With both San Diego and Carolina’s Week 17 games culminating in defeat, the Panthers find themselves with their first top ten pick since the franchise drafted Luke Kuechly in 2012. Carolina will find themselves with the eighth selection in the draft, the pick is even more tantalizing considering this draft is loaded with front end talent and future stars. With this considered, will the Panthers be able to find and an instant contributor at the back of the top ten? Let the recent history of these picks tell the story.
2010 NFL Draft, Pick #8: LB Rolando McClain
McCain was selected by the Oakland Raiders nearly seven years ago. Though his career has never matched his draft selection, he experienced a revival in 2014 and 2015 with the Dallas Cowboys. Though his career is currently at a standstill while serving multiple drug suspensions, the linebacker still has 407 tackles in his five-year career. Notable selections after McClain were Jason Pierre-Paul and Earl Thomas at the end of the top fifteen, both have become star players at their respective positions.
2011 NFL Draft, Pick #8: QB Jake Locker
In one of the most talented drafts of all time, the Tennessee Titans got a rare stinker with their first round selection. Out of the first sixteen selections in the draft, only a mere four have not made a Pro Bowl to this point in time. The subsequent pick saw the Dallas Cowboys draft arguably the best offensive tackle in the league in Tyron Smith while JJ Watt heard his named called for Pick #11.
2012 NFL Draft, Pick #8: QB Ryan Tannehill
Say what you want about Tannehill, but the former Texas A&M star has carved out a niche as an above average quarterback in this league. Perhaps more notable was the player selected directly after Tannehill in our very own Luke Kuechly. Hopefully our selection this year can turn out to be half the player Kuechly has become. Defensive stars Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox heard their names called at #11 and #12 respectively.
2013 NFL Draft, Pick #8: WR Tavon Austin
After an illustrious career at West Virginia, the diminutive receiver made his way into the top ten of the draft. Though he possesses great talent, he has never had the pieces around him to make a real impact on an NFL offense. Though the 2013 Draft was devoid of talent, Pro Bowlers such as Sheldon Richardson, Eric Reid, and Kyle Long were selected after the eighth pick in the draft.
2014 NFL Draft, Pick #8: CB Justin Gilbert
Much like the Titans in 2011, the Cleveland Browns managed to pick a bust in a relatively talented first round. The physically talented corner never made much noise for the Browns and was shipped to Pittsburgh for next to nothing. In Pittsburgh, he has only managed a few snaps and will have a hard time making the roster after this offseason. Four of the next five picks following Gilbert have made a Pro Bowl, and each can be considered top players at their position. The names Anthony Barr and Odell Beckham Jr. should speak for themselves, while Aaron Donald and Taylor Lewan are currently top four performers in their respective positions.
2015 NFL Draft, Pick #8: DE/OLB Vic Beasley
The Panthers’ NFC South rival hit it big with a great young talent in Vic Beasley with their 2015 first round selection. After a quiet rookie year, Beasley has exploded onto the scene to the tune of 15.5 sacks as a pass rush specialist. Though he is not a complete player yet, it can be assured the Panthers would love to have a young pass rusher of his potential. If the Panthers are looking for a future replacement for Jonathan Stewart, young star running backs in Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were found in the top fifteen picks.
2016 NFL Draft, Pick #8: OT Jack Conklin
In the most recent draft, the Titans uncovered a diamond in Jack Conklin. Pro Football Focus currently has him as the third best offensive tackle in the league playing while the right side as a rookie. The Panthers are unsure at both of their tackle spots and would absolutely love to have a player of Conklin’s ability protecting Cam Newton for years to come.
In Conclusion: Though the recent names to walk the stage at Pick #8 have been somewhat uninspiring, there has been plenty of talent in the picks directly afterward. in a very talented draft, the Panthers could find themselves in the midst of the Odell Beckham Jr, JJ Watt, Tyron Smith, and Luke Kuechly’s of the NFL. The backend of the top ten has held many star offensive lineman and edge rushers, two of the biggest needs for Carolina entering the offseason. Free agency will help to determine which position the Panthers will look to find with their first round pick, and hopefully, the board will fall in their favor. A small rush of quarterbacks will sweeten the pot a tad more for the Panthers. As fans, we can just hope whichever player Gettleman selects will be an instant contributor and one of the success stories to come out of the first round. The Panthers have hit on their last two top ten picks, and a fan such as myself can only hope this one turns out like the last two. Carolina has a long way to go in terms of trotting out an elite product on the field, but the eighth selection in this draft, whoever it may be, could turn the franchise’s fortunes into a favorable one.
By Grant Hughes