The Carolina Panthers organization had reached the proverbial fork in the road coming into the 2008 NFL Draft. After advancing to at least the NFC Championship Game in two out of three years between 2003-2005, Carolina had missed the playoffs two straight seasons. Another bad season could’ve spelled the end for general manager Marty Hurney and head coach John Fox. How would they respond?
Jonathan Stewart: The former Duck had his best two years in the pros his first two seasons, rushing for 10 touchdowns in both 2008 and 2009. 2009 was his only season where he rushed for over 1000 yards. Not coincidentally, it was also the only year he surpassed 200 rush attempts. He only missed two games his first four seasons, but has played in just 15 games the last two seasons. Despite his vast potential, he has never really emerged as a top-flight ball carrier, only starting 20 of 77 career games.
Jeff Otah: The Pitt Panther only missed 5 games his first two seasons in the league, and looked like he would soon become one of the best tackles in the game. Unfortunately, his career would be derailed by injuries. He missed the 2010 season, and only appeared in four games in 2011. Hurney, likely feeling the pressure of two straight non-playoff seasons, traded their 2009 first round pick to select him, which makes this an even more devastating selection.
Charles Godfrey: The former Hawkeye safety has been a valuable contributor since being drafted in the third round. He has started 74 of 75 career games, only missing seven games prior to 2013 before missing 14 last season. His best season was 2010 when he recorded five interceptions; eight passes defended and 83 total tackles. His future may be in doubt with Carolina, but this was a quality selection.
Dan Connor: The product of Linebacker U (Penn State) has never been able to get his footing in the NFL, once again continuing with the theme of injuries. He missed 22 games in four seasons with the Panthers. Since he has bounced around, playing in Dallas in 2012 and the Giants in 2013. Between Connor, Dan Morgan, and Jon Beason, Carolina fans should really appreciate linebacker Luke Kuechly’s durability so far.
Gary Barnidge: The tight end failed to ever make an impact receiving in Carolina, only catching 18 passes in five seasons. Was better as a blocker. After five seasons in Carolina, he joined the Browns in 2013, catching two touchdowns amongst their carousel of quarterbacks.
Nick Hayden: The Wisconsin defensive tackle started 13 games in three seasons with the Panthers, appearing in 26. However, not all starts are created equal. Hayden is a quality rotation player, but only really started because of injuries and lack of depth at defensive tackle. He recorded two sacks and 51 tackles for the Panthers. He started all 16 games in 2013 for the Cowboys league-worst defense after only appearing in two games for the Bengals in 2011 and not playing the NFL in 2012.
Hilee Taylor: Like Julius Peppers he was a homegrown defensive end, and played at UNC. That’s pretty much where the comparisons end. Taylor never came anywhere close to the impact that Peppers did. He lasted two seasons, recording one sack and five total tackles in 16 career games in minimal action.
Geoff Schwartz: The versatile offensive lineman played in Carolina for three years after missing his rookie year. From 09-11 he started in 19 games and appeared in 32. The last two seasons he has been part of surprise runs to the playoffs for Minnesota in 2012 and Kansas City in 2013, and joined the Giants this offseason. Another example of a good offensive linemen drafted by the Panthers who found success elsewhere.
Mackenzy Bernadeau: The Bentley College offensive guard played three seasons in Carolina, from 09-11, before going to the Cowboys. During his time as a Panther he only missed one game, starting in 20 games. Like Hayden though, Bernadeau never was truly a starting caliber player.
Grade for the class: D+ The found no great players in this draft, only a couple of guys have really contributed significantly. It’s a shame since had Stewart/Otah/Connor stayed healthy, this would probably go down as one of the Panthers’ best draft classes ever. Unfortunately because of injury, most of the picks didn’t last long in Carolina. Between Stewart and Otah’s play in 2008 helping lead the Panthers to an elite rushing squad and a 12-4 record, this draft probably saved Fox and Hurney’s jobs for a couple years. However, the lack of long-term production from the class also contributed in Fox and Hurney’s eventual firings.