Finishing 7-9 with a modicum of improvement might not be too much to write home about, but the outstanding play of rookies and depth players will really set this season apart. While Marty Hurney may be gone, his scouting department could have given the Panthers their best ever draft, as they now need to convince Dave Gettleman they should stay.
Today Pro Football Weekly released their 2012 All-Rookie team, and what immediately jumps out is that Carolina's first two picks are starters.
The 2012 defensive rookie class was highlighted by run-stopping, playmaking linebackers, like Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly. The Panthers' middle linebacker led the league in tackles, the first rookie to do so since Patrick Willis in 2007.
The Associated Press may be the major award, but Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America awarded Luke Kuechly with their rookie of the year award today. When it comes to the AP award, the announcement of defensive rookie of the year may not be announced until closer to the Superbowl. With the exception of Packers' defensive back Casey Hayward, there's no other player who's close to Kuechly. He was everywhere this season, and each week cemented himself as a standout player. It should be fun to see him start at MLB for a full 2013 season.
Another player was honored too -- this time it was second-round pick Amini Silatolu.
The O-line is comprised of two of the top three tackles drafted - Vikings OLT Matt Kalil and Browns ORT Mitchell Schwartz - and two of the top three guards drafted - Bengals OG Kevin Zeitler and Panthers OG Amini Silatolu.
There were concerns early that Amini wasn't picking up his assignments, and a healthy dose of fear that the Panthers had just selected another small-school project with an early pick. However, as the season went on Silatolu really came into his own. The road-grading left guard showed those flashes that caused so many scouts to project him as a first round pick, and while the line around him crumbled, it was Amini who ended up being one of Carolina's best offensive linemen.
This is how a team is built through the draft, and provided Dave Gettleman can come in and oversee a few more successes, before long the Panthers will be back on track.