The NFL Draft is all about finding the right fit to grow your franchise, whether that be finding a face of the franchise on either side of the ball, filling a crucial need with a starter in the early rounds or simply taking the best player available and crossing your fingers.
The Carolina Panthers have surely been on both sides of the coin when it comes to the NFL Draft, like pretty much every team. It’s hard to hit the nail on the head with all of your picks.
But the Panthers have also done a pretty good job at drafting some franchise-changing players over the last 10 years.
For this piece, I’m going to rank the Top 10 players the Panthers have drafted from 2011 to 2020.
No. 10 - Kawann Short
KK was nothing short of efficient during his tenure in a Panthers uniform. Drafted in the second round at 44th overall in 2013, Short played in 99 career games and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2018 before injuries derailed him the past two seasons. He recorded 280 tackles and 32.5 sacks, which ranks seventh all-time in franchise history.
No. 9 - Taylor Moton
Moton was drafted in the second round with the 64th overall pick in 2017 and is working himself into the conversation to be one of the premier right tackles in the NFL. He’s started all 16 games for the past three seasons for the Panthers, who have struggled to find consistency along the offensive front. During that three-year span, he’s committed just 10 penalties, including just one last season for a false start.
No. 8 - Josh Norman
Drafted in the fifth round at 143rd overall, Norman developed into one of the top lockdown cornerbacks in all of football while playing in a Panthers’ jersey. He played four seasons in Carolina, collecting seven interceptions while taking two back for touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015, his last season with the Panthers. The strong-willed trash talker was credited for 36 passes defended and forced four fumbles.
No. 7 - Derrick Brown
It’s almost comical to put Brown at No. 7, but that’s just how good the Panthers have hit on some of these guys. Drafted seventh overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, the rookie started 15 of 16 games and showed versatility as an inside run stuffer with 34 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and even four passes defended from the interior. He’ll be a mainstay there.
No. 6 - D.J. Moore
Drafted 24th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Moore has quietly been among the best receivers in the NFL the last two seasons. After recording 788 receiving yards in his rookie season on 55 catches, Moore has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns — 1,175 and four scores in 2019 on 87 receptions and 1,193 yards and four scores on 66 catches in 2020. His receiving yardage total in 2020 ranked 11th in the NFL, but he was the only receiver to have fewer than 70 catches to have at least 1,100 yards. He has led the Panthers in receiving yards each of the last two seasons.
No. 5 - Brian Burns
When Burns is healthy, he can be a menace. And that’s why the Panthers drafted him 16th overall in 2019. Marred by nagging injuries his rookie season, Burns has still managed to record 16.5 sacks in two years with the Panthers. He has a total of 83 tackles, 13.0 TFLs and 37 quarterback hits over that same span. He has also forced four fumbles and has a 56-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown to his name.
No. 4 - Jeremy Chinn
Drafted in the second round with the 64th overall pick in last year’s draft, Chinn was a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year last year. The small-school product turned heads all season, including a career game against the Vikings where he made NFL history by becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era with two fumble recoveries for a touchdown in the same game. His two scores came within 10 seconds of game time between them, also an NFL record. Oh, and he had 13 tackles that day. On the season, Chinn recorded a team-high 117 total tackles (team-high 68 solo) with 1.0 sack, 2.0 TFLs and an interception.
No. 3 - Christian McCaffrey
Likely the most versatile running back in recent memory in the NFL, McCaffrey has been a workhorse since entering the league in 2017 when the Panthers selected him eighth overall in 2017. In four seasons, which included just three games in 2020, McCaffrey has rushed for 3,145 yards and 29 touchdowns, including a 1,387-yard, 15-touchdown season in 2019 where he made his first Pro Bowl and was named a First-Team All-Pro. The Stanford stud also has caught 320 passes for 2,672 yards and 16 more touchdowns over that span. In four years, he’s had 1,002 touches for 5,817 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per touch.
No. 2 - Luke Kuechly
Drafted ninth overall in 2012, Kuechly was an absolute unit in the middle of Carolina’s defense. Highly regarded as a film junkie and a student of the game, Kuechly more times than not knew what the offense was going to run before they even broke the huddle it seemed and had the Panthers’ defense shifting all over to account for it. He played eight seasons in Carolina before retiring ahead of the 2020 season due to injury concerns. Over that span, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. He made the Pro Bowl seven times and was named a First-Team All-Pro five times while leading the league in tackles twice. He finished his career with 1,092 tackles (690 solo), 75 TFLs, 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and a safety. He changed the game for linebackers and etched himself all over Carolina’s history books.
No. 1 - Cam Newton
The top two spots could have easily been flipped, but there may not be a player who has had a bigger impact on Carolina’s franchise than Superman. Drafted first overall in 2011, Newton was brought in to revitalize the franchise and lead the Panthers to a Super Bowl ring. He came close, getting Carolina there in 2015 while winning NFL MVP the same season. That game, though, is one that NFL pundits have used against Newton after the Panthers lost to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. That aside, Newton is known as the most prolific passer in Panthers’ history, amassing a franchise-best 3,980 yards and 182 passing touchdowns to go with 4,806 rushing yards and 58 more touchdowns. While with Carolina, Newton won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, the MVP in 2015 and was named to three Pro Bowls while being named a First-Team All-Pro in 2015.
Honorable Mentions: Trai Turner, drafted 3-92 in 2014; Shaq Thompson, drafted 1-25 in 2015; James Bradberry, drafted 2-62 in 2016; Curtis Samuel, drafted 2-40 in 2017; Donte Jackson, drafted 2-55 in 2018.