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A comprehensive review of every first round pick in Panthers history

Going back to 1995, Carolina has had a lot more hits than misses with their first round picks.

NFL: AUG 16 Preseason - Bills at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we look forward with anticipation to see what the Panthers will do with the No. 6 pick in the 2022 draft, let’s pause for a bit and see how Carolina has done with their past first round selections.

Since the team’s inception in 1995 the Panthers have drafted 27 players in the first round. Here’s how the careers of each of these players ended up playing out overall, whether with the Panthers or with other teams. I’m excluding the Panthers last three first rounders — Jaycee Horn, Derrick Brown, and Brian Burns (a 2021 Pro Bowl selection) — because they’re still so young in their careers.

Among the Panthers remaining 24 first round picks, four had their careers derailed by “injuries and issues”, two became “rotational players”, four turned out to be “capable starters”, six were “above average starters”, and an impressive eight players became “franchise studs”.

Injuries and issues

WR Rae Carruth (1997, No. 27): Carruth had a promising rookie season with 44 receptions for 545 yards and four touchdowns, but then appeared in just seven games over the next two years. Then, in 2001, he was convicted of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend and served nearly 19 years in prison.

DE Jason Peter (1998, No. 14): His career was limited to just 38 games over four seasons due to ongoing neck issues. He managed just 88 career tackles and 7.5 sacks. The New York Times reports he had seven surgeries in his four years with Carolina and later struggled with substance abuse issues.

CB Rashard Anderson (2000, No. 23): Anderson played 27 games over two seasons with 75 tackles, but in 2002 he was given a year-long suspension for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. The suspension was extended through 2003 and the Panthers released him in 2004.

OT Jeff Otah (2008, No. 19): This one hurts. The Panthers traded up to select Otah at No. 19, surrendering second- and fourth-round picks in 2008 plus 2009’s first rounder. His NFL career lasted just 29 games over three seasons before injuries forced him out of the league.

Rotational players

WR Kelvin Benjamin (2014, No. 28): Yes, he registered 77 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie, but that was more of a product of being force-fed 145 targets in a mediocre offense than an indication of his skill. After missing his entire second season due to injury, Benjamin’s career lasted just three more years with three different teams.

DT Vernon Butler (2016, No. 30): In six seasons Butler has started 19 of 76 games and registered 106 tackles and eight sacks. That’s about all there is to say about Big Vern.

Capable starters

CB Tyrone Poole (1995, No. 22): Poole started 112 of 144 career games with 486 tackles and 18 interceptions during his 12-year career. He only spent three years in Carolina.

OT Blake Brockermeyer (1995, No. 29): Blake started 103 of 136 games over his nine-year career. He only spent his first four seasons with the Panthers and never made a Pro Bowl.

RB Tim Biakabutuka (1996, No. 8): The oft-injured running back appeared in 50 games over six seasons. He rushed for 2,530 career yards and averaged a serviceable 4.1 yards per carry. He also reeled in 77 receptions for 789 yards.

DT Star Lotulelei (2013, No. 14): Star has been a full-time starter in each of his eight NFL seasons but has never distinguished himself as a difference maker. He has 194 career tackles and 16.5 sacks.

Above average starters

QB Kerry Collins (1995, No. 5): The first player ever drafted by the Panthers made the Pro Bowl in his second season in Carolina, but just two years later he was waived mid-season after telling coach Dom Capers, “My heart’s not in it, I’m not happy, and I don’t feel like I can play right now.” Over the course of his 17-year career he was a two-time Pro Bowler and his 40,922 passing yards ranks 20th in NFL history.

LB Dan Morgan (2001, No. 11): Injuries unfortunately limited Morgan to just 59 games over seven seasons and he was never able to reach his full potential. His best season was in 2004 when in just 12 games he racked up 102 tackles and made the Pro bowl. In total, he registered 390 career tackles, seven sacks, and five interceptions. If not for the injuries, Morgan could have had a special career.

