by Adam Fournier, Ourlads’ Intern
Following a bottom of the league finish in the 2010 NFL Season, the Panthers have bounced back winning 12 games in 2013 and capturing the last two NFC South Division titles. The Panthers have been transformed into one of the exciting teams in the league. This resurgence is thanks in part to the young talent acquired in the last few of the draft.
The two biggest names that have been apart of the Panthers success are obviously Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. Newton was a Heisman Winner and the leader of a National Champion team.He came into the NFL with huge expectations as the number one overall pick. Newton has had good success since coming into the league winning every Offensive Rookie of the Year award and making the Pro Bowl twice. The Panthers will be counting on Newton to lead their team for many years to come as they locked him up for the next five years in 2015. The Panthers also hit it big with their 1st round selection the following year in linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly has taken the NFL by storm and is recognized as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Kuechly won every Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2012 and did not stop there. He followed up his stellar rookie campaign winning the 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year Award and making the Pro Bowl in both 2013 and 2014. With Newton and Kuechly leading the team, the Panthers have potential to be a force in the league.
Kuechly and Newton are not the only young players contributing to the Panthers success. Star Lotulelei has been a solid contributor on the defensive line the past two years. Lotulelei’s draft stock took a hit when there were doubts about his heart even though he was cleared medically. The Panthers selected him with the 14th pick after he fell slightly in the draft and that decision has paid big dividends. The Panthers also took advantage of the 2014 wide receiver draft class by selecting Kelvin Benjamin in the first round. After a solid rookie season, Benjamin will be the team’s number one receiver for the near future. The Panthers also have a number of other young players projected to start in 2015. In 2012 draft pick Josh Norman, 2013 draft pick Kawann Short, and 2014 drafts picks Trai Turner, Tre Boston, and Bene’ Bewikere. All of these players were selected in the 3rd round or later and will have to step up in 2015 for the Panthers to make it further in the playoffs than previous seasons. Also deserving recognition, although no longer on the team, is 2010 3rd round pick Brandon LaFell. LaFell made solid a contribution at wide receiver for four years before leaving for New England in 2014, where he won the Super Bowl ring.
Like all teams, the Panthers have made their fair share of poor selections. The biggest miss is 2010 2nd round pick Jimmy Clausen. Clausen started 10 games as a rookie in 2010, but he never really looked the part. The Panthers gave up on him as a starter after 1 season as Cam Newton showed up the next. Clausen never started a game again for the Panthers and is not longer with team. Two other players that did not really pan out are 2010 3rd round pick Armanti Edwards and 2013 4th round pick Edmund Kugbila. Edwards was a star at Appalachian State most notably as the quarterback in their 2007 victory over Michigan but never made an impact in the NFL. Kugbila spent both seasons injured and is currently out of NFL after only two years. Also a player that has to be mentioned in this category although not a draft bust is Greg Hardy. It was looking like the Panthers had a star at defensive end in Hardy, as he was a Pro Bowler in 2013. However, Hardy was suspended for the rest of the season after the first game due to a domestic violence incident ending his promising career with the Panthers.