BEST FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK: LB Luke Kuechly. A tough one, as you can make strong arguments for QB Cam Newton (2011), DE Julius Peppers (2002) and even RB Christian McCaffrey (2017), although he’s only played three seasons. But Kuechly was selected to the NFL’s 2010 All-Decade Team. The Panthers took him No. 9 overall in 2012 and he was All-Pro five times and was selected to seven Pro Bowls. He was the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Gifted with a knack for calling out the opposition’s plays before the ball was snapped, Kuechly had more tackles (1,092) than any player in the league from 2012-19.
BEST SECOND-ROUND DRAFT PICK: C Ryan Kalil. The anchor for Carolina’s offensive line for 11 seasons, Kalil was voted All-Pro twice. Selected 59th overall in 2007, Kalil earned the respect of his Panthers teammates and was a perennial team captain, as well as the resident comedian in the locker room. The Panthers had numerous misfires in the second round. Kalil was not one of them.
BEST LATE-ROUND DRAFT PICK: WR Steve Smith. This is a no-brainer as Smith still stands as the best Panthers player. A third-round pick out of Utah in 2001, Smith possessed an inner fire and drive that was second to none. Smith’s temper got him in a trouble more than a few times, but nobody played the game harder than No. 89. He played 13 of his 16 seasons with the Panthers and amassed 14,731 yards receiving and, fittingly, 89 total touchdowns.
WORST FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK: WR Rae Carruth. The former Colorado wideout was found guilty of conspiring to murder his then-girlfriend Cherica Adams, who was pregnant with his child, in 2001. The child, Chancellor Lee Adams, survived but has cerebral palsy. Carruth served 18 years in prison before being released on Oct. 22, 2018. He played 2 1/2 seasons for the Panthers before his arrest, marking a low point in franchise history.
WORST SECOND-ROUND DRAFT PICK: QB Jimmy Clausen. Panthers general manager Marty Hurney was elated when Clausen was available in 2010, figuring the franchise’s quarterback of the future had fallen into his lap. But Clausen never had the arm strength to compete at the NFL level and finished his career with 14 interceptions and seven TD passes. The Panthers drafted Newton No. 1 overall the following year. Other notable second-round busts include RB Eric Shelton (2005), WR Dwayne Jarrett (2007), DE Everette Brown (2009) and OL Bruce Nelson (2003).
BEST DRAFT TRADE: The Panthers struck gold when they traded a 2012 third-round pick to acquire tight end Greg Olsen from the Bears. Olsen played nine seasons with the Panthers and became the first tight end with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He has gained 8,444 yards and 59 TDs during his career, most of those with the Panthers.
WORST DRAFT TRADE: Needing a longtime replacement for Peppers at defensive end, Hurney traded away the team’s first-round pick in 2010 to Philadelphia for the Eagles’ 43rd overall pick in 2009. He used that to select Brown from Florida State, who spent two seasons in Carolina before washing out of the league.
DID YOU KNOW THEY ONCE DRAFTED?: QB Armanti Edwards, who led Appalachian State to one of the most memorable upsets in college football history over Michigan in 2007. Hurney traded a future second-round pick to get Edwards in the third round in 2010 in hopes of turning him into a wide receiver. That experiment failed miserably as Edwards caught five passes in 3 1/2 seasons with Carolina.
LAST YEAR’S PICKS (Round, Name, Position, School): 1st, Brian Burns, DE, Florida State; 2nd, Greg Little, OT, Mississippi; 3rd, Will Grier, QB, West Virginia; 4th, Christian Miller, LB, Alabama; 5th, Jordan Scarlett, RB, Florida; 6th, Dennis Daley, OT, South Carolina; 7th, Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia.
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