Who are the ten best players selected by the Hurney regime?
Panthers GM Marty Hurney has a new partner in crime in new head coach Ron Rivera for the 2011 NFL Draft, creating an interesting dynamic as we approach one of the crucial three day spells on the NFL calendar.
Hurney and Fox formed a united front during John Fox’s nine year tenure in Charlotte, but it was clear that the draft day decision making power had shifted to Hurney in 2010. No pick made this more obvious than that of Armanti Edwards. To say the former Appalachian State quarterback was used sparingly by Fox would be a massive understatement.
How Hurney and Rivera mesh on personnel decisions will go a long way to determining the success of this draft class. With less than two weeks to go until the draft, the following is a list of the top 10 draft picks by GM Marty Hurney from 2002 to 2008.
LB James Anderson really came into his own in 2010
The 27-year-old former Hokie really stepped out of the shadows in 2010 and made a mark on the Carolina defense with an astonishing 130 tackles, tacking on 3.5 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and an interception for good measure. Anderson produced some rare numbers from the Sam linebacker position in the 4-3, traditionally not a position synonymous with his numbers.
His effort on the field was infectious, and he contributed a huge part to a defense that spent much more time on the field than the average NFL defense in 2010. Unfortunately, the Panthers are unlikely to make resigning him a priority. Anderson is due to become a free agent in 2011. The strong side linebacker position is not a premium one in the NFL.
If this is the end of the line for James Anderson in Charlotte, he will go down as one of the more underrated picks made by Marty Hurney.
Gamble has been a solid contributor since day one in Carolina
A new regime in Carolina could be just the ticket for Chris Gamble, whose 2010 season ended in turmoil culminating in being benched by former head coach John Fox for disciplinary issues. Gamble is rumoured to be amongst the players the Panthers would consider cutting this offseason, as he is due to make over six million dollars in 2011. It is doubtful the organisation would part ways with their most seasoned veteran in the defensive backfield, especially with no real depth.
Gamble’s career started off with a flurry, as he registered 16 interceptions in his first three seasons with the team. Since then, he has only managed to pick off eight passes in four seasons. A feather in his cap is his durability—he has only missed eight games in seven seasons. The former Buckeye has a new lease of life with Ron Rivera coming in as head coach, possibly installing a defensive scheme with more man-to-man concepts, which would play to Gamble’s strengths.
Gamble is still only 28 years old and has many more seasons with the Panthers and was a very solid, if unspectacular, pick.
A great talent who hit a bump in the road; can he bounce back again?
Originally drafted as a safety out of Georgia, Thomas Davis—when healthy—is one of the premier linebackers in the NFL. Blessed with the range to get sideline to sideline, quick feet and a knack for finding the football, Davis was a project that Hurney decided to take on, choosing to believe in the player’s talent to switch positions.
Davis played a huge part in the Panthers successful 2008 playoff season, posting his best season in terms of on-field performance and numbers. A horrific knee injury on the artificial turf in the Superdome derailed his 2009 season and, many thought at the time, his career. Davis fought back valiantly, and his rehab was ahead of schedule when he re-tore his ACL, starting the battle all over again. Davis’ character and heart cannot be questioned; that is certain.
The linebacker has stated that he wants to test the free agent waters, but all signs point to him returning to Bank of America Stadium. Davis is a potent playmaker when he is on the field and deserves to be amongst the 10 best players drafted by the Hurney regime.
Charles Johnson's play speaks for itself
Charles Johnson exploded onto the scene in 2010. On a Panthers defense that struggled to generate much pass rush, Johnson was a constant thorn in the side of opposing offenses. The former Bulldog got to the quarterback an impressive 11.5 times and his play in other areas was just as solid.
Johnson is a prototype 4-3 defensive end who has matured and grown in his first three seasons into one heck of a player. The question now becomes, can the Panthers retain his services? He is scheduled to become a free agent, one of many important players the Panthers must try to re-sign. Johnson has stated that “change is good” in Charlotte and that he is interested in signing a long term deal with the club.
Nevertheless, the future is bright for Charles Johnson and for a third round pick, he has developed into a stud player.
Kalil should start at center for the Panthers for the next six to eight years
In the 2007 NFL Draft, the Panthers made a trade that will go down as one of the best in franchise history. They gave up the 14th pick to the New York Jets in exchange for the 25th pick (which incidentally became Jon Beason) and the Jets second round choice, the 59th overall pick.
