Carolina used last years draft to find key components for its' successful run in 2003 yet given the defections faced early in free agency the Panthers would need a solid draft this time around if they hoped to repeat as conference champs. Chris Gamble, the Panthers first choice, is for lack of a better word, a gamble. With ideal physical size and great athleticism, Gamble's natural skills warrant a top fifteen choice. Unfortunately inconsistent play and perceived laziness in terms of preparation paved the way for Gamble's freefall to the bottom of the first round. However, Carolina received great value with the twenty eighth selection and if he mentally matures Gamble should be a dominant corner for a long time. Keary Colbert was an afterthought at USC by most prognosticators. Even during his senior season Colbert was not widely regarded as a top wide receiver prospect given the depth at the position. Peaking at the right time, Colbert rose into a second round choice after being initially considered a fringe first-day selection. What Colbert lacks in speed he makes up for with hard work and disciplined fundamentals. An excellent blocker, Colbert fights to make the reception then displays sure hands once the pass comes to him. He should develop into an excellent complementary player across the field from Steve Smith. Carolina found itself needing to address depth on the offensive line; enter Travelle Wharton. Wharton, a left tackle inn college, may be best suited at guard or even strong side tackle. While he is not likely to be a starter as a rookie, Wharton could develop into a solid offensive lineman for the Panthers in a few years. Drew Carter is a fast receiver whose athletic abilities match his size. His biggest question mark is the ability to stay healthy as a torn knee ligament in 2003 forced him to miss the entire season and another recent tear could shelve his as a rookie in the NFL. Sean Tufts is a heady player best suited to defend the run. While he demonstrates athleticism on occasion it does not always show up in his game. He is a likely candidate for the practice squad until he can fully develop into a complete player. Michael Gaines has the physical skills needed to succeed in the NFL as he is a dominating blocker that does a nice job catching the ball. What he lacks is discipline off the field as his college career was marred by academic ineligibility. Should he dedicate himself to the classroom aspect of the game he could become a complete tight end and be a force for the team.
Carolina did a nice job finding talented players to replace free agent losses. Many of the players selected will not realize their full potential for a few years but all should be able to contribute as backups immediately. This draft may not help the Panthers in 2004 as much as they may hope yet could payoff in seasons to come and help solidify the franchise as a constant player in the NFC.