Throwback Thursday: The best draft class in Carolina Panthers history

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We’re about to enter the final stretch before that event at Radio City Music Hall in May but first, let’s take a look back at arguably the greatest draft in Carolina Panthers history: 2001.

2001: An NFL Odyssey was a fun year in the grand scheme of football history. LaDainian Tomlinson and Reggie Wayne joined the league. So too did Drew Brees and a little guy from Virginia Tech named Michael Vick. But it was also an amazing year for the Panthers. Here were their first three picks.

-No. 11 LB Dan Morgan (Miami)

Morgan, who’s currently the Assistant Director of Pro Personnel for the Seahawks made an impact from the start in Charlotte. In his rookie season, he started 11 games, grabbing 67 tackles, as well as a sack, fumble recovery, and an interception. The next year, a Morgan-involved defense that was ranked last in the NFL in ’01 moved up to second in the league in 2002, a jump that still seems shocking to this day. His biggest accomplishments though took place in the following two seasons when he helped the Panthers get to Super Bowl XXXVIII before reaching the Pro Bowl in 2004 with 101 tackles, 2 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

-No. 44 DT Kris Jenkins (Maryland)

Despite injury problems in his later years, Jenkins had phenomenal 2002 and 2003 seasons. In ’02, he finished with 44 tackles and 7 sacks, earning a Pro Bowl bid after replacing an injured Warren Sapp. Jenkins was a big part of the aforementioned Super Bowl run in ’03 when he had 48 tackles and 5 sacks. That year, he had one of his best games ever when the Panthers beat the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in overtime after Jenkins blocked not one but two kicks.

-No. 74 WR Steve Smith (Utah)

It seems silly now but many forget there were plenty of scouts who had their doubts about Smith, hence his third round availability. Their concerns? His height at 5-foot-9. At the time, that made sense. Now, it seems ridiculous. As we all know, Smitty would go on to have a legendary career in a Panthers uniform before his release earlier this year (link). Smith is a five-time Pro Bowler and the Panthers all-time leader in receptions (836), total touchdowns (69), and receiving yards (12,197).

Safe to say, if the Panthers can draft half as well this year, they should be in pretty good shape.