A lot has been made lately over the fact that the Panthers have 35 draft picks on their 53 man roster. That's a high number for any team, and it's testament to the good scouting and opportunistic drafting done by the Panthers over the past few years.
Who thought that selecting Ryan Kalil made sense when they had just signed pro-bowl center Justin Hartwig from the Titans? And why Dan Connor when we had Jon Beason? The Panthers didn't care, they took opportunities like that when they were presented, and now they have a great colletion of home-grown talent.
For most teams, the draft is more miss than hit. Core parts of the roster are gotten there, but then they augment them with high-priced free agents. Sometimes it works out. Atlanta's quite happy with Michael Turner, and though they didn't get the same results with Mike Peterson last year they were willing to try again with the signing of Dunte Robinson this year.
But for every Michael Turner there seem to be several Albert Haynesworths. Washington loves high profile free agents, but they haven't had much success with them. Ask Chicago how well Jay Cutler has worked out, or see what they think of Julius Peppers after this season.
Typically, the best way to build a roster is through the draft. And the Panthers have proven to be as good as any in that regard.
But after those 35, who are the other guys? And how did they get here? What kind of impact will they have? This article takes a look at those questions. For the Carolina Panthers, here are "The Other Guys."
Tyler Brayton, #96 (6-6, 280lb DE, 8th year, Colorado)
When it became apparent that Mike Rucker was just plain done as a player, the Panthers went out and quietly signed free agent Tyler Brayton from the Oakland Raiders. The former first round pick was playing Defensive Tackle in Oakland, and had been relegated to the second string. All he's done in Carolina is resurrect his career at the Defensive End position. Brayton is a high-motor player who's always been good against the run, but who's become a sack threat late in his career.
Derek Landri, #61 (6-2, 290lb DT, 4th year, Notre Dame)
The Panthers claimed Landri off waivers last December, when Jacksonville decided that he just wasn't a fit for their new 3-4 defensive scheme. Landri is a smaller defensive tackle who's always been an intense player. Sports Illustrated put him on their top ten draft steals list when he dropped to the fifth round, and as a rookie he scored a rare defensive tackle "hat trick" (a sack, a pick and a fumble recovery) against the Steelers playing in relief of the injured John Henderson. He may not look like a prototypical defensive tackle, but he plays like an ideal fit for Ron Meeks' defense.
Louis Leonard, #94 (6-4, 325lb DT, 4th year, Fresno State)
Early in the season last year, the Panthers were reeling from injuries on the defensive line. Marty Hurney did some great work at the time, restocking players almost as fast as they went down. It may not have been fast enough for some fans, who always want stuff done before you know you need it, but the process brought in Louis Leonard from the Cleveland Browns for a fifth round draft pick. Leonard made a quick impact, registering a sack in his first game. Unfortunately, he went down in the second, out for the season with a broken left ankle. Leonard was undrafted in 2007, and had stops in San Diego and St. Louis before landing in Cleveland.
Matt Moore, #3 (6-3, 202lb QB, 4th year, Oregon State)
In 2007, the Panthers claimed Matt Moore off waivers as a developmental prospect. He wasn't drafted, but showed enough in preseason with Dallas that several teams perhaps thought he should have been, including the Panthers. Jake Delhomme was entrenched as the starter and David Carr had recently been signed to back him up, but Fox and Hurney felt that Moore could possibly develop into a quality player, given time to learn behind the starters. That year, Delhomme and Carr were injured and Vinny Testaverde was signed to take the helm. When he went down late in the year, they turned to the rookie and he won two of his three starts. He didn't play in 2008, but in 2009 he took over for the injured and ineffective Delhomme and led the team to a 4-1 finish. He doesn't have as much experience as many would like, but his performance to date gave the front office enough confidence to release Delhomme and give Moore the reins.
John Kasay, #4 (5-10, 210lb K, 20th year, Georgia)
John Kasay is the last original Panther, and don't be surprise if he's the next statue outside of Bank of America stadium. He was signed away from Seattle in 1995 after leading them in scoring during all of his four years there.
Jason Baker, #7 (6-2, 205lb P, 10th year, Iowa)
Jason Baker was an undrafted free agent who played in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Indianapolis before landing in Denver and assuming their full-time punting duties. After the 2005 season, the Panthers traded pro-bowl kicker Todd Sauerbrun to the Broncos for Baker and a 2006 seventh round pick (who would later become Stanley McClover). Since then Baker has far out-performed Sauerbrun, who bounced around the league after testing positive for steriods in 2006 and currently kicks in the UFL.
Todd Carter, #5 (6-1, 190lb K, 1st year, Grand Valley State)
Todd Carter, AKA "The Smoothie King", is a rookie deep-kickoff specialist who went undrafted. Rhyss Lloyd filled that role in 2008 and 2009, but was cut after the 2009 season in part to avoid paying an increased veteran minimum. Based on pre-season performances, it was probably a good move. Carter had more touchbacks, and Lloyd was cut by the Vikings.
