The NFL draft is in the rear-view mirror, and the Carolina Panthers are ready to embark upon rookie minicamp and their upcoming organized team activities (OTAs). Those few weeks will serve as a measuring stick for how their new personnel will fare with the team and be a prelude to training camp when it opens up later this summer.
Carolina only had five picks, and if you look at each one, they all were drafted for a reason. This is especially true for the last three picks, which ruffled a lot of feathers but in the end may have been in the best interest of the team.
Love them or hate them, the newest members of the Panthers will each play a significant role in the team's success or failure moving forward. This slideshow will discuss the impact each pick will make and how it will affect the team during the 2013 season.
It's only fitting to put the first two picks on the same slide, as they will most likely be lining up next to each other on a frequent basis. Star Lotulelei was the top pick and arguably a steal in Round 1. Kawann Short was another gem with first-round potential who fell to them in the second round.
By selecting these two talented defensive tackles, the Carolina defensive front is now one of the best in the league.
Lotulelei is a proven run-stuffer, but he can be disruptive enough to force pressure on the quarterback. Short is an accomplished defender as he has proven to be able to get after the quarterback, which will complement Lotulelei very well.
Carolina's defense was middle of the road last season. With the efforts of its first two draft picks, it should be a top-10 unit in 2013. Lotulelei and Short will allow Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy easier access to the backfield since the double-teams will not be as frequent.
Additionally, the linebackers led by Luke Kuechly should be able to make their presence felt more as they will be able to roam more freely during each play. Having two solid defensive tackles is a luxury the Panthers haven't had in awhile, and the defense's performance will be noticeable.
Expect Lotulelei and Short to be a mainstay for many years to come.
Carolina liked Edmund Kugbila so much that it drafted him in the fourth round of the draft. While his projections had him valued much lower, it seems that he made enough of an impression on the coaching staff for them to take a chance.
The Panthers need some help up front, and with some question marks surrounding the health and durability of the offensive line, he could be an asset sooner rather than later. Kugbila brings a lot of size and is incredibly strong. However, he is extremely raw, but he carries a lot of upside.
While Carolina is set at guard with Amini Silatolu and Geoff Hangartner, it would be unwise to rule out Kugbila making an appearance during the season. In fact, he could challenge for a starting spot, and if Silatolu continues to struggle, Kugbila could see some action.
Hangartner may not be safe either as he will need to play hard to keep his job. Kugbila may have played at small Valdosta State, but the Panthers feel he can be a starter at the professional level.
He may get a few starts during the season, but he could secure a starting position next season and beyond if he impresses in his rookie campaign.
Dave Gettleman understands that he may have to make a few moves which on the surface don't seem to make any sense, but once you dig a little bit, you begin to appreciate what he is trying to accomplish. This would be the case with A.J. Klein.
The Panthers are pretty set at linebacker, but that didn't stop them from drafting the hard-nosed linebacker in the fifth round. Bringing him in seems to insure that Carolina has a linebacker who can make plays and bring the same intensity and work ethic that Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis have done while with the team.
Klein may be used in a backup role during the 2013 season, but don't underestimate what this young man is capable of doing.
He will back up Kuechly for much of the season and perhaps do the same for Beason and Davis. He has played the "Will" and "Sam" linebacker positions before, and his purpose on the roster could be a versatile one. Depending on the health of both Beason and Davis, he could see a lot of playing time.
If Beason becomes a salary-cap casualty in the next offseason, Klein should be able to slide into the starter's role or at least be a favorite for the position. However, he gives the Panthers quite a second string in their linebacker corps, as he and Chase Blackburn could be nearly as effective as the starters.
When you review the tape and the highlight reels of Kenjon Barner, the first question that comes to mind is how in the world did this guy end up being a sixth-round pick? It's not like Barner played at a small school. Oregon is one of the premier football colleges in the country.
Barner is an exceptionally gifted athlete who is fast and has impressive lateral movement. The latter probably explains why he was so high on Gettleman's radar. Barner can do it all; he can run out of the backfield, catch passes and even play special teams.
For a player of his skill set, grabbing him late in the draft could pay dividends for the Panthers and leave other teams kicking themselves for passing on him—assuming he can translate his college game over to the pros.
Barner won't start on the offense this year as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have the position locked down. However, that doesn't mean he can't learn from them and see action in a cleanup role.
If Barner does see significant playing time, it will be on special teams, and if all goes well, he could give the unit a much-needed boost.
Assuming Joe Adams is able to bounce back from a relatively disappointing rookie year, Carolina could have the future of the return game at its disposal, prompting opposing teams to keep the ball away from them.
However, before declaring Barner and Adams as the second coming of Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs, a lot needs to happen first. While Adams needs to learn from last year's mistakes and correct accordingly, Barner will have to adjust to the speed of the pro game and make sure he is able to hold onto the ball.
Barner is the wild-card draft pick here, as he will be expected to compete for playing time at running back next season, but he has a lot to prove in 2013.
His every move will be closely watched on the field, and if he can make the most out of the majority of those moves, his future in Carolina could be long and productive.
Regardless of where these guys were drafted, all of them have to prove themselves on the field. There is so much to like from this draft, but at the same time, there are many reasons to be concerned.
Gettleman used his first three picks to beef up his lines, and did he ever. He received some grief for his last two selections, but those were moves he felt were necessary for the future.
If all goes well, the Panthers can most likely focus on drafting a top skill player in next year's draft. With needs at wide receiver and defensive back, it would be reassuring to know they have their supporting roles taken care of or to see players like Kugbila or Barner be inserted into a more permanent role.
It's too early to see how the picks of the 2013 draft class will pan out, but the Panthers' first two picks should be able to make significant contributions early on. The remaining three will come into their own as the season progresses or over the course of a couple of years.