With their first three picks in April's draft, the Panthers were intent on bringing in defenders that can compete for field time right away.
Their first pick (43rd overall) Everette Brown, is a quick—if not prototypically big at only 6'1", 256—pass-rushing defensive end that will take some of the pressure off of Julius Peppers as essentially the team's only threat to opposing quarterbacks.
New Carolina defensive line coach Brian Baker coached a similarly undersized end last season in St. Louis, James Hall.
Hall is 20 or so pounds heavier than Brown, but at just 6'2", he dealt with defensive tackles who were typically quite a bit taller than he was—with longer arms. All Hall did in 2008 was record a team-high six sacks—the same as Leonard Little—with 44 tackles (36 solo).
With its third-round selection, Carolina decided to bolster its secondary, which gave up 217.4 yards per game through the air (18th in the NFL) by taking Sherrod Martin, a safety out of Troy.
At 6'1", he likely will find his way onto the field as a cornerback in the mold of a former pupil of new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, Melvin Bullitt. In fact, all that separates Martin from Bullitt is three pounds.
In just his second pro season last year, Bullitt nabbed four interceptions. If Martin can match even Bullitt's rookie numbers—25 tackles with a pick—he could help push the Carolina secondary over the edge of mediocrity.
The Panthers also added a defensive tackle (Corvey Irvin) in the third round and another DB (Captain Munnerlyn) in the seventh, bringing the number of rookie defenders in Charlotte to four.
But before Panthers fans get to giddy over the unit's talented youngsters, they need to remember something.
They're still rookies.
Not usually the most consistent players, first-year pros more often disappoint than overachieve. The intense, all-football regimen that consumes an NFL player's life is something not seen in college, at least not at the same level. And thus, players—even those that have successes early—can hit the ever-feared "wall" by the later weeks of the season.
And these guys, especially Irvin and Munnerlyn, are far from guaranteed a spot on the field...or even the roster.
The amount of energy expended just earning playing time could lead to seasons that are less impressive than even the most pessimistic Panthers fan might expect.