One of the oldest NFL cliches is that good teams "build through the draft."
If that is the case the 2012 Carolina Panthers should be good. Really, really good.
ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas recently released his projected 2012 Carolina Panthers starting lineup and it features a very heavy dose of players the Panthers have drafted, developed, and now hope to see dominate. Here are the Panthers projected starters along with the team, round, and year each player was drafted. Players selected for the Pro Bowl are denoted with an asterisk (*).
Projected Offensive Starers
QB - Cam Newton (Carolina, 1st Round, 2011)
RB's - DeAngelo Williams* (Carolina, 1st Round, 2006) and Jonathan Stewart (Carolina, 1st Round, 2008)
WR's - Steve Smith* (Carolina, 3rd Round, 2001) and Brandon LaFell (Carolina, 3rd Round, 2010)
TE - Greg Olsen (Chicago, 1st Round, 2007)
T's - Jordan Gross* (Carolina, 1st Round, 2003) and Jeff Otah (Carolina, 1st Round, 2008)
G's - Mike Pollak (Indianapolis, 2nd Round, 2008) and Geoff Hangartner (Carolina, 5th Round, 2005)
C - Ryan Kalil* (Carolina, 2nd Round, 2007)
The 2012 Carolina offense will likely feature nine players who were originally drafted by the Panthers with the exceptions being TE Greg Olsen (Chicago) and G Mike Pollak (Indianapolis). While Pollak was a productive starter for the Colts he will likely be in a battle for the starting position with the Panthers' 2012 second round draft pick, Amini Silatolu.
Four of the Panthers home-grown starters have been voted to the Pro Bowl - Williams, Smith, Gross, and Kalil. Cam Newton, the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, was added to the 2011 Pro Bowl as a substitute filling in for Eli Manning who was playing in the Super Bowl. If Cam Newton continues to progress, he should make multiple Pro Bowls throughout his career.
While Jonathan Stewart has not been voted to a Pro Bowl he has been among the most productive NFL running backs in recent years. According to pro-football-reference.com, in 2009 Stewart finished ninth in both rushing yards (1,133) and touchdowns (10). Stewart's 4.8 career yards-per-carry is sixth-best among active NFL players and 37th on the NFL's all-time list.
Projected Defensive Starters
DE's - Charles Johnson (Carolina, 3rd Round, 2007) and Greg Hardy (Carolina, 6th Round, 2010)
DT's - Ron Edwards (Buffalo, 3rd Round, 2001) and Terrell McClain (Carolina, 3rd Round, 2011)
MLB - Jon Beason* (Carolina, 1st Round, 2007)
OLB's - Thomas Davis (Carolina, 1st Round, 2005) and Luke Kuechly (Carolina, 1st Round, 2012)
CB's - Chris Gamble (Carolina, 1st Round, 2004) and Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina, 7th Round, 2009)
S's - Charles Godfrey (Carolina, 3rd Round, 2008) and Sherrod Martin (Carolina, 2nd Round, 2009)
10 of the 11 projected Carolina Panthers defensive starters were originally drafted by the team.
True, the Panthers defense was abysmal last year, but much of that was due to injuries to starters Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Ron Edwards, and Terrell McClain. This group of home-grown defensive players should dramatically improve if the unit can remain healthy in 2012.
Though Jon Beason is the only Pro Bowler among the group, most of the Panthers starters have been productive throughout their careers.
CB Chris Gamble's 13 combined interceptions in 2004 and 2005 were second most in the NFL during that two-year span. Gamble's 27 career interceptions are 15th among active NFL players. From a run-stopping perspective, Chris Gamble led all NFL CB's in solo tackles with 83 in 2008.
Surprisingly, Charles Godfrey has emerged as one of the statistically better safeties in the NFL. Godfrey finished 10th in the NFL in interceptions in 2010, but it is his tackling that has been extremely impressive. Over the last two seasons (2010 and 2011), Charles Godfrey's combined 131 solo tackles are 13th among NFL safeties, placing Godfrey ahead of perennial Pro Bowlers Adrian Wilson (124 solo tackles) and Troy Polamolu (115).
The Carolina Panthers will likely feature 19 of 22 starters who were originally drafted and home-grown by the franchise. Eight of these starters were drafted in the first round while 16 of Carolina's starters were drafted in the first three rounds by the Panthers.
The Carolina Panthers have undoubtedly been building through the draft.
As a Panthers fan, I hope they will be building something special in 2012.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Panthers fan. More from this author:
Carolina Panthers Draft Day Disasters: 2009-2010