When I decided to take on the daunting task of ranking the Panthers top ten offensive players of all time, I knew that it would be a difficult proposition. Finding ten players who were worthy of such a distinction was certainly much easier than figuring out where they should place on my list. I'm sure that some of you would have placed players like Steve Beuerlein, Ricky Proehl, and Stephen Davis somewhere in your own top ten, and that's fine. I admittedly struggled with leaving them off my own list, but I ultimately felt like their impact belonged just outside of the top ten. I am also aware of the fact that some of you would have put Cam somewhere in your top ten because of his record breaking first season, but I just couldn't put him on the same list with players who had been a consistent force for multiple seasons with the Panthers. Maybe this is where the debating will begin. Either way, feel free to pick apart my list all you want in the comment section and let me know what you think in the poll. Also, stay tuned for my next Panthers top ten list when I take a look at the other side of the ball.
10. FB Brad Hoover
Hoooooov was one of the classiest Panthers of all time and he simply had to make my top ten. Hoover's story is quite astonishing when you look at where he came from and how far he took his exceptional ability to block. After Hoover finished his stellar career at tiny Western Carolina, the Panthers promptly signed him as a UDFA, and the rest is history. He was leading the way in 2003 for Stephen Davis when he had 1,444 yards rushing, and did the same for Deangelo Williams in 2008 when he rushed for over 1,500 yards. Hoover was also blocking for Double Trouble during the majority of the 2009 season when they broke an NFL record by becoming the first duo to ever rush for more than 1,100 yards each. Sadly, the Panthers released Hoover the following season, and he retired. I will always believe that he was one of the most underrated fullbacks of his time, and that was more than enough to give him a place in my top ten.
9. Jonathan Stewart
The youngest member of my top ten has only been a Panther for four years, but he's been a stud ever since. Initially, when the Panthers picked Stew 13th overall, it seemed like a risky proposition because he had just come off of toe surgery. Nonetheless, he ended up playing all sixteen games in that first season while playing in a back-up role behind D-Lo, and still rushed for over 800 yards. There's no doubt in my mind that Stew belonged on this list when you consider the fact that he has compiled 3,500 rushing yards, 702 receiving yards, and 29 touchdowns over the past four years. In fact, I almost had him a notch or two higher, but I ultimately felt like the eight in front of him were more worthy. I'm just glad we will most likely be able to see him playing in the black and blue for at least one more season:).
8. Ryan Kalil
It is very clear that the Panthers struck gold late in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft when they took this center out of USC. Kalil's progression over the his first five seasons has been remarkable. He became the full-time starter at the beginning of his second season and has held that position ever since. Kalil has earned a pro bowl nod in each of the last three seasons and was honored among the best last season when he was named an All-Pro. If Kalil can continue this level of play for another six plus years and help the Panthers win a championship or two, he might find himself in serious contention for a spot in Canton.
7. Steve Beurlein
Believe it or not, Beuerlein still holds the franchise records for most passing yards(4,436) and touchdown passes(36) in a season(1999). Three out of Beurlein's five seasons with the Panthers were average at best, and that is one of the reasons why I couldn't rate him higher than the next player on my list.
6. Jake Delhomme
I am not ashamed to admit that Delhomme is one of my favorite Panthers of all time. He's easily the best quarterback the Panthers have ever had, especially when you consider the fact that he led the Panthers to their only Super Bowl appearance and holds almost every team passing record: most passing yard(19,258), most passing touchdowns(120), most completions(1,580), most 4th quarter comeback wins(17), and most game-winning drives(23). It's really too bad that Delhomme didn't turn out to be the winning quarterback in Super Bowl XXXVIII because he deserved the victory as much or more than Brady did. Although Delhomme's career with the Panthers took an awful turn for the worse after his elbow injury in 2007, I will always remember him for how many thrilling moments he gave me and the rest of Panther nation.
5. Jordan Gross
Ever since being drafted in the 2003, Gross has been a steady performer through the years. He has been named to the pro bowl twice and was honored as a first team All-Pro as well in 2008. Beyond the fact that Gross has been durable and dependable through the years, he has also been an excellent leader in the locker room. Outside of football, he and his wife have held a fundraising kickball exhibition game along with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in each of the past five years. This event has been a huge success in the Charlotte community and so has Gross. I am convinced that he has been one of the more underrated left tackles during his time in the NFL, and we should be thankful for all of his contributions to this organization.
4. Deangelo Williams
D-Lo is already the greatest running back in Panthers history, and, if it weren't for the two-back system he's been employed in ever since becoming a Panther in 2006, he might be mentioned in the same breath as Adrian Peterson. With that being said, there are exactly two statistics that have defined Williams career in the NFL thus far.
The first is his astounding 5.1 career average per carry. This is unheard of even among the greatest running backs of all time. Some might counter by saying that he has only averaged that much because of the extra rest he's received from splitting carries for most of his career, but I'm not so sure of that. In his only season as the feature back, he rushed for a franchise record, 1,515 yards on 5.5 yards per carry. In fact, his average yards per carry generally goes down as his amount of carries go down in a season.
The second is his amazing ball security through the years. Williams has only lost 5 fumbles in his six year career and has went without fumbling in three different seasons. When you combine this statistical fact with his 5.1 career average per carry, you can only conclude that this guy is one special player, and this is why he belongs in the top five.
3. Muhsin Muhammad
This two time pro bowler and one time All-Pro may have been higher on my list had he not left for three years to find "greener" pastures in the Windy City. As it stands, he did finish his Panther career with almost 10,000 receiving yards and still holds the record for the longest touchdown reception(85 yards) in Super Bowl history. He was/is also busy off the field raising money for Muscular Dystrophy and impoverished women's shelters in the Charlotte Community. Moose will always hold a special place in Panthers history as one of the best receivers to wear the blue and black.
2. Wesley Walls
It's been a long time since the best tight end in Panthers history was catching passes from Steve Beuerlein. For those who may be unfamiliar with Walls, he was a five time pro bowler and four time All-Pro. Although he played for several teams during his illustrious career, his best seasons were with the Panthers, and this was enough for me to give him the number two spot on my list.
1. Steve Smith
Child, please. While I struggled with the order of the previous nine, the choice for the all time greatest offensive player in Panthers history was easy. How can it be anyone other than Smitty? As a career Panther, he has earned pro bowl status five times and has thrice been an All-Pro. He joined rare company in 2005 when he accomplished the receiver "triple crown" by finishing the season with the most receiving yards, receptions, and touchdowns. Additionally, he is one of only three players in the history of the NFL to ever run two punts back for touchdowns and catch a touchdown pass in the same game.
Outside of football, Smith has been involved with Athletes United for Youth, an organization that gives support to some of Charlotte's more underprivileged children. The Panthers will be hard-pressed to ever find someone as dynamic and passionate as Smith has been for this team and this community.
So there you go CSR. Now, what say you.