The Carolina Panthers have a great history of selecting top players in the NFL draft. Since 2001, the Panther’s No. 1 draft picks have been solid players such as Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, DeAngelo Williams, Cam Newton, and Luke Kuechly. All of those players, except for Peppers, are still with the Panthers and considered to be some of the best at their respective positions.
In 2009 and 2010, the Panthers did not have a first-round draft pick. However, the following draft in 2011, the Panthers selected Newton with the first overall pick. In his first season, he set the NFL record for rookies with 4,000-plus passing yards, 500-plus rushing yards and over 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season. Newton accomplished so much during his first year that was rewarded with the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year awards.
The following season, the Panthers drafted Kuechly ninth overall. He had a fantastic rookie season leading the league in total tackles and received the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He was a force to be reckoned with and after one season he was considered one of the best at his position. For his second season, the Panthers awarded him with the team captain title for the defense.
But would all of that prior success continue with the 2013 draft? In short, yes.
This past NFL draft, the Panthers selected defensive tackle Star Lotulelei out of Utah. After week three, Lotulelei has made his presence felt on the defense. Even if he doesn’t make the tackle or get the sack, he is heavily pressuring the quarterback or taking up offensive linemen so his teammates can make the tackle. In three weeks, he has recorded nine tackles and one sack. He has worked overtime at practice and caught the attention of coaches and the respect of his teammates. If he can remain healthy, he will be a huge aspect to the Panthers’ defense.
Another rookie that stepped up for the Panthers was Robert Lester. He was signed from the Panthers practice squad after Charles Godfrey sustained an injury in week two keeping him out for the rest of the season. With a young and inexperienced secondary, the New York Giants were expected to have a great passing game against the Panthers. However, Lester stepped up in the safety position recording five tackles and the only interception for the Panthers. It was a solid first game for him considering he helped keep Giants wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to a combined 25 total yards.
The Panthers will need both Lotulelei and Lester to step up and mature as the season continues. Expect these two players to see much playing time and make great defensive plays that will impact the outcome of a game.