Carolina Panthers 2018 draft class ready to make an impact

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) D.J. Moore
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) D.J. Moore /

One year later, the Carolina Panthers draft class is poised for a breakout season.

After a wildcard berth and 11 win season, the Carolina Panthers earned overall pick No. 24 in the 2018 NFL Draft. It was general manager Marty Hurney’s second time around with the team, claiming to have learned from his previous tenure. While the long-term results of his new found philosophy remain to be seen, it initially appears the selections made last year were right on the money.

One full season may be too soon for determining if any one player is a star or bust, but the current roster appears to be shaping up around guys who will be entering their second year. Only one Hurney pick from 2018, defensive lineman Kendrick Norton, is no longer with the team after being poached by the Miami Dolphins off the practice squad last December.

Norton was the eighth and final pick for Hurney in the seventh round (No. 242 overall) while the seven remaining prepare for their second full offseason. Many prospects often make their biggest gains between years one and two, a feat sometimes related to having a clear path ahead instead of the stress associated with meeting multiple teams, coaches and completing workouts in preparation for the draft.

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The first three selections, wide receiver D.J. Moore, cornerback Donte Jackson and safety Rashaan Gaulden each has an opportunity to earn or maintain their starting positions. Jackson did so last year, Moore steps in after the team did not re-sign Devin Funchess and Gaulden is suddenly a front runner to start opposite Eric Reid at safety after the team released Da’Norris Searcy.

Tight end Ian Thomas was prematurely thrust into action due to an injured Greg Olsen but performed well enough to raise expectations. A fourth-round pick, Thomas now appears as the heir apparent to the tight end position once Olsen decides to retire.

Hurney’s final four picks were from defensive positions and absent Norton, each of the remaining three saw action last season. Defensive end Marquis Haynes played in four games while linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. appeared every week and started once. Fellow linebacker Andre Smith saw his most action in the season finale at New Orleans, capping off special teams play with his first defensive snaps.

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Carter and Haynes are both in competition for starting roles themselves this offseason. If successful, five of Hurney’s eight picks will be relied on heavily just one year after their draft.