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Looking back at the hits and misses of the Panthers 2018 draft class

It has been four full seasons since Marty Hurney returned to Carolina and drafted these eight players. How did Good Ol’ Marty do?

Minnesota Vikings v Carolina Panthers Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

The old saying in the NFL is it takes four seasons to fairly evaluate a draft class. Well, it has been four years since Marty Hurney rejoined the Panthers for his second stint as general manager and oversaw the 2018 draft, so let’s look back at the results.

And remember, when it comes to evaluating draft performance, the right way to view things is how well the player performed relative to expectations for where he was drafted. Here are my broad expectations based on draft position:

First round: Impact players with Pro Bowl potential

Second round: Above average starters

Third-fourth round: Capable depth to borderline starters

Fifth-seventh round: Make the roster, provide situational depth, contribute on special teams

As far as grading goes, a “C” in my book represents “perfectly meets expectations” given where the player was drafted. Let’s see how Marty did in 2018.

Round 1, Pick 24: WR DJ Moore

Hurney nailed this one, folks. In four seasons Moore has put up 301 receptions for 4,313 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has exceeded 1,100 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons despite playing with some pretty bad quarterbacks who were facing constant pressure. This is outstanding production for a late first rounder. And it’s not like the Panthers whiffed on an All-Pro who was selected right after DJ. The only Pro Bowlers taken in the 15 picks after Moore at No. 24 were quarterback Lamar Jackson at No. 32 (in 2018 the Panthers had Cam Newton), running back Nick Chubb at No. 35 (the Panthers had Christian McCaffrey), and linebacker Darius Leonard at No. 36 (the Panthers had Luke Kuechly). Moore has been locked down on a 3-year extension so this pick will elevate the Panthers for years to come.

Grade: A-

Round 2, Pick 55: CB Donte Jackson

Donte became a Day 1 starter as a rookie and has started 51 of 55 career games for the Panthers, so that’s a success story for a No. 55 pick right out of the gate. The problem, of course, is Jackson has missed 11 games over the last three years and has played a bunch of games while battling nagging injuries. But when healthy, D-Jax has been pretty good, though his highs can be really high and his lows can be pretty low. His 12 career interceptions rank second among all players drafted in 2018. His 167 solo tackles ranks third among corners selected in his draft class. His 2020 PFF grade of 70.4 was second among all Panthers defensive players, trailing only Brian Burns, though in 2021 Jackson’s PFF grade fell to a “meh” 61.3 which ranked 72nd among all NFL corners. Carolina gave Donte a 3-year extension, so this is another pick that will solidify the Panthers core for the next several years.

Grade: B

Round 3, No. 85: DB Rashaan Gaulden

Hurney started two-for-two in the 2018 draft with Moore and Jackson, then whiffed on Gaulden. He entered the NFL as either a safety or a nickel cornerback, but couldn’t thrive in either role. As a rookie he appeared in 15 games while playing 143 defensive snaps and 147 special teams snaps, recording 17 tackles. The next season he was primarily a special teams player and was released late in the year. He finished out the 2019 season with the Giants, got waived, then spent 2020 playing two games with the Raiders. He did not play in 2021.

Grade: D-

Round 4, No. 101: TE Ian Thomas

As the first player taken in the fourth round of the draft, my expectations for Ian Thomas are “capable depth to borderline starter” and that’s a pretty apt description for Thomas’s performance thus far. His best season as a receiver was his rookie campaign in 2018 when he registered 36 receptions for 333 yards, but over the last three years combined he has put up an uninspiring 54 receptions for 469 yards. He’s on the field a lot, but he rarely makes an impact. That said, the Panthers front office saw enough potential in Ian to extend him on a 3-year deal this offseason, so he’ll get more opportunities to show what he can do. While Thomas isn’t flashy or even necessarily good for his position — his 2021 PFF grade of 52.1 ranked No. 69 of 73 tight ends — he’s at least capable, and that’s just fine for the No. 101 pick.

Grade: C+

Round 4, No. 136: DE Marquis Haynes

Marquis Haynes’ career trajectory is right on target and he’s getting better each year. After playing just four games as a rookie he has now found his groove as a capable rotational piece on the Panthers defense. Over the last two seasons he has played in 32 games (with zero starts) and registered 38 tackles, seven sacks, 18 quarterback pressures, and 12 quarterback hits. Only two players drafted after Haynes have more career sacks than Haynes. His 2021 PFF grade of 72.0 was right up there with Shaq Thompson (72.1) and Jeremy Chinn (70.6). The Panthers smartly locked Haynes down with a 2-year contract extension this offseason and he could take another step forward in 2022 with the departure of Haason Reddick.

Grade: B+

Round 5, No. 161: LB Jermaine Carter

Jermaine Carter hasn’t missed a game in four seasons and has started 30 of the 65 games in which he has played. That’s a success for the No. 161 pick in and of itself. He has been a key special teams contributor each year but his defensive snaps played increased from 84 as a rookie to 261 in 2019, 284 in 2020, and then in 2021 he locked down a starting linebacker spot playing 853 defensive snaps and recorded a career-high 88 tackles. Only two players drafted after Carter have more career solo tackles than him. In all reality, Carter shouldn’t have been the Panthers starting linebacker last year. His PFF grade of 42.6 was way below average and ranked 72 of 89 NFL linebackers. Ideally, the Panthers would have had a stronger starting linebacker last year while Jermaine Carter could have provided capable situational depth, which is still fantastic for the No. 161 pick. He signed a 1-year contract with the Chiefs this offseason.

Grade: B+

Round 7, No. 234: LB Andre Smith

I’ll be honest, Andre Smith had fallen off my radar until I started researching this column, and believe it or not but he’s still contributing in the NFL, just not for the Panthers. Smith spent his first two NFL seasons in Carolina as a special teams contributor. In those two seasons he appeared in 19 games with just 36 defensive snaps but a healthy 363 special teams snaps. The Panthers traded him to the Buffalo Bills after the 2019 season for a conditional 2023 seventh-round pick, and Smith is still a key piece of the Bills special teams. In two years with Buffalo he has played in 27 games with 47 defensive snaps and 476 special teams snaps. The Bills saw enough in Smith to sign him this offseason to a 2-year extension. Of the 27 players drafted after Smith at No. 234, only four have appeared in more career games. Major props to any seventh round pick who gets an extension after Year 4.

Grade: B

Round 7, No. 242: DT Kendrick Norton

This is a tragic story. Norton spent his rookie season on the Panthers practice squad without appearing in any regular season games. He was then signed by the Dolphins in December 2018. In July 2019 Norton was involved in a car accident that left him in critical condition and paramedics were required to amputate his arm at the scene. His professional football dream was taken from him before it even got started, but some things are far more important than sports.

Summary

Overall, the Panthers had a solid 2018 draft. Outside of Kendrick Norton’s very sad situation, the only player who flamed out and didn’t get an extension or new contract after his 4-year rookie deal was Rashaan Gaulden. With eight selections the Panthers got a difference maker in DJ Moore, a solid starter in Donte Jackson, capable depth with Ian Thomas, Marquis Haynes, and Jermaine Carter, and found a seventh round special teams contributor in Andre Smith (now with the Bills).

Let’s hope current general manager Scott Fitterer’s 2022 draft class has just as good of grades when we look back in 2026.