Before we get into what's behind door number 10, I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has been reading my advent calendar pieces. I've been having a blast writing them and the nostalgia involved has been incredible. Today though I'm probably going to cause some debate as I go through a Top 10 List. This is just my list though and I'm probably open to change if anyone would like to convince me. I've swapped and changed this order so much already though I'm not sure I even agree with it, but here goes.
The Carolina Panthers Top 10 Round 1 Draft Picks
First things first, I'm just going to give an honorable mention to Kelvin Benjamin. He doesn't make my list as he is just too new. If he comes back from injury and performs to a similar or better level I sincerely hope he goes on to feature highly in any future rankings I do.
10 Star Lotulelei - DT - 2013 NFL Draft - Pick 14 Overall
Star is my man. A beast at stopping the run. His addition saw us go from 14th in run defense to 2nd in his rookie season. Having missed the opening two games this year he has come back with a bang recovering a key fumble against the Bucs in week 4, and a sack on Aaron Rodgers. Star, like Benjamin, is another who I believe has the potential to shoot higher up on this list, but must settle for 10th for now.
9 Chris Gamble - CB - 2004 NFL Draft - Pick 28 Overall
His career started a little bit before my time but I caught the back end of it. He was the first rookie to start all 16 games for the Panthers, grabbed himself a franchise rookie record with 6 interceptions, which ranked him third in the NFL. His consistent performances earned him a huge contract as one of the highest paid defensive backs in the league. He still holds two franchise records - most passes defended (94) and most career interceptions (27).
8 Jonathan Stewart - RB - 2008 NFL Draft - Pick 13 Overall
Unlucky for some but not for the Carolina Panthers. Stewart formed a formidable partnership with DeAngelo Williams, earning themselves the 'Double Trouble' nickname. He rushed for 10 touchdowns in each of his opening two years and broke 1000 yards in his second. Injury help him back for a couple of years but he is making up for it this year. The Panthers are the league's third ranked rushing side, and Stewart is third in yards with 914 and 5 TD's.
7) Jon Beason - LB - 2007 NFL Draft - Pick 25 Overall
Beason led the team in tackles for his first three years and only missed out by 9 to James Anderson in his fourth. This was despite a voluntary move to outside linebacker to replace injured Thomas Davis, even out of position he ended up heading to the Pro Bowl. Beason had been dominant but an achilles injury allowed Luke Kuechly in and it was always going to be difficult from there.
6 Julius Peppers - LB - 2002 NFL Draft - Pick 2 Overall
Some of you may disagree with him being on this list seeing as it ended so sourly. Though others (I'm looking at you Tony Dunn) would have him higher up on their list. Think what you want, Peppers was incredible. In 8 season in Carolina he recorded 6 double digit sack years and over 300 tackles. He still has his name in the Panthers history books too, with the most sacks in franchise history (81), most forced fumbles (30), and his 97 yard interception return against the Broncos remains our longest.
5 DeAngelo Williams - RB - 2006 NFL Draft - Pick 27 Overall
The other half of double trouble. It was a shame to see Williams go in the off-season. He has represented the Panthers for 9 seasons giving nothing but commitment, passion, and production. I do,, however, believe the timing was correct for both parties to say goodbye. Williams seamlessly took over from DeShaun Foster recording 700+ yards in all but three of his seasons. One was his rookie year (501 yards) and he was injured for the other two, playing in just six games in each. He holds 7 franchise records including most rushing yards, most rushing touchdowns, longest rushing attempt, and most rushing touchdowns in a game with 4.
4 Jordan Gross - DT - 2003 NFL Draft - Pick 8 Overall
Boy did we miss his when he retired. He started his rookie season at right tackle and didn't miss a single offensive play, giving up just three sacks in the process. A solid member of a forever changing offensive line, Gross wound up being franchise tagged for the 2008-09 season. He earned a Pro Bowl spot and signed a new deal making him one of the league's highest paid offensive linemen. His retirement in 2014 stung a little and we are still looking for a replacement. At least we still have This Is Gross.
3 Luke Kuechly - LB - 2012 NFL Draft - Pick 9 Overall
Need I explain more? What a player, he really does seem to just be everywhere. So far he has combined for 554 tackles, with 347 solo. He has 7 sacks, 34 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 3 fumbles recovered and 10 interceptions. This year he missed some time with concussion but who can forget him picking off Tony Romo, returning it for a touchdown and then picking him off again on the very next pass. The chants of LUUUKE every time he makes a tackle (even in road games) tell you just how good and how popular Kuechly is.
2 Thomas Davis - LB - 2005 NFL Draft - Pick 14 Overall
The 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year is a leader, a role model, a shining example, and an inspiration to all. 3 times in 3 years he tore his ACL and three times he swore to return. Nobody had done it before, but look at him now. Since his return he and Kuechly have developed one of the leagues most dominant defenses and he has put up some monster numbers. I think I like him so much because he also seems so genuine. Taking the team friendly restructure in 2012 proves how much he cares for this organisation and how much he wants to succeed here. Here's to you TD.
1 Cameron Newton - QB - 2011 NFL Draft - Pick 1 Overall
OK so this was maybe a little bit of an obvious choice. If I'm perfectly honest, the top three could be in any order and I'd be happy. Cam was one of the key reasons why I, as a unknowing Brit, decided the support the Panthers. I believe I made the correct choice and my love now runs so much deeper, but what a place to start. He seems to break a new franchise or even NFL record every time he takes to the field. He has an amazing confidence which breathes confidence into the players around him and causes everyone around him to play better than you believe they truly are. He has to be favorite for CaMVP this year and deservedly so. Most recently against the Saints I was nervous when then went ahead late in the fourth. I then saw Cams face, remarkably he was smirking. It was like he had planned it all along, he knew he could take up all the time, get the score, and win the game. I believe in this man as a leader, I believe he can take us a long way. And because of this belief, he is my favorite first round pick of the Carolina Panthers.
Hit me up on twitter (@danrawly) or in the comments section below, share your top ten, let me know your thoughts, agreements, even your arguments against. Did I miss anyone out?
By Dan Rawlinson