Best starter at every Carolina Panthers position in franchise history

(Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports) Cam Newton, Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly
(Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports) Cam Newton, Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly /
18 of 18
Carolina Panthers
(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports) Steve Smith /

Michael Bates – Former Carolina Panthers KR

The Carolina Panthers have been searching for their next great kick returner since Michael Bates left town.

Bates was originally an Olympic sprinter before coming to Carolina and he made the most of his speed, averaging a career-best 30.2 yards per kick return and being named an All-Pro in 1996.

He secured Pro Bowl honors in all five seasons with the team and made a name for himself as one of the best kick-returners in league history.

Steve Smith – Former Carolina Panthers PR

We already know just how good Steve Smith was as mentioned earlier. But he was all a helluva punt returner over the early stages of his prolific career.

While you don’t technically want your best offensive weapon putting himself at risk to return punts, Smith did a great job, scoring four touchdowns and compiling over 1,600 yards.

There was much more to come from Smith in Carolina, but making a splash in the return game led to the Panthers giving him more in the way of responsibility as a result.

Related Story. Ranking the 8 most influential Carolina Panthers in franchise history. light

An opportunity he seized with both hands.