The Carolina Panthers seemed to be at the beginning of a long rebuilding process last year, but the instant impact of one rookie, quarterback Cam Newton, accelerated their rejuvenation. Which 2012 rookies could follow in Newton's footsteps?
First-round linebacker Luke Kuechly
This one is in the bag; the only question is where Kuechly will line up. He and Jon Beason can both play in the middle or on the weak side. While Beason just returned to action two weeks ago after tearing his Achilles last year, Kuechly has been flourishing in the middle of the defense during OTAs.
Charlotte Observer beat writer Joseph Person seems confident that the middle will be Kuechly's home when the season starts:
Based on how Kuechly looked in OTAs and minicamp, I think he'll be in the middle with Beason on the weakside, where Beason has experience.
— Joe Person (@josephperson) June 14, 2012
Second-round guard Amini Silatolu
Silatolu played offensive tackle at Division II Midwestern State, but the Panthers have been lining him up with the first team at left guard during OTAs.
Head coach Ron Rivera commented that Silatolu has been getting better every week, and he really has no stiff competition for the job. Look for this mauler to be opening holes for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart from day one.
Fifth-round cornerback Josh Norman
Norman is a small-school product who has a big leap to the NFL, but ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, who used to cover the Panthers, believes that could replace the subpar Captain Munnerlyn as early as this year after hearing wide receiver Steve Smith and the Panthers' coaches rave about the rookie.
Sixth-round punter Brad Nortman
Nortman will have to beat out former Lions punter Nick Harris, but the team invested a pick in him, so the Wisconsin product is expected to win the job. Rivera timed his hang time between 4.8 and 5.2 seconds and said he expected the rookie to hold the job for "eight to nine years," according to Jeff Hawkins of CBS Sports.