The Carolina Panthers made sure that Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chinn was a second-round pick in Friday night’s NFL Draft.
The Panthers, under the direction of general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Matt Rhule, traded up with Seattle to acquire the final pick of the second round and land the versatile Chinn.
“We just thought that he (Chinn) was too good to take the chance that he could get through six more picks to get to us,” Hurney said afterward on panthers.com. “We thought he was a player that could really help our defense grow. Sometimes when you feel that strongly about a guy, you don’t want to take a chance. I don’t think he would have gotten to us in the third round.”
The Panthers like the fact that although Chinn played safety in college, he has the size — 6-foot-3, 221 pounds — to play cornerback in the NFL. Rhule believes Chinn is the type of player who could fit in various defensive spots.
“We look at him (Chinn) as a guy that can be trained as a safety and as a nickel SAM (strong-side linebacker),” the first-year Carolina head coach said. “He’ll be able to go out and play No. 2 on the field, he’ll also be to come back in nickel and dime (coverage packages) and maybe even defend some of the backs and tight ends.”
Chinn, whose stock rose greatly following his showing at the January Senior Bowl and February NFL Combine, was the 64th overall player taken in this year’s draft. He is the fourth highest NFL Draft selection in SIU history, which includes two first-round picks in Lionel Antoine (third overall by Chicago in 1972) and Terry Taylor (22nd overall by Seattle in 1984).
Chinn is the highest Illinois FCS draft choice since New England took Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo 62nd overall in 2014.
“Great range,” longtime draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. said of Chinn during Friday’s joint ESPN-NFL Network broadcast. “He had 243 career tackles, 13 interceptions, 31 passes defended, six forced fumbles. He played a little cornerback as well, so you know they (the Panthers) love that versatility and the fact that he takes those good angles as a tackler. (His) ball skills are outstanding. You’re talking about a team that has a history and a tradition, Carolina, you talk about having those kind of guys with that kind of versatility.
“Jeremy Chinn, it wouldn’t shock me if they tried him at corner, if he settles in at safety, fine. He’s a heckuva player from the I-AA [FCS] level.”
Rhule called Chinn “a positionless player” and added, “We can utilize him in multiple places.”
Hurney talked about the role Chinn’s Senior Bowl week played in the Panthers’ drafting him.
“You always evaluate the skill set first,” Hurney said. “Again, what really helps is when he (Chinn) goes down to the Senior Bowl and does what he did and really fits in perfectly. I think that’s a big plus. I think that helps you when you see him with and against some of the best players in the country and he’s not out of place at all.”
His own words
Chinn, who played his high school football in Fishers, Ind., noted that meeting Rhule at the Senior Bowl, was a factor in the draft.
“Me and Matt Rhule had a really good conversation at the Senior Bowl,” Chinn told panthers.com, “I actually went up to his suite and talked to some other guys on the staff. We definitely formed a relationship back at the Senior Bowl. Saw him again at my pro day and the relationship continued and clicked from day one.”
Chinn added, “I can’t wait to actually get to Charlotte. As far as position wise, it’s been very open ended as far as what I’ll be playing. Safety, being able to cover tight ends and running backs, and also getting that experience with receivers as well. As far as the position, it’s not something that I’m locked into.”
Much has also been made of Chinn’s being related to former NFL safety Steve Atwater, who was announced as part of the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class during this past winter.
“I’m related to Steve on my dad’s side,” Chinn said. “He’s definitely been a mentor for me. Especially in this process I’ve been able to talk to him about the way life is about to change. From being an NFL athlete and afterwards and relationships and things like that. Also, he answered a lot of questions for me throughout the process. He’s definitely helped a lot.”
Friday night was yet another leg in the incredible journey for Chinn.
“It’s a complete 360,” Chinn said of having minimal scholarship offers out of high school. “Being a zero-star (recruit) with zero FBS offers to being traded up for in the second round, it’s definitely a dream come true and it’s just the beginning.”