Panthers Draft Review: 03-05

DRAFT BREAKDOWN -- Three-year breakdown: How the Panthers have done in the draft since 2003.

Total picks: 24
2005 Starters: 4
2005 Backups: 12
Other teams: 2
Out of NFL: 3
Injured Reserve/PUP: 3

OVERALL

After strong drafts in 2001 and 2002, the Panthers haven't gotten as much out of the draft as they'd like over the past three seasons. At least not yet. Some of these guys are still considered works in progress. But the fact remains only four players from those years were regular starters last year for the Panthers - right tackle Jordan Gross, cornerback Chris Gamble, wide receiver Keary Colbert and left tackle Travelle Wharton.

However, the Panthers do expect last year's first-round draft pick Thomas Davis to step in and start this season, while 2005 second-round pick running back Eric Shelton could be an integral part of the offense after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. Also, safety Colin Branch could return to the starting lineup after spending last season on IR if the team is unable to re-sign Marlon McCree.

The Panthers also like linebacker Adam Seward, a fifth-round draft pick from last year, who likewise ended up on IR. There's a chance he could step in and start this year if Will Witherspoon winds up with another team. Wide receiver Drew Carter, a fifth-round gamble in 2004, showed great potential late last season and could displace Colbert as the starting receiver. Also, Ricky Manning, a restricted free agent, is the team's nickel back, although he may garner interest in the free agent market.

BEST PICK: OT Jordan Gross, 2003 (first round, 54th overall): It's hard to argue that Gross, a three-year starter who has yet to miss a game, hasn't been the best draft pick. Still, Gross hasn't been to the Pro Bowl and isn't talked about with the elite offensive linemen in the league, so there's still room for improvement. He also struggled giving up sacks in the second half of the 2005 season.

WORST PICK: OG Bruce Nelson, 2003 (first round, 12th overall): He only played in one game for the Panthers because of chronic hip problems and was forced to retire last summer after operations on both hips.

2005 TOP DRAFT PICKS

1 (14) Thomas Davis, S/LB: The Panthers expect him to step in and start either at safety or outside linebacker after a learning year in 2005. Davis struggled early on picking up the defensive scheme in training camp (that's partially the team's fault because they kept moving him back and forth between two positions) and was benched in Week 1, never to regain his starting job. He still has excellent potential, and great speed.

2 (54) Eric Shelton, RB: Was very disappointing last summer, unable to pick up defensive fronts. He also ran too upright and was placed on IR despite having what amounted to a one-month injury. He has bulked up, but has a chance to be the team's short-yardage back or perhaps even more if the team loses transition player DeShaun Foster.

3 (79) Evan Mathis, OG: Was a backup guard last season, but didn't play much at all. He will likely step in and start if the team loses guard Tutan Reyes in free agency, as expected.

3 (89) Atiyyah Ellison, DT: A terrible waste of a pick after the team worked hard to trade up to get him. He was the highest drafted player cut last year in camp. Still, he was later re-signed and has been brought back as an exclusive rights free agent.

4 (121) Stefan LeFors, QB: Spent last season as No. 3 quarterback, so the jury is still out on him. Could be elevated to No. 2 if unrestricted free agent Chris Weinke signs elsewhere.

5 (149) Adam Seward, LB: The team likes the way he plays and he's one of those guys who is always around the ball. Spent the second part of last season on IR, but will see some action this year at linebacker and on special teams. Could even have a chance to start at linebacker.

5 (169) Geoff Hangartner, C: Was the team's backup center last year, but barely played at all. Still, he's the heir apparent to Jeff Mitchell, an unrestricted free agent who probably won't re-sign with Carolina.

5 (171) Ben Emanuel, S: Cut last year in training camp.

6 (189) Jovan Haye, DE: Didn't play much last year, but has some potential as a pass rusher.

6 (207) Joe Berger, OT: Cut last year in training camp and later claimed by the Miami Dolphins.

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