Carolina Panthers

What could the Panthers get at No. 16? Historically, there’s gold and plenty of coal

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera on his expectations for the future

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera on the potential for the offense, Julius Peppers' future.
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Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera on the potential for the offense, Julius Peppers' future.

The biggest difference between the NFL draft and, say, the NBA draft is the sheer number of players entering the league. So while it may be difficult to snag an All-Pro in the middle of the first round in the NBA draft, the chances are a lot higher in the NFL.

The Carolina Panthers own the No. 16 overall pick in this year’s draft, smack in the middle of the first round. A look back at previous selections at that spot suggests the Panthers can reasonably find not only a suitable starter at No. 16, but also Pro Bowl, All-Pro or even Hall of Fame-level talent.

Or, they can go the route of a few teams on this list and make a mistake that will stick with the franchise for years to come.

Long live the NFL draft.

The Good

Jerry Rice, WR: It felt really weird typing Jerry Rice’s position after his name, because he’s arguably one of the most well-known players in NFL history. Still, in 1985, he was a talented, but plodding wide receiver out of Division I-AA Mississippi Valley State — deemed too slow to truly succeed in the league. Rice was the No. 1 overall pick by the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL in 1985, but the San Francisco 49ers traded two picks to select him No. 16 in the NFL draft, sparking his Hall of Fame career.

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Troy Polamalu, DB: The 2003 NFL draft was loaded with future All-Pros, including Andre Johnson, Kevin Williams, Jordan Gross and Terrell Suggs all in the first 10 picks. But the Pittsburgh Steelers found a gem at No. 16 overall in Southern Cal safety Polamalu, who spent nine seasons as the team’s starting safety. His trademark long hair and thundering hits made him one of the most recognizable, and feared, players in the league.

Troy Polamalu and former Carolina Panther Jordan Gross were selected in the same round in 2003. AP file photo

Zack Martin, OG: One of the most recent selections on this list, Martin already has the third-most All-Pro selections of any player drafted No. 16 overall. He’s been an anchor on the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line as a starter ever since they drafted him in 2014, making the Pro Bowl in all five seasons.

Honorable Mentions: Julian Peterson (2000), Jevon Kearse (1999)

The Bad

E.J. Manuel, QB: The only thing saving Manuel and the Buffalo Bills from the “ugly” category is the fact that 2013 was a laughably weak draft class for quarterbacks. In a class that featured Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and Matt Barkley, the Bills get a pass for making Manuel the only quarterback selected in the first round. Still, one lackluster season as a starter and five as a journeyman backup earn him a spot on the “Bad” list.

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Kevin Dyson, WR: He will forever be immortalized by his desperate reach for the goal line in Super Bowl XXXIV, only to come up a yard short — but that’s not what makes Dyson a bad selection at No. 16 overall in 1998. Neither do his 178 career receptions, 2,325 career receiving yards or 18 career touchdowns. What makes Dyson a bad pick is the fact that the Tennessee Titans took him five picks before the Minnesota Vikings drafted Randy Moss. No further explanation necessary.

Kevin Dyson is famous for the final play of Super Bowl 34, but his career doesn’t stack up to Randy Moss’, who was selected five picks after Dyson. Charlotte Observer file photo

Hart Lee Dykes, WR: Who could blame the New England Patriots for drafting the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Dykes in the first round in 1989? His measurables looked great and he put up decent numbers before an eye injury he suffered during a bar fight with a teammate ended his career in 1990. But Dykes was also drafted six picks ahead of Andre Rison, who enjoyed a 12-year career, five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro selection.

Honorable Mention: Eric Kumerow (1988), William Green (2002)

The Ugly

Dan McGwire, QB: If you’re the first quarterback taken in the draft, you’re expected to turn that franchise around or at least lead it in the near future. McGwire did neither of those; he started just five games in four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, who drafted another quarterback in the first round just two years after taking McGwire in 1991 (Rick Mirer). McGwire currently holds the lowest career value of any No. 16 overall selection, per Pro Football Reference. Oh, and Brett Favre was drafted 17 picks later.

Justin Harrell, DT: In three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Harrell registered 18 tackles, two for a loss, and two starts. Meanwhile, Anthony Spencer, drafted 10 picks later by the Cowboys in 2014, finished his career with 33 sacks. He probably would’ve been a better pick than Harrell, as would Jon Beason, Joe Staley or Greg Olsen.

Larry English, LB: The San Diego Chargers needed a pass rusher in 2009, and could have landed Ziggy Hood (14 career sacks), Robert Ayers (34.5 career sacks) or even Clay Matthews (83.5 career sacks). Instead, they drafted English, who started nine games in five seasons and recorded 11 sacks before flaming out of the league after one season with Tampa Bay.

Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.