depth at the position as injuries popped up down the stretch. Rush could be an option as an outside cornerback, which could help the Panthers possibly keep Donte Jackson inside at nickel corner.


Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan

Bell did a really nice job of running clean routes this week. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound wideout made several catches in practice, and had a great play on a crossing route for a touchdown in 11-on-11 red zone drills on Thursday. While there are plenty of talented wideouts who stood out in practice — including Charlotte’s Grant DuBose, Stanford’s Michael Wilson and Michigan State’s Jayden Reed — Bell appeared to be the most consistent of the bunch. Plus, his route-running prowess is likely to lead to teams viewing him as a potential slot options.

The Panthers could use some improved at the wideout position. While D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. are a nice tandem, the Panthers really have to figure out their slot receiver situation. Bell could be a mid-round option for Carolina in April.

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Sydney Brown, DB, Illinois

Brown drew praise all week in Mobile, as he seemingly got better with each practice. Working with Panthers defensive assistant Bobby Maffei, Brown was able to make some plays in coverage against the National team’s playmakers. Brown’s physicality and technique were highlighted throughout Thursday’s practice as he broke up passes in individual and team drills.

At 5-feet-10 and 203 pounds, Brown has the body type to play strong safety in the NFL. He could be an option at nickel corner as well, as several teams are now looking for bigger bodies at the position. The Panthers could definitely use depth at both positions, and the buzz is building for Brown this week.

Payne Durham, TE, Purdue

Durham had himself a standout practice Thursday. The 6-foot-5, 258-pound tight end plucked the ball out of the air with ease throughout the workout. His highlight of the week came on an impressive contested touchdown catch, as he caught the ball despite a pair of defenders trying to rip it away. Durham made the play through contact and lost his helmet in the process.

Durham, like Musgrave, could be an intriguing option at the tight end position for the Panthers. With great size and consistent hands, Durham could see his stock rise after a strong showing during Saturday’s Senior Bowl game. The Panthers should be paying attention to the position in general, as it is one of the better groups in Mobile.