Fowler: Here are the Carolina Panthers’ best, worst NFL drafts

April 15, 2013 

NFL DRAFT

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (L) helps Julius Peppers from the University of North Carolina with the Number 1 jersey after the Carolina Panthers picked him second in the 2002 NFL Draft in New York, April 20, 2002. REUTERS/Bernie Nunez

STR — REUTERS

The secret to success in the NFL is really no secret at all. The teams with the best players usually win. And the league is structured in such a way that many of those players must come through the NFL draft and produce early while they are still at their most cost-effective.

So teams must draft well. New Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman knows this, just like former GM Marty Hurney did. As Gettleman said in his first press conference with the Panthers: “You have to build through the draft. … You’ve got to raise your own.”

As the Panthers prepare for the 19th draft in team history, it is worth looking back at the team’s first 18 tries at raising their own crops of young players. There have been a couple of bumper crops and far more mediocre ones – Hurney was well-known for making fine selections with his first-round picks and falling off dramatically from there.

As Gettleman prepares for his first draft as the Panthers GM, here is a look at the five best and five worst drafts in Panthers history on Page 6

Panthers’ five best drafts

NOTE: round drafted in parentheses.

1 2001 – Notable players: LB Dan Morgan (1), DT Kris Jenkins (2), WR Steve Smith (3), QB Chris Weinke (4).

Smith is the best and most electric player in team history. Jenkins and Morgan were both Pro Bowlers as well while in their prime. Smith, Jenkins and Morgan all contributed in a major way to the Panthers’ Super Bowl run of 2003-04. This draft turned out to be George Seifert’s going-away present to the Panthers, and in No.89’s case it truly was the gift that has kept on giving.

2 2002 – Notable players: DE Julius Peppers (1), RB DeShaun Foster (2), LB Will Witherspoon (3), CB Dante Wesley (4).

Not only was Peppers a beast from the beginning and a possible future hall of famer, but the next three players in the draft also made big contributions for several years. This was Hurney’s first draft as the Panthers’ GM and, in retrospect, his best.

3 2007 – Notable players: LB Jon Beason (1), C Ryan Kalil (2), DE Charles Johnson (3), WR Dwayne Jarrett (2).

Kalil and Beason have both made multiple Pro Bowls, although each suffered a major injury in 2012. Johnson took a few years to develop but has worked his way up to become one of the NFL’s top 10-15 pass rushers. Jarrett, a second-rounder, was a huge bust who finished his Panthers career with more DWI arrests (two) than touchdowns (one). He downgrades this otherwise stellar effort that helped Carolina earn its most recent playoff berth following the 2008 season.

4 2006 – Notable players: RB DeAngelo Williams (1), CB Richard Marshall (2), LB James Anderson (3), TE Jeff King (5).

Williams is the Panthers’ career leader in numerous rushing categories. Anderson and King both were solid starters and Marshall was a decent cornerback. This draft also helped shape the 2008-09 playoff run, with Williams as its crown jewel.

5 2011 – Notable players: QB Cam Newton (1), DTs Terrell McClain (3) and Sione Fua (3), WR Kealoha Pilares (5).

Why rank the draft where the Panthers acquired their franchise quarterback as only their fifth-best overall? Because other than Newton, you can’t name another significant player that came from it. But because of the importance of his position, Newton alone carries this class into the top five.

Honorable mention

The 2012 draft class shows promise, given Luke Kuechly’s (1st round) emergence as a star at middle linebacker and rookie contributions from guard Amini Silatolu (2nd), defensive end Frank Alexander (4th) and cornerback Josh Norman (5th). It’s just too early to evaluate the class fully.

Panthers’ five worst drafts

1 1998 – Notable players: DE Jason Peter (1), DE Chuck Wiley (3), DT Mitch Marrow (3), WR Donald Hayes (4).

Peter was an undersized first-round bust at defensive end at No.14 overall – the same first-round pick that the Panthers hold for 2013. He also had embarrassing off-field issues. Wiley, a defensive end, once managed to start an entire season with Carolina without recording a single sack, which is difficult to do. Marrow was a third-round bust. Fourth-round wide receiver Donald Hayes had a few highlights. This awful draft, shepherded by Dom Capers, helped usher the Panthers’ first coach out the door.

2 1997 – Notable players: WR Rae Carruth (1), S Mike Minter (2), TE Kris Mangum (7).

Carruth was quite simply the worst person to ever put on a Panthers uniform and, given his personal history, the one pick the franchise most wishes it could take back. He was convicted in 2001 of conspiring to murder Cherica Adams, who was pregnant with his unborn son. He is still in jail, serving a sentence of nearly 19 years. As the first-round pick of this draft, Carruth brings the class way down by himself. Minter was a fine starter for a decade and Mangum a decent tight end. Misfires like Kinnon Tatum (3rd round), Tarek Saleh (4th) and Matt Finkes (6th) were also costly.

3 2009 – Notable players: DE Everette Brown (2), S Sherrod Martin (2), DT Corvey Irvin (3), CB Captain Munnerlyn (7).

Brown and Irvin were major busts. Martin and Munnerlyn have been decent defensive backfield starters. The Panthers didn’t have a first-round pick this year. Brown was a costly mistake.

4 2000 – Notable players: DB Rashard Anderson (1), S Deon Grant (2), OL Leander Jordan (3) and DL Alvin McKinley (4).

You probably don’t remember any of these guys, but Grant, who was a good player at No.57 overall. The rest of the draft pretty much washed out, which helped lead to the 1-15 season of 2001.

5 2005 – Notable players: LB Thomas Davis (1), RB Eric Shelton (2), G Evan Mathis (3), OL Geoff Hangartner (5).

Davis was a gem and Hangartner is solid, but the Panthers got hardly anything else out of a draft in which they had four picks in the first 89 selections. Shelton, a second-round pick, was such a bad pick that Carolina used two No.1 picks in the next three years on running backs.

Dishonorable mention

1995. When you hold the No.1 overall pick and “double draft picks” before the draft because of your status as an NFL expansion team, how do you end up with quarterback Kerry Collins, cornerback Tyrone Poole and offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer as the “best” of this very mediocre class selected by Bill Polian? Collins would later lead the New York Giants to the Super Bowl, but his self-induced flameout in 1998 in Charlotte was a remarkably early exit for a quarterback who was supposed to direct the franchise for a decade.

Some fans would argue that the 2010 draft, which included Jimmy Clausen (2nd round) and Armanti Edwards (3rd), was worse than this one, but it did at least produce defensive end Greg Hardy (6th) and receiver Brandon LaFell (3rd), who both have bright futures.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service