1st Round, #9: Luke Kuechly
What can really be said that we don't know already? Uncle Luke, aka Clark Kent, aka Luke Kuechly... we need more AKAs for him like we've got for Cam, come to think of it... Anyway, we were all pretty distraught when it began to look like Jon Beason was going to be lost for the season again. After all, Beason has been the heart and soul of our defense sense the 2007 season when he took over for an oft injured Dan Morgan. We saw last year just what a difference he made when he was lost for the season.
This season though, Luke Kuechly stepped into to fill his shoes and he has been flat out phenomenal. In the last 4 games, Kuechly has amassed tackle totals of 11, 15, 11, and 15, or 52 combined since he has started in MLB. As James Dator mentioned in the MMO, that's an insane rate that would lead to over 200 tackles in the regular season. Not only that, but he has also added in 3 passes defended and an INT.
Stats, impressive as they are though, don't really do this man justice. It's really Kuechly's instincts that set him apart. His uncanny ability to diagnose plays is what enables him to make such an impact and accumulate the stats that he does. The only down side to Kuechly's incredibly advancement at the MLB is what to do with the very person we've relied on since he was in a similar situation as a rookie: Jon Beason. Who knows? I won't dwell on that right now, and instead I'll celebrate the future of a bright star in Luke Kuechly.
2nd Round, #40: Amini Silatolu
Coming from division II and jumping straight into a starting role in the NFL is a huge leap for any player. Luckily for Silatolu, he had two Pro-Bowlers starting on either side of him to help him out. However, despite this the offensive line did struggle mightily early on, especially against a vicious Giants front 4. I can't necessarily blame Silatolu for that because many NFL teams struggle against such talent. For now, we'll simply call this one a mixed bag. Silatolu has shown some great moments (such as running 10 yards down field to block on a run play), and some not so great moments (like whiffing on a pass protection block). All in all though, this young rookie has plenty of time to develop and I expect him to improve. He has massive size and lots of raw power and as Rivera put it he's "A meanie."
Get it? Amini? A meanie? Hey! I told you guys I wasn't that clever.
4th Round, #103: Frank Alexander
Trading next year's 3rd rounder to draft Frank Alexander didn't go over well with a lot of people here. We have a pretty bad history of these sorts of deals not working out well for us. In this case, I really think that it did. With CJ bringing constant pressure from his end, we needed another pass rusher to give him some help on the opposite side. 3rd year player Greg Hardy had been inconsistent at best over his career and no one was sure how that would turn out going forward. Enter Frank Alexander. The rookie has settled into a nice rotation for the Panthers. Evidence can be seen just last week against the Redskins when Hardy moved over to the DT position with Alexander coming off the edge. The result: Hardy ended up with a sack.
He has been a bit quiet in recent weeks after getting off to a pretty quick start against the New York Giants and Falcons (adding 1 and 1.5 sacks respectively), but as a rotational player it makes sense. And as I mentioned, it's not always just Alexander getting to the QB that matters. The outside pressure he generated helped Greg Hardy get to RGIII and those types of plays don't show up in the stat sheets.
Watch for Alexander to continue to develop in the future, because you can never have too many pass rushers. (See New York Giants).
4th Round, #104: Joe Adams
This has been draft pick that I think has been a little bit less than expected. The speedy WR out of Arkasas was called the best return man in the draft. He was electric at Arkansas, but like electricity, Adams has been volatile. He has shown us flashes of what dazzled teams at times, but in a debacle against the New York Giants, we fumbled twice, losing both of them. He also fumbled in his first game against the Buccaneers, but didn't lose that one. After that game, Joe Adams was benched and he has not seen the field since then.
In his place, Kealoha Pilares has taken over on kick returns and Captain Munnerlyn on punt returns. Pilares returned a kick off for a touchdown, the first time for the Panthers since Rod "He Hate Me" Smart, so it was a bit of a head-scratcher to see Adams take over in that regard. However, Adams as almost specifically drafted to take the punt return duties over for Armanti Edwards. Who knows what happened in that regard...
Either way, Rivera is extremely clear on fumbles: don't have them. Mike Goodson had fumble problems last year and in this past off season he was sent packing to the Oakland Raiders. Hopefully going forward, Joe Adams will be able to correct these mistakes and bring us back memories of what Steve Smith was once like as a dynamic punt returner.
5th Round, #143: Josh Norman
Anytime a 5th round draft pick cracks into the starting line up, it means one of two things... and that is either something very good or something very bad. In this case, it's a little bit of both. There's no hiding the fact that the Panthers were light on CB depth going into this season Brandon Hogan, last year's 4th round pick, was expected to be in the hunt for a starting job going into this season, but he never became healthy. Captain Munnerlyn, while playing with a lot of heart, is often victimized as a #2 CB, although he plays exceptionally as the nickle corner.
Enter rookie Josh Norman. He has not played perfectly, but as a 5th round pick he doesn't have to play perfect to shine. And he has been good. In the first half of this season, he has gotten an INT and added 6 passes defended. Pretty good for a small college guy out thrust into the starting line-up. But like I said, it hasn't been all smiles. The Chicago Bears stole a game away from us by targeting Norman on slants as he was giving way too much cushion, perhaps fearful of being burned for a TD. Understandable, but in the end there was no difference in the outcome when the Bears drove down the field for a late TD score.
I'm optimistic however. The young CB has shown a lot of potential and some have said that if he had gone to another, more prestigious school (like say Clemson for example), he would have been picked much earlier than the 5th round. I believe it too. In time, I think Norman could develop into a solid CB, and what more could you ask of your 5th round pick?
6th Round, #207: Brad Nortman
When Brad Nortman was selected, there was a veritable eruption of, "WTF!?" on CSR's boards. It was a major head-scratcher at the time. Only two punters were selected in the entire draft: Bryan Anger and Brad Nortman. Many people expected us to go with Drew Butler, but in a bit of a shock the Panthers went in a different direction. There have been a lot of mixed results, and I'll leave the details of our punter to resident expert BW if he wants to comment... but while Nortman has made some beauties of punts, pinning opponents within the 20 on a short field.. There have been some really bad ones to go with that... Like the 6 yard punt against Chicago where we might as well have just gone for it on 4th down...
7th Round, #216: D.J. Campbell
Not really a lot to say about the 7th round Safety out of California. Thus far he has not accumulated any stats (I'm not 100% sure whether he's even been active or not). Being a 7th rounder, it's no surprise really. These are developmental players primarily. In a few years, we'll see if this one can build into more, but for now it's a little hard to evaluate someone who doesn't get onto the field.
So as you can see, the Panthers look to have a pretty strong draft class. Kuechly is of course leading the pack as expected, but we have seen a lot of good things out of Alexander, Norman, and Silatolu. We can only hope they will continue to get better as these rookies develop.