Why Carolina Fans Should Feel Optimistic with #9 Pick

Good morning Panther faithful! After the first three rounds of last night's draft, I gained a sense of appreciation for the General Managers and scouts who review all of these kids and begin ranking them on their respective big boards. After all of that is complete, then they have to evaluate their respective draft position and ascertain who will be there when their turn on the clock arrives. The last stage is probably the most conflicting; do you take best player available (BPA) or go with need? All that aside, I decided to have a look at how well Marty Hurney has done as our GM in the first round (and first round only). Initially, I was moved to learn whether or not we held a similar spot in the draft order during his tenure with Carolina and the closest we have been to #9 is selecting #8 back in 2003. In case you are wondering, the highest Carolina has picked with Hurney as the GM is #1 (2011) and the lowest has been#28 (2004). After the jump, I will dive into the first round picks and discuss the impact they have made to the team since being drafted.

Hurney has been at this job with Carolina for ten years now and is working with his second head coach in Ron Rivera. Hurney is not a bad general manager by any means as he has made some very solid, if not outstanding picks in the first round. We all know his second round choices can be questionable, especially in recent years but he seems to find that one gem in the later rounds. As stated before, he has been solid in the first round regardless of the team's draft position so here are the picks starting in 2002 with some background on them.

2002 - #2 overall: Julius Peppers/DE

Everyone here has their opinion about Peppers. Whether it is good or bad, Pep was an athletic freak of nature and a disruptive force at the defensive end position. At the time, it was the most logical pick and fell in step with Coach John Fox's defensive philosophy. Despite being accused of taking plays off and leaving Carolina for "greener pastures" in Chicago, Peppers was a solid choice that was a defensive mainstay for seven seasons. Accolades: 5x Pro Bowler and 2002 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year

2003 - #8 overall: Jordan Gross/OT

This pick was probably one of the best ever by Hurney and here is why. The team's offensive scheme was to run and pound the ball at opposing defenses and to do that, the Panthers needed solid play in the trenches. Enter Jordan Gross who was part of a line who not only opened lanes for Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster to run through as a rookie, but was part of the good line play that helped Carolina all the way to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Gross has shown his leadership time and again being a leader on the line as well as a proven veteran. Coming into his ninth season, he is still one of the best at his position. Accolades: 2x Pro Bowler

2004 - #28 overall: Chris Gamble/CB

Gamble has had a solid but not a spectacular career in Carolina. Often underrated at his position, he is probably one of the best players on the defense and in recent years, has been the most solid player in the secondary. He became the first rookie defensive player in Carolina history to start all 16 games in his first season and has led the team in interceptions three times. Accolades: Co-leader in Interceptions (NFC) 2004

2005 - #14 overall: Thomas Davis/S (converted WLB)

As a Georgia fan, I loved this pick. As a Panthers fan, my optimism about it has dwindled the past couple of seasons. TD is a force and a defensive talent but only when he is healthy. The past three years he has dealt with knee injuries that have forced him to miss all of 2009 and 2010 seasons. He started two games in 2011, but when down because of another injury. Davis is a proven leader in the locker room and his on-field presence is sorely missed. Both the team and Davis have expressed a strong desire to stay together as evident with TD restructuring his contract earlier this off-season. Accolades: Recorded 113 tackles, 3.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in 2008

2006 - #27 overall: DeAngelo Williams/RB

The first part of "Double Trouble" was drafted out of Memphis and has been a solid, hard rusher in his career with the Panthers. While he has a bit of a record with the injury bug, he has made the most of his playing time. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in two seasons (2009 was impressive as he rushed for 1,117 yards through 13 games) and was close to doing it again in 2011. Many critics feel that he was over paid by Carolina, but if the tandem of Double Trouble remains intact with Cam Newton at the helm, his big contract may well have been worth it. Accolades: Pro Bowl 2009, holds team records for rushing TDs in a game (4), rushing yards in a season (1,515) and rushing TDs (18) and total TDs (20) in a season

2007 - #25 overall: Jon Beason/MLB

This pick has paid dividends for the Panthers defense since his selection in 2007. Despite missing last season to an Achilles injury, he has been the definition of team leader and captain of the Panthers. He has recorded over 100 tackles since he entered the league and was probably the second best defensive player to come out of the 2007 draft behind Patrick Willis (who took home AP Defensive Rookie of the Year that season). There is no denying he is the heart and soul of the defense and his presence was greatly missed last year when the defense seemed to lack discipline and tackling fundamentals. Hopefully, he returns to full strength in 2012 and improves the play of the defense. Accolades: 3x Pro Bowler

2008 - #13 overall and #19 overall: Jonathan Stewart/RB & Jeff Otah/OT (respectively)

I will admit I was a bit curious at Stewart's selection. Carolina had a great running game with the presence of DeAngelo Williams so it was amazing to see them take a running back early in the draft. Stewart has not disappointed and whether he is running through an open lane, getting open in the flat or upending opposing linebackers, his presence is felt in all aspects of the game. Stewart will be entering a contract year and there has been speculation that he may be traded or not re-signed though it seems Hurney wants to give Stewart an extension. His presence in the offense is vital to the success of the team. Yes, Mike Tolbert was brought in who has a similar skill set, but there is no denying how destructive and dangerous the offense can be with Stewart in the backfield. Accolades: Holds Panthers rookie rushing record (836) and single game rushing record (team w/206)

Otah is probably the most questionable pick Hurney has made in the first round. For starters, he traded 2009's #1 pick in order to jump back into the first round. This move would not have been so bad if not for Otah's injury problems. That being said, he is a solid player on the line when he is healthy but he has only started in 29 games since being drafted. Accolades: Nothing really of note

2009 and 2010 - No pick

2011 - #1 overall: Cam Newton/QB

I really do not need to elaborate on this pick. So far, so good for the Panthers and could probably be the most vital pick of Hurney's career. Missing out on first round picks the previous two seasons, Carolina went through a QB-by-committee rotation in 2010. Finishing 2-14 allowed the Panthers to start over with a new coach and a new QB. Newton has revolutionized the game and while drawing comparisons to Michael Vick or Vince Young, his ceiling and talent overshadow them greatly. Newton helped lead his team to a 6-10 finish and completing turning a once stagnant and boring offense into a juggernaut. Newton has been a hard worker during both the off-season and during the season. There is no doubt about his desire to win and passion to improve his game. With this kid at the helm, the future in Carolina is indeed bright. Accolades: AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Bowler, 3x Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week, most passing yards by a rookie in a season (4,051) and NFL record for most rushing TDs by a rookie in a season (14)

There is no need to worry about who Carolina takes with their first pick in this year's draft. They find themselves in a position to trade down given some pressing needs by other teams in the league but a trade back scenario is not out of the question since they lack a third round selection this year. Hurney should receive a solid "A" for his first round selections and if not for the injuries to Otah and Davis, his grade would be "A+". The good news is the scouts, coaches and Hurney himself have been making good picks and addressing the team's best interest with effective results.

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