Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
There are high expectations for Star Lotulelei (96) this season.
There were five rookies taken in this year's draft, and another 13 were signed as undrafted free agents. It goes without saying that the Panthers are expecting great things from their first two draft picks. While expectations will be modest for everyone else, there have already been a few surprises during OTAs and minicamp.
Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short
The first two draft choices of the Carolina Panthers will be common fixtures on the defensive front this year and should shore up a line that was terrible at stopping the run. Lotulelei has the tools to be a shutdown run-stopper, and he will help both Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy from facing constant double-teams.
Short will most likely spell Dwan Edwards on a situational basis, but he will be just as effective. Short is more of a pass-rusher between the top two rookie defensive tackles, and his ability, coupled with the contributions of Edwards, could keep the Panthers defensive line fresh each series.
Expectations are high for these two as some people feel they can help lead the Panthers to becoming a top-tier defense. However, there is still the matter of the secondary.
Robert Lester and Melvin White
Both Lester and White were signed as undrafted free agents. Both have enjoyed a good spring, and both of them have a legitimate shot at earning considerable playing time on defense. Lester could even make a push for starting at safety.
While Lester hails from collegiate powerhouse Alabama, there were some concerns about him going undrafted this past spring. However, Lester has proven to have a nose for the football and picked off eight passes as a sophomore, two as a junior and four as a senior.
However, he could be the ball hawk Carolina needs patrolling the secondary, and the camp battle between him and veteran Haruki Nakamura should be a good one.
Melvin White may have a tougher road ahead of him, but the rookie cornerback could be in prime position to do some special things in his career as a Panther. Veteran Captain Munnerlyn is only signed for one year, and assuming he leaves in free agency following the season, the door will be wide open for Carolina's cornerbacks.
Behind Munnerlyn is a stable of young players, and with the exceptions of D.J. Moore and Drayton Florence, White could do himself a huge favor by standing out among the young men on the unit. There is still a lot of optimism surrounding Josh Norman and Josh Thomas, but White has proven he can hit a receiver with authority. That kind of ferocity will be needed to help force turnovers.
White may not start this season, but he could still make the final roster and factor into the team's long-term plans later down the road.
Initially, Barner was projected to be an asset on special teams returning punts and kicks. However, in light of the recent news that veteran Jonathan Stewart will be questionable heading into training camp, Barner may see a lot more time in the offense as well.
Gifted with excellent speed and the ability to make guys miss, Barner could seize this opportunity to not only play with the offense but to stick with it well after Stewart returns. It's not out of the question, but Barner will need to out-play Armond Smith and Tauren Poole for the job as Stewart's backup.
It only makes sense to list him here as the uncertainty surrounding Jon Beason and Thomas Davis should be very fresh in the minds of everyone within the Carolina organization. Klein could end up playing as a strong-side linebacker and could prove to be valuable at the position.
His presence will allow Chase Blackburn to back up Luke Kuechly and play the outside if needed. Out of the rookies listed here, Klein's impact could have more value as a depth chart player.