J.J. Jansen, #44 (6-2, 256lb LS, 3rd year, Notre Dame)
In another salary cap move, the Panthers cut longtime long snapper Jason Kyle in 2008 to help them afford Julius Peppers' mammoth salary. He was replaced by Jansen, who was an undrafted free agent on the Green Bay Packers roster. Jansen never played for the Packers, he injured his left knee and spent his rookie year on injured reserve. The trade was for a conditional 2011 draft pick, which looks to be a seventh rounder.
Ed Johnson, #99 (6-2, 296lb DT, 2nd year, Penn State)
Ed Johnson was once a steal of a find for the Indianapolis Colts. He was an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2007, and as a rookie made the starting lineup when Anthony McFarland got injured. His 72 tackles were the most among the defensive linemen that year, and he finished the season in the NFL top 20 tackles for all rookies. His problems in Indianapolis started the next year, when he was arrested for speeding and marijuana possession. The Colts cut him 24 hours later, and then re-signed him for a second chance after the season. His next stint with the Colts was ineffective, prompting them to release him during the season for poor performance. He then signed as a free agent with the Panthers, following Defensive Coordinator Ron Meeks, under whom he had his success at Indianapolis. He figures to be a situational run stopper for the Panthers this year.
Tyrell Sutton, #22 (5-8, 213lb RB, 2nd year, Northwestern)
Sutton was undrafted out of Northwestern in 2009, and spent the preseason on the Green Bay Packers roster. He was placed on waivers during the final cuts, and claimed by the Panthers, who needed a return man and depth at fullback. Although Sutton doesn't fit the traditional fullback mold, he's a solid blocker and a good all-around player in the mold of Nick Goings.
Marcus Hudson, #25 (6-2, 200lb S, 5th year, North Carolina State)
Marcus Hudson was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers to play cornerback, and while he never became a full-time starter there he showed a talent for special teams. He didn't fit the 49ers defensive scheme well enough to merit them keeping him, and once his rookie contract was up they allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. His strength is his versatility, and his physical style makes him a great fit in the cover 2. He will likely be the gunner on special teams, and should excel in the backup defensive back role that Dante Wesley once played.
Charly Martin, #83 (6-1, 212lb WR, 2nd year, West Texas A&M)
Martin is another undrafted free agent that started his NFL career on another team, this time the Chargers. He made it to their final cuts in 2009, and then was placed on waivers. The Panthers picked him up and signed him to their practice squad as a development project. This year he looks to have improved enough to make the final roster, mainly based on his special teams talent. He's been favorably compared to former Panther captain Karl Hankton; not only can he play special teams, he can catch the ball as well.
Jamar Williams, #53 (6-0, 237lb LB, 5th year, Arizona State)
Jamar Williams seems like he's always been a victim of circumstance. A fourth round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2006, he played the same position as all-pro Lance Briggs, and rarely saw the field. When he did, he displayed the kind of speed and football smarts that marked him as a future starter, and he did very well on special teams for them. But as long as Briggs was there, he wasn't going to do more than show flashes of what he could do (like his 18 tackle game against the Rams). He was traded to the Panthers for strong safety Chris Harris, and when Thomas Davis went down he looked like a lock to gain a starting job in Carolina. Unfortunately, an injury during training camp derailed his hopes there, but he still brings quality depth to a position that's traditionally been a strength for the Panthers.
Nic Harris, #59 (6-2, 232lb LB, 2nd year, Oklahoma)
Harris was a fifth-round pick for the Buffalo Bills in 2009, but barely got a chance to develop before he got caught up in a numbers game. The Bills changed from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, and cut him when he failed a physical after the 2009 season. Carolina invited him to camp, and the Panthers have obviously been pleased with his health, and play. He was one of the most productive tacklers on the defense in the preseason, and even though most of them came against the other teams' second and third string players, the Panthers saw enough to think he may provide quality depth for them.
Jordan Senn, #57 (5-11, 224lb LB, 3rd year, Portland State)
Jordan Senn was in undrafted free agent signee of the Indianapolis Colts in 2008, where he mainly played on Special Teams. He figures to do more of the same in Carolina, where he was signed for depth after he was cut by the Colts in the middle of the 2009 season.
Tim Duckworth, #78 (6-4, 318lb G, 1st year, Auburn)
To be honest, Tim Duckworth is probably the least secure of the Panthers. An undrafted free agent out of Auburn in 2007, he has spent time on the practice squads in Denver, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. He has yet to make an appearance in any NFL game outside of the preseason.
Andre Neblett, #68 (6-0, 295lb DT, Rookie, Temple)
Neblett is an undrafted free agent out of Temple who got a roster spot based on his playmaking ability during the preseason. He has never played for another team in the NFL.
Garry Williams, #65 (6-3, 296lb T, 2nd year, Kentucky)
Garry Williams is back for his second season with the Panthers after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Like Neblett, he has never played for another NFL team.
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So there you have it. The other guys--the undrafted, traded for, found, or claimed guys that fill in the gaps of the Carolina Panthers roster. No stars, no overpriced free agents, just some reliable lunchpail types who look to make Sundays a lot more fun for all of us.
I'm not sure what you all think after reviewing this, but I think we've got a heck of a good GM in Marty Hurney.