Over the course of 26 previous drafts the Panthers have made some incredible picks, landing players who formed the foundation for playoff teams and two near Super Bowl winners. With the 2021 draft looming, let’s take a look back at Carolina’s best picks by round. By “best” I’m looking at both the quality of the player and the amount of time they donned a Panthers uniform. This isn’t about who had the best career overall, but the most impactful careers in Carolina.
Because the talent and potential of players drafted early in the first round are generally so much higher than those selected late in the first round, for example, I’ve divided both the first and second rounds into subgroups. Take a look at the legends!
Early first round (No. 1-10) - Cam Newton, QB (No. 1, 2011)
No position impacts football like quarterback, and Cam is among the most lethal dual-threat quarterbacks in NFL history. In his nine years with the Panthers he was a three-time Pro Bowler, a one-time All-Pro, and was named league MVP in 2015. He holds too many quarterback rushing records to mention here.
Honorable mention: Julius Peppers, DE (No. 2, 2002), Luke Kuechly, LB (No. 9, 2012)
Mid first round (No. 11-20) - Thomas Davis, LB (No. 14, 2005)
As a Panther between 2005 and 2018, Thomas Davis racked up 1,098 tackles, 87 tackles for loss, 28 sacks, and 13 interceptions. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro. But more than the stats and the accolades, TD embodied the heart and soul of last generation’s Carolina Panthers.
Honorable mention: Jonathan Stewart, RB (No. 13, 2008)
Late first round (No. 21-32) - DeAngelo Williams, RB (No. 27, 2006)
In nine seasons as a Panther he put up over 6,800 rushing yards and 1,600 receiving yards with 53 touchdowns and one Pro Bowl appearance. In his five-year prime (2007-2011) he averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. Splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart tempered some of his career rushing numbers, but DeAngelo flashed his “feature back” potential in 2008 with 1,515 rushing yards (on 5.5 YPC) and a league-leading 18 touchdowns.
Honorable mention: Jon Beason, LB (No. 25, 2007), Chris Gamble, CB (No. 28, 2004)
Early second round (No. 33-48) - Muhsin Muhammad, WR (No. 43, 1996)
In 11 seasons in Carolina, Moose had 696 receptions for 9,255 yards and 50 touchdowns. He exceeded 800 receiving yards seven times including his brilliant 2004 All-Pro season when he led the NFL in both receiving yards (1,405) and touchdowns (16). He was a two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro.
Honorable mention: Kris Jenkins, DT (No. 44, 2001), Kawann Short, DT (No. 44, 2013), Mike Rucker, DE (No. 38, 1999)
Late second round (No. 49-64) - Ryan Kalil, C (No. 59, 2007)
Twelve seasons as the brains of the offensive line. Five Pro Bowl appearances. Two All-Pro selections. Enough said.
Honorable mention: Mike Minter, S (No. 56, 1997)
Third round - Steve Smith, WR (No. 74, 2001)
Smitty will forever be a legend in these parts. He began his 13 seasons in a Panthers uniform with an All-Pro and Pro Bowl rookie season as a returner. Smith would go on to put up 836 receptions for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns during his tenure in Charlotte. He made five Pro Bowl and two All-Pro teams.
Honorable mention: Trai Turner, G (No. 92, 2014), Charles Johnson, DE (No. 83, 2007)
Fourth round - Frank Garcia, C (No. 132, 1995)
This distinction is less about Frank Garcia being a great football player and more about the Panthers front office repeatedly whiffing on fourth round picks. The team has made 26 of them and has yet to draft a fourth rounder who has made a single Pro Bowl. Garcia gets the recognition here for his longevity of being the team’s starting center from 1995-2000.
Honorable mention: Tre Boston, S (No. 128, 2014), Daryl Williams, OT (No. 102, 2015)
Fifth round - Josh Norman, CB (No. 143, 2012)
Norman only spent four seasons in Carolina but his time with the Panthers culminated with his phenomenal 2015 season in which he was both a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro. That year he registered 56 tackles, 18 passes defended, and four interceptions. But he wasn’t just a one-year wonder. As a rookie he played all 16 games with 12 starts and 73 tackles. He wasn’t in Carolina long, but he burned brightly.
Honorable mention: AJ Klein, LB (No. 148, 2013)
Sixth round - Greg Hardy, DE (No. 175, 2010)
The Kraken contributed from Day 1 and ultimately spent five years with the Panthers. Over his first two seasons he had 80 tackles and seven sacks. He made the leap in 2012 with 60 tackles and 11 sacks then in 2013 he made the Pro Bowl with 59 tackles and 15 sacks. He tenure in Carolina ended after the following season due to his domestic violence conviction and suspension.
Honorable mention: Brad Nortman, P (No. 207, 2012)
Seventh round - Captain Munnerlyn, CB (No. 216, 2009)
In seven total seasons with the Panthers the man with the wonderful first name appeared in 107 games with 357 tackles, 52 passes defended, eight interceptions, and five defensive touchdowns. He had a downright solid 2013 campaign with 74 tackles, 12 passes defended, three sacks, two interceptions, and two touchdowns.
Honorable mention: Kris Mangum, TE (No. 228, 1997)