Panthers 2005 Draft: Hit and Miss so far

Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. For the better part of four years, the Panthers have done well in the draft, getting several starters and key role players. For now, at least, it seems that the 2005 draft class might be somewhat of a disappointment.

Sure, it's early, and anyone that makes a snap judgment before these newly drafted players get a chance to show their wares is being foolish. But when you cut 4 of your 10 draft picks (including a third-rounder), place a second round pick on IR for the season, and are unsure of where to play your first round pick, you've got issues.

The Panthers took safety/linebacker Thomas Davis in the first round, and started him out at safety during mini camps. Davis started as the second-string strong safety, then moved to linebacker a week into camp, then finally moved back to strong safety after Colin Branch was lost for the year with a torn MCL and ACL. Davis will start at strong safety, at least initially, but Panthers Defensive Coordinator Mike Trogovac thinks Davis will eventually end up at linebacker.

Second round pick Eric Shelton came in with great expectations amid the uncertainty of Stephen Davis' recovery from microfracture surgery, but ironically it was his own injury that would keep the rookie out for his entire first season. Coaches said Shelton was having a hard time adjusting to the pro game, and it showed on the field. He showed flashes of talent, but also hadn't caught on to many of the Panthers' pass protection schemes either. In the third quarter of the preseason finale against Pittsburgh, Shelton was hit hard on his first carry, fumbled the ball and limped off the field with what was thought to be a knee contusion. As it turned out, it wasn't the knee that took the worst of it; it was his foot. Even Shelton didn't know it was broken – he re-entered the game later on and had a couple of nice runs. It wasn't until the next morning that he knew something was wrong.

"He had a ding in the game (versus Pittsburgh)," Coach Fox said on Saturday. "We thought it was a knee. The next day he woke up, and his foot was hurting. It's basically a broken foot. It's going to take an extended amount of time (to heal), so we put him on injured reserve."

General Manager Marty Hurney expounded a little bit more on Shelton's situation.

"He apparently hurt the foot on the same play he hurt his knee," said Hurney. "He showed a lot of toughness going back and playing with it. It's similar to what Mike Minter did in the Super Bowl. Mike came back and wore a cast for a month and then a walking boot for two weeks. It's probably something that's going to take him a couple months to come back from. Obviously, he was very disappointed. He wants to get out and play, and we would have liked to have seen that as well. It's something that he didn't realize he had done. He was focused on the knee. He woke up Friday morning and couldn't walk on it. He was put in a boot yesterday and got X-rays and an MRI and met with the doctors this morning. So we made the decision to put him on injured reserve."

The Panthers lost their second-rounder to injury, but lost one of their third-rounders by choice.

Atiyyah Ellison, the defensive tackle out of Missouri whom the Panthers traded up to pick, was a disappointment through preseason and was cut on Saturday.

"Obviously, you don't like cutting a third-round draft choice," Hurney said of cutting Ellison. "The flip side of that is that Jovan Haye, a sixth-round draft choice, made it on the defensive line. Overall, we had 10 picks, and six made the 53-man roster with one on injured reserve. When you can add six players to the 53-man roster, that's still a pretty good number as far as infusion of youth. You'd like your third-round draft pick to make the team, but it came down to a decision of keeping nine defensive linemen, and Jovan played very well. Special teams always comes into play. Atiyyah's going to be a very good player, so it's disappointing. But again, the flip side is that Haye made it as a sixth-round pick."

Earlier in the third round of the 2005 draft, the Panthers took versatile offensive lineman Evan Mathis from Alabama. Mathis showed his versatility throughout camp, lining up at nearly every position during the course of camp. Primarily a guard, Mathis ended up playing the bulk of the Pittsburgh game at left tackle after John Doty left the game with a concussion. With Tutan Reyes being a free agent after the season, Mathis is a prime candidate to take over the right guard spot upon Reyes' departure.

The Panthers seemed to nab a keeper in the 4th round, although his value might not be realized until several years down the road. Stefan LeFors, the fiery QB out of Louisville completed 189-of-257 passes for 2,596 yards, 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions during his senior year with the Cardinals. He had the highest passing percentage in the nation with 73.5 percent. The Baton Rouge native had a good preseason, throwing 4 touchdowns and 1 interception in limited action. He'll likely be the inactive QB on the team behind Jake Delhomme and Chris Weinke, but should be the #2 guy going into the 2006 season.

In the fifth round, the Panthers took linebacker Adam Seward, center Geoff Hangartner and safety Ben Emanuel. Seward and Hangartner impressed the staff enough to make the team, but Emanuel was behind 3 experienced players and the teams' first round pick, and really didn't have a chance to show his skills.

DE Jovan Haye and OL Joe Berger were the Panthers' 6th round picks. Although Berger was impressive, the numbers wouldn't allow the Panthers to keep him on the roster. Haye was impressive throughout camp and could be a productive player in the defensive line rotation. Haye visably outplayed third-round pick Ellison throughout preseason. While Ellison was getting pushed around, Haye was making plays and hustling. Last week, in the preseason finale against Pittsburgh, the Panthers caused a fumble that ended up being a 45-yard gain for the Steelers. William Hampton and Marlon McCree ran after the play and tried to corral it like a loose chicken. Eventually it was recovered by the Steelers, but right behind Hampton and McCree was Jovan Haye, the 6-2, 289 lb defensive end. It was plays like that one that secured a spot for Haye on the 53 man roster.

The Panthers only have 5 of their 10 draft picks on the active roster, including only half of their first day picks. Only one of them, Thomas Davis, figures to be an immediate starter, however Mathis is the top backup at both Guard positions.

It's early, but already it seems that the Panthers had a disappointing draft. Only time will tell for certain.

Recent Panther Drafts:

2004
1 Chris Gamble - Starter
2 Keary Colbert - Starter
3 Travelle Wharton - Starter
5 Drew Carter - Reserve
6 Sean Tufts – Recently cut
7 Michael Gaines – Reserve

2003
1 Jordan Gross - Starter
2 Bruce Nelson – Cut due to injury
3 Mike Seidman – Top Reserve
3 Ricky Manning – Nickel Cornerback
4 Colin Branch – Starting SS/IR due to injury
5 Kindal Moorehead – Top Reserve
7 Walter Young – No longer with team
7 Casey Moore – No longer with team

2002
1 Julius Peppers – Starter, All Pro
2 DeShaun Foster – Top Reserve/Starter
3 Will Witherspoon - Starter
4 Dante Wesley - Reserve
5 Randy Fasani – No longer with team
5 Kyle Johnson – No longer with team
6 Keith Heinrich – No longer with team
7 Pete Campion – No longer with team
7 Brad Franklin – No longer with team

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