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Carolina Panthers: Ranking GM Dave Gettleman's Best Draft Picks

The Carolina Panthers have found a great deal of success in the NFL Draft the past three years with general manager Dave Gettleman running the show. Brandon Croce ranks his Top 5 draft picks based on value, or where they were drafted, and how they have played for the Panthers.

5. Kony Ealy

Drafted: 2014, 2nd Round

Career Stats: 44 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries

The Carolina Panthers selected Kony Ealy in 2014 and he saw his playing dramatically increase early in rookie season when Greg Hardy was suspended. He started off rather slow with only one sack through his first 12 games but finished the regular season with a sack in three straight games.

He was able to improve that his sophomore year with a stretch of five straight games with a sack but saved his best game of his career for the biggest, Super Bowl 50. Against the Denver Broncos, he finished with three sacks, one forced fumble and one interception.

The Panthers hope this is a sign of things to come as Ealy is expected to step into the starting lineup in place of the retired Jared Allen. If that happens, he is sure to move up these rankings.

4. Star Lotulelei

Drafted: 2013, 1st Round

Career Stats: 89 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Dave Gettleman's first draft choice, turned out to be his fourth best as Star Lotulelei fell to the Panthers when they were on the clock with the 14th overall pick. Since then, Lotulelei has become a fixture for this defense and was inserted to the starting lineup at defensive tackle almost immediately.

He had a great start to his career with 42 tackles and 3 sacks as a rookie but an injury riddled sophomore season slowed his production down. The injury lingered into this past season but after missing the first two games of the year, Lotulelei returned to form from his rookie year.

Lotulelei has become an excellent run defender and he was rewarded by the Panthers picking up his fifth-year option, keeping him with the team through the 2017 season.

3. Bene Benwikere

Drafted: 2014, 5th Round

Career Stats: 92 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries

Bene Benwikere was a fifth round draft pick by Dave Gettleman and is going to have an opportunity this offseason to earn the starting job opposite Josh Norman. This is a position that he held as a rookie and performed well down the stretch for this team in 2014. 

This past season though, the team decided to slide him inside and make him the primary nickelback for this defense, a position he once again played very well in. However, he was moved outside when Charles Tillman was injured but this did not last long as Benwikere suffered an injury of his own.

The permanent move outside should benefit the young cornerback as he can now focus on one position rather than bouncing between inside and out. He has become a big part of this secondary and was an excellent find in the later rounds of the NFL Draft.

2. Trai Turner

Drafted: 2014, 3rd round

Career Stats: 29 games played, 25 starts

Trai Turner didn't start his career as a starter but it was pretty close. He started his career rotating into the offensive line with Fernando Velasco before taking the position full-time Week 5 in 2014 and has been a fixture in this lineup since then.

The young right guard, along with Andrew Norwell at left guard, helped turn the performance of the offensive line around quickly. The Panthers' line went from one of the worst at the start of 2014 to one of the better ones in the league this year.

There is no reason to think that Turner will be giving up his spot in the offensive line anytime soon and is quickly making a name for himself as one of the better guards in the league, earning his first Pro Bowl selection this past season.

1. Kawann Short

Drafted: 2013, 2nd round

Career Stats: 125 tackles, 16 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries

The best draft pick Dave Gettleman has made comparing value and production has to be defensive tackle Kawann Short, who is coming off an incredible season with 11 sacks. He earned a number of awards including Pro Bowl selection, second-team All-Pro, two NFC Defensive Player of the Month awards and one NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

Short had a breakout year in 2015 and is expected to only improve on it in 2016. He is in an excellent position with talent around him in the form of Lotulelei, Ealy and Charles Johnson to create one-on-one match-ups that he wins more times than not. He is able to put steady pressure on the quarterback and get a hand in his face to force bad throws.

It is rather unusual to see a team take two defensive tackles in consecutive rounds, especially when it is your first and second round picks. The move certainly paid off though as the Panthers got two starters who are excelling at what they do.

The question now becomes will a player selected in less than two weeks make this list next year for the Carolina Panthers? Based on Dave Gettleman's track record, the chances are pretty good.

Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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