How the Carolina Panthers recent draft record gives hope for 2021

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports) Brian Burns
(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports) Brian Burns /
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Carolina Panthers
(Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports) Cam Newton /

The home runs

The Carolina Panthers have had their share of superstars picked in the top 10. Like the sorely missed leader in Luke Kuechly who was taken at No. 9 in 2012 and went on to an amazing career that was sadly shortened by injuries. Leaving behind a hole the team is still struggling to fill.

Also, Christian McCaffrey was taken at No. 8 in 2017. The All-Pro is now one of the best running backs in the league that became only the third player to ever have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same year. Clearly good selections that will be remembered for all the right reasons.

Cam Newton was an obvious star and transformed the Panthers both on and off the field, even though things ended bitterly between all parties involved.

The starters

Players like Star Latuleilei taken at No. 14 and Shaq Thompson at No. 25, while really good at what they do, it would be hard to classify them as elite players in the league. Both being more of a secondary contributor in the defense they find themselves and some may consider a bit of a reach with hindsight.

Thompson seems to be on the rise after an impressive 2020 campaign – in large part because of the disaster that was Tahir Whitehead – with over 100 tackles in the last two seasons. While Latouleilei is trending in the opposite direction and looks to have been a good player to let walk.

The busts

Then we have the others, the ones better left forgotten. With the exception of a deceptive breakout year in 2019, the No. 30 selection of the 2016 draft Vernon Butler has never lived up to his first-round allocation and has largely been a rotational piece in whatever team he has been a part of. Never reaching two sacks or going above 20 total tackles in any other year.

Then we have the one every Carolina Panthers fan remembers, Kelvin Benjamin.

A player that showed impressive potential but flamed out in a spectacular way after being taken at No. 28 in 2014.  After a rookie season with over 1,000 receiving yards, on only a 50.3 percent catch rate, the big-bodied receiver never got back to those heights and steadily declined over the rest of a disappointing career. While simultaneously blaming everyone around him for his failings and never taking a look in the mirror.

One could even argue the team was better without him as Benjamin missed the entire 2015 Super Bowl run.

Too soon to tell

The rest of the picks are too soon to tell but the future looks bright with D.J. Moore fixing his fumble issue and coming off a 1,000-yard season, a rising star at defensive end in Brian Burns who boasts16.5 sacks in two seasons, and Derrick Brown clogging up the middle.

Time will tell if these players were worth the price. But early indications say they just might be.