After supremely gifted QB Cam Newton jump-started the offense last season, the Panthers have chosen a player who can make an immediate impact on their defense in the first round of Thursday’s draft.
Carolina selected LB Luke Kuechly with the ninth overall pick.
Some observers considered defensive tackle a bigger need for the Panthers, who were rumored to be seriously considering taking North Carolina DE Quinton Coples heading into the draft. Instead, they passed on all the top defensive linemen available — no D-lineman had been selected in the first eight picks. The fact that they passed on DT Fletcher Cox, who was selected 12th overall after the Eagles traded up to get him, was a clear indication of how strongly the Panthers felt about Kuechly.
The Boston College product was considered one of the safest picks in the draft. While he’s not the flashiest player, Kuechly has perennial Pro Bowl potential. He was extremely productive in college and has all the tools to become one of the league’s most prolific tacklers.
There will be questions about whether the Panthers will play him inside or outside, and what that will mean for returning starters Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and James Anderson, but Kuechly will immediately be a better option than Davis, who is coming off three ACL tears, or Anderson. He’s insurance in case Beason, who is coming off an Achilles tear, can’t go at the start of the season, but Kuechly is versatile enough to play any of the three LB positions and should start immediately.
Carolina’s defense set a franchise record for points allowed last season, and major improvement is needed on that side of the ball. Kuechly’s arrival makes the Panthers better for both the short and long term.