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NFL Carolina Panthers

5 Greatest Carolina Panthers First-Round Picks

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5 Greatest Carolina Panthers First-Round Picks

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Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

The Carolina Panthers have had a lot of success in the NFL Draft since entering the league in 1995, especially in the first round. Kerry Collins, the first ever Panther to be drafted, took the team to its first NFC championship game in only the team's second year in 1996, setting the team up for excellence ever since. The Panthers have chosen and fostered a number of stars in first round in its history, all stemming from that first pick or Collins, and those players have turned a simple expansion team into a contender in one of the league's toughest divisions.

The Panthers have had much greater success in the first round than in any other round, with a stark contrast in talent received versus expectations. Some later round picks have been straight up busts, such as Dwayne Jarrett, Armanti Edwards or Terrell McClain, but some stars have emerged as well, such as All-Pros Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad and Ryan Kalil. The first round has been up and down as well with players like Rae Carruth and Tshimanga Biakabutuka severely underacheiving and other emerging as stars such as Dan Morgan or Chris Gamble.

The Panthers most recent first round picks have been stellar so far and have become the nucleus of the team, and have a chance to win a third consecutive rookie Rookie of the Year award if Star Lutulelei can continue his dominance. There have been a few first-rounders, however, who have shined above the rest for the Panthers, carving their path not only into Panthers lore, but possibly into the Hall of Fame as well.

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5. Cam Newton

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton hasn't been in the league very long, but he has already made a significant impact. The Heisman Trophy winner and the Panthers only ever first overall pick has lived up to the hype and then some, in a sense, by winning the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. While he has shattered numerous records and changed the landscape of the NFL with his versatility and athleticism, he still has failed to post a winning season. It's not all Newton's fault, the Panthers haven't surrounded him with the best talent, but hopefully he can improve, puts some wins on the board and move up this list.

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4. Luke Kuechly

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Kuechly will be much, much higher on this list by the time his career is over, but the fact that he is on this list after only one season should tell you how special he is. Kuechly has looked like the premature reincarnation of Brian Urlacher so far is his career, winning the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading the league in tackles last year. Kuechly has complete altered the Panthers defense since entering the league, with his unreal play recognition ability and hard-hitting style striking fear into the hearts of players and coordinators alike.

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3. DeAngelo Williams

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Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries and shared carries with Jonathan Stewart have hurt Williams' career résumé, but despite his setbacks he is clearly the best running back in Panthers history. His 5,784 rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns are the best in franchise history by a large margin, and his 4.9 career yards-per-carry is one of the best in NFL history. Williams has also been very careful with the ball, only fumbling ten times in 99 career games. Williams is one the best back in Panthers history, and may be become one of the best in league history if he can stay healthy.

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2. Jordan Gross

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Left tackles have risen to the second most important position in football with the rise of the passing game and the importance of the quarterback, and the Panthers got a great one in Gross. The two-time Pro Bowler has been the anchor of the offensive line for a long time, from back when Double Trouble was tearing it up to the current Panthers fueled by offensive dynamo Cam Newton. Gross may not have the best stats, or many stats at all for that matter, but he has been one of the most solid Panthers of all time.

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1. Julius Peppers

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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Peppers was an extremely talented prospect coming out of North Carolina in 2002, and he was well worth the hype. He is an extremely athletic defender who excels in the pass rush and stuffs the run as well, and can also make plays in coverage from time to time. Peppers is the Panthers all time leader in sacks with 81 and he is also an eight-time Pro Bowler. Even though he left Carolina prematurely, Peppers is possibly the greatest defender in Panthers history, and possibly one of the best defensive ends in NFL history.