CB Chris Gamble (2004, No. 28): In his nine-year career, all with the Panthers, Gamble played in 123 games with 510 tackles and 27 interceptions, including 13 picks in his first two seasons. While he was a steady presence in the secondary, Gamble never made the Pro Bowl.

RB DeAngelo Williams (2006, No. 27): Over the course of 11 years DeAngelo rushed for 8,096 yards (4.7 YPC) and 61 touchdowns while adding another 2,106 receiving yards and nine more scores. He rushed for a career-high 1,515 yards in 2008 with an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns, then followed that up in 2009 with his only Pro Bowl season in which he registered 1,117 rushing yards in 13 games.

RB Jonathan Stewart (2008, No. 13): In 11 seasons Stewart produced 7,335 rushing yards (4.3 YPC), 1,295 receiving yards, and 58 total touchdowns. He ran for a career-high 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns in his second NFL season in 2009. He made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2015 as the Panthers went 15-1 and Stewart rushed for 989 yards in 13 games. Both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams saw their rushing yards limited by sharing carries with each other for several years, but this time-share likely prolonged both of their respective careers.

LB Shaq Thompson (2015, No. 25): Over seven seasons Shaq has been really good but not quite great. He has eclipsed over 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons but has yet to make a Pro Bowl.

Franchise Studs

DE Julius Peppers (2002, No. 2): The nine-time Pro Bowler had a legendary 17-year career, with his first eight years and final two seasons with the Panthers. His 159.5 career sacks ranks fourth all-time.

OT Jordan Gross (2003, No. 8): During his 11-year career, all with the Panthers, Gross started 167 games and made three Pro Bowl teams.

LB Thomas Davis (2005, No. 14): In a career that spanned 15 years, Davis overcame multiple injuries to ultimately record 1,216 career tackles — which ranks 25th all-time — along with 29 sacks and 13 interceptions. He spent all but two of his remarkable seasons with the Panthers.

LB Jon Beason (2007, No. 25): Beason was healthy in each of his first four seasons, made three Pro Bowls along with one All-Pro selection, and registered between 121 and 141 tackles each year. Then the injuries started. Over the next five years he would play in just 29 games, derailing what could have been a Hall of Fame-type career.

QB Cam Newton (2011, No. 1): Legend. The three-time Pro Bowler and 2015 NFL MVP rewrote the record book for dual-threat quarterbacks. Despite nagging injuries that have limited him over the last several years, through 11 seasons he has thrown for 32,382 yards and 194 touchdowns while rushing for an incredible 5,628 yards and 75 touchdowns.

LB Luke Kuechly (2012, No. 9): Oh, Luke, how we long for thee! In eight glorious seasons he had seven Pro Bowl appearances, five All-Pro nods, and one Defensive Player of the Year award. He shockingly, but probably wisely, retired at age 28 after sustaining multiple concussions.

RB Christian McCaffrey (2016, No. 8): Please, oh please, get healthy. McCaffrey is the league’s most effective dual-threat running back. As a rookie in 2017 CMC posted 1,086 scrimmage yards and seven touchdowns, then 1,965 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018, followed by a league-leading 2,392 scrimmage yards and a league-high 19 touchdowns in 2019. He made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team in 2019. Most of CMC’s last two seasons have been lost to injury, but he has Hall of Fame potential when healthy.

WR DJ Moore (2018, No. 24): Maybe it’s a bit premature to put Moore as a “stud”, but he’s too good to be just “above average”. He has eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons despite the clown show that has been the Panthers quarterback situation. Imagine what he could do with an above average quarterback who had time to throw! I’m “leaning forward” a little classifying Moore this way, but I think his performance in the coming years will justify it.

In total, 14 of the Panthers 24 first rounders have been either “above average” or “franchise studs”, and a 58 percent hit rate isn’t bad given how unpredictable the draft can be. On the flip side, six of the 24 players (25 percent) didn’t pan out due to either “injuries and issues” or simply capping out as “rotational players”.

Here’s to hoping the Panthers 2022 first rounder winds up among the “franchise studs” when it’s all said and done.