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NFL Carolina Panthers

5 Carolina Panthers Who Mean The Most To The Team’s Future

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5 Carolina Panthers Who Mean The Most To The Team's Future

Carolina Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers finally made the leap from a .500 football team to division champs last season. How far will they go will be up to the front office now. The team is young and has the ability to make noise not only in their division but the NFL as a whole.

There are important decisions to be made this offseason as the Panthers try to figure out what to do with certain players and how to upgrade certain positions. Steve Smith is getting older and needs to be replaced soon. They need to find a second receiver to help Smith while he is still there and take pressure off of him. The running game needs to step up and produce to take more pressure off of Cam Newton.

When you start to win in the NFL you begin to realize that you now have a target on your back and must do whatever necessary to fight the hunters off. The first thing you have to do is retain the services of your most important free agents and then check the wire to see if anyone out there has what it takes to play on your team.

Ron Rivera just signed a new extension, but he has to prove that last season was no fluke. He was on his way out the door until they ran off eight straight wins. Now that his team has had some success we get to see if Rivera can sustain that momentum.

Here are my five Carolina Panthers who mean the most to the team's future.

Mark Wilson is a Brooklyn Nets writer for Follow him on Twitter , or add him to your network on Google

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5. Star Lotulelei

Carolina Panthers: Star Lotulelei
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Star Lotulelei didn't put up Pro Bowl numbers, but he doesn’t have to when he is surrounded by such greatness. He is a run stopper, and once he gets accustomed to the speed of the NFL he will anchor that line for years to come.

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4. Sean McDermott

Carolina Panthers: Sean McDermott
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Sean McDermott has molded, trained and then unleashed a young defense on the NFL, and the league is scared. As long as the players continue to buy into his approach this will be a tough defense for years to come. With great success comes opportunities. Will he leave for a head coaching position?

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3. Greg Hardy

Carolina Panthers: Greg Hardy
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Greg Hardy is young, athletic and a dominant player while still only 25-years-old. He reminds me of Julius Peppers when he was that age, and he has the potential to be even better. The Panthers have a decision to make regarding his contact, but the team can’t let a player like that walk out the door.

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2. Luke Kuechly

Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly
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Luke Kuechly might the best linebacker in the NFL and will only get better as time goes on. He is a great sideline to sideline player with good speed and tackling ability. He led the team in tackles for the second straight year and shows no sign of slowing down.

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1. Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton
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Cam Newton is the heart and soul of the Panthers. Where Newton goes so does the team. He has matured on and off the field while become a pretty decent pocket passer. With better weapons around him he will emerge as a candidate for MVP and reach elite quarterback status.