Marty Hurney hit the jackpot that day, securing USC center Ryan Kalil, a high character kid with a tenacious attitude on the field. Kalil is a very intelligent player and has proven his dependability to the team in his first four seasons. In fact, Kalil is thought of so highly by the Panthers brass that he received the franchise tag designation over DE Charles Johnson, who many predicted would be tagged.
Kalil will be a fixture at center for the Panthers for many years to come, and thanks to a cunning draft day move, he ranks amongst the best players drafted by Marty Hurney.
Stewart can be a special running back in this league
Leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft, running back was discussed amongst the possible positions the Carolina Panthers could address. John Fox always emphasised running the football and pounding the defense into submission. To take a back with the 13th overall pick was not what the “draftniks” had in mind.
Jonathan Stewart met with the Panthers medical staff prior to the draft and was cleared medically fit after doubts emerged about a foot injury that had plagued the runner. 2,739 yards and 22 touchdowns later, all the reservations have been quashed. Stewart is an elite franchise running back with a scary combination of power, elusiveness, quickness and breakaway speed. The 24-year-old projects to be the primary ball carrier in 2011 if DeAngelo Williams leaves via free agency.
Stewart can go down in Panthers history as one of the all-time greats at running back if he can continue his current career trajectory.
DeAngelo Williams shreds defenses for fun
DeAngelo Williams edges out his running mate Stewart in the top 10 purely because he has more production to his name and has been an impact player for Carolina since his breakout 2008 season.
Williams is a phenomenal talent at the position, the very definition of a game breaker. He possesses the kind of “feel” that any running back needs at the pro level to make cuts, juke defenders and display tremendous patience. Some of the more memorable moments of the Panthers 2008 playoff season were runs by Williams.
The 27-year-old has publicly stated that whether or not he returns to Carolina or goes elsewhere via free agency depends on the quarterback situation, perhaps a friendly nudge to remind Hurney and Co. that he doesn’t see Jimmy Clausen as a player who can get this team over the top. Williams knows he has a few good years left on his tires, and he wants to use them somewhere that will give him a chance to compete for a championship. If we have seen him play his last down for the Panthers, I wish him well. He is without question one of the all-time great draft picks by this franchise.
Jordan Gross has been a stalwart at OT for the Panthers
The first and only offensive lineman to appear on this list, Jordan Gross ranks amongst the best tackles in the entire league. Gross is a consummate professional, a locker room presence and hates to lose more than he loves to win.
A true competitor in every sense of the word, Gross has been a rock at tackle for the team since he was drafted in 2003. Apart from a horrible injury he suffered in 2009, Gross has barely missed a game in eight seasons. It will be hard to replace a player of his calibre when the time comes to do so. For now, the team is fortunate to have a quality left tackle such as Jordan Gross in the fold.
Jon Beason leads by example
Where do I begin? Simply put, if the Carolina Panthers franchise were a human body, Jon Beason would be the heart, the soul and the blood, because he has put all three of those things into his career in Charlotte. The Florida native picked things up quickly upon entering the league, setting the tone at his first training camp and carrying it forward to his first game at St. Louis in 2007.
From the moment Beason stepped on the field, he exuded confidence. He demanded respect. He got respect. His play on the field was a rallying call to the rest of his teammates, not just those on defense. It was this attitude to led to him being elected team captain in his second season.
Jon Beason is one of the cornerstones of this franchise. He is a player that the team cannot do without. If every player on our defense played with the kind of passion and intensity that Beason does, I am confident that we would never surrender a point to the offense. Jon Beason is a legend in the Carolinas and hopefully one day will be in the eyes of the rest of the league, and maybe even Canton.
Peppers struck fear into opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks
Julius Peppers is the only former Panther on this list, but he has had the most impact of any player on this list on the Carolina Panthers.
Offensive tackles couldn’t be blamed for calling out for their momma when Peppers lined up across from them. At 6'7", he is more beast than man, a towering physical specimen with a lethal combination of brute strength and lightning quick moves to bamboozle anyone who stood in his path. Peppers was the model of consistency in his eight year spell in Carolina, racking up sacks left and right and making impact plays that changed the course of football games.
In all “Pep”, as he is affectionately known by the fans, racked up 81 sacks as a Panther. It is rather fitting that the first pick by the Hurney regime is in fact the best pick he has ever made. You could argue that Peppers’ reputation was tarnished somewhat by his acrimonious split with the team. You could question his effort on certain plays. More than anything, though, you can be sure that Julius Peppers is the most outstanding player ever drafted by the Panthers under Marty Hurney.