Reviewing the Carolina Panthers' Best Draft Picks by Round
The Carolina Panthers was established in 1993 and played its first season in 1995. After 19 seasons, the Panthers have drafted 150 players and have seen their fair share of standouts and busts. Their current roster is made up of some of their best picks over the past 10 years but some have blossomed into Pro Bowlers and elite players.
A previous slideshow highlighted the worst draft day decisions that featured ill-advised trades and busts. This presentation is the exact opposite. It was difficult to find quality players in every round but even those who have not reached All-Pro status have still managed to be solid contributors to the team nonetheless.
Since the current draft format has been seven rounds since the team's inception, this slideshow will cover Carolina's best draft picks of each round over the past two decades.
Round One: Luke Kuechly, OLB
Considering the amount of talent that Carolina has brought to the franchise with its first-round selections over the years, it would appear nearly impossible to narrow the best draft pick of the opening round to just one player. However, Luke Kuechly has established himself as a star in the NFL and bringing home season awards after his first two years in the league has helped earned him the distinction of the best first-round draft pick in team history.
Kuechly won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and followed that up with another huge season in which he won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award. He doesn't seem like he is ready to slow down as he will be counted on to lead Carolina's defense next year and try to earn another trip to the playoffs.
It's still too early to tell what kind of career Kuechly will have in the NFL, but if he stays healthy and continues to put up the kind of numbers he has in his first two years, he will rank among the best at his position.
Cam Newton, 2011
Thomas Davis, 2006
Jordan Gross, 2003
Julius Peppers, 2002
Round Two: Muhsin Muhammed, WR
The perfect complement to Steve Smith during his time in Carolina. The man affectionately known as Moose among the fans was as reliable a No. 2 receiver as any when Smith's career began to take off. He started out as the team's top receiver and held a few records before Smith claimed them. Muhammad recorded three seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving—all with Carolina.
He was welcomed back to the Panthers in 2008 after a three-year stint with the Chicago Bears. Muhammad was able to enjoy a long career because he was a very reliable receiver.
Despite only registering double-digit touchdown totals once in his career (an astounding 16 in 2004), he was able to do enough to be considered a legitimate threat if Smith was covered and has been the basis of which other supporting receivers have been measured from the fan base.
Moose may not receive the accolades afforded to other Carolina players and may go down as a footnote in the team's history, but there is no denying he was a great pick in the second round.
Round Three: Steve Smith, WR
One could go on all day about what Steve Smith has meant to the Carolina Panthers organization. His popularity was so high with the fans, that many were outraged when he was released earlier this year and signed by Baltimore.
Regardless of the controversy that followed, Smith was not only the franchise's best pick in the third round, his overall production and contributions make a valid argument as perhaps the best draft pick ever.
The All-Pro receiver has claimed most of the team's receiving records and left the Panthers as its all-time leader in receptions (836), receiving yards (12,197) and touchdowns (67). His overall production in Carolina makes him a dark horse candidate for the Hall of Fame when he retires and having the distinction of going in as the first Panther would only add to his legacy.
It is interesting to wonder how much higher his production would be if he was not restricted to a special teams role in 2001 and had he not missed 15 games during the 2004 season because of an injury. An argument could be made he would probably still be outside the top 10 in receiving yards. However, that is entirely speculation.
What is known about Smith is that his tenacity and competitive nature will probably not be seen again in Carolina.
Round Four: Frank Alexander, DE
Carolina traded up to get Alexander and while he has never assumed a firm grip on the starting position, he has been decent as a backup to Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Through 28 games (six started), Alexander has 33 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Depending on how well he performs in 2014 and if he can stay healthy, Alexander could make a strong case for himself to assume the full-time starting duties if Hardy leaves after next season. However, he is still a long way from being a long-term option at the position.
He has a lot of potential, but if he cannot break through after the upcoming season, he may be a career backup.
Round Five: Geoff Hangartner, OG
A.J. Klein nearly made the cut here, but Geoff Hangartner proved to be a valuable asset on the Carolina Panthers' offensive line for many years. Nicknamed Piggy, Hangartner has been one of the most reliable and durable linemen in Carolina history.
From 2005 to 2008, he appeared in 52 games and started in 27 of them. He signed with the Bills after the 2008 season and returned to Carolina in 2011. He was released during camp last season, but he returned later in November because of the shortage of offensive guards on the line.
No longer on the current roster, Hangartner announced his retirement during the offseason.
Round Six: Greg Hardy, DE
In terms of best value late in the draft, Greg Hardy gave the Panthers more and then some after being a sixth-round selection in the 2010 draft. He started off as a backup during his rookie year but moved to the starting role in 2011. He flashed enough potential, with 50 tackles and four sacks, to maintain his position at defensive end.
Hardy has recorded double-digit sack numbers the past two seasons. He reached 11.0 in 2012 and topped that total in 2013 with 15.0. Unfortunately for Carolina, he broke out at the end of his contract and was placed under the franchise tag, where he will count over $13 million towards the cap in 2014, per Spotrac.
It is unknown if the Panthers will try to sign him to a long-term deal, but for now, both parties are in a good place as Hardy has emerged as one of the game's best pass-rushers while playing for one of the league's best defenses.
Round Seven: Captain Munnerlyn, CB
Selected in the final round of the 2009 draft, Captain Munnerlyn began his career as a backup and moved up to full-time starter in his third season. Recognized by his unique first name, he almost left the Panthers in free agency following the 2012 season but returned on a one-year deal which allowed him to earn a nice contract with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason.
However, his production was solid considering he was a seventh-round selection. After five seasons with Carolina, Munnerlyn had registered 275 tackles, seven interceptions and five sacks. It should be noted that both of his interceptions in his final year with the Panthers resulted in touchdowns.
Not many players enjoy the level of success Munnerlyn did after being a last-round pick. He grew in the defense and stepped up when the secondary became the defense's weakest link. In terms of final round picks, Munnerlyn was the best in team history.