CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers have had some bad individual draft picks in recent years, and one truly awful class. The popular perception that the team is horrible on draft day doesn't exactly hold up.
Only seven teams in the NFL had more of their own draft picks on the opening day roster last year than the Panthers, and only six teams had drafted more of their own starters.
It's a bit of a surprise to see the numbers, for a team excoriated for wasting second- and third-rounders in recent years on useless players such as Eric Shelton, Atiyyah Ellison and Rashad Butler. But the Panthers have made up ground by not burning first-round picks, and improving their fortunes the last two years with more contributors coming from the annual selection meeting.
"You try to judge yourself by where you stand, compared to the other 31 teams," general manager Marty Hurney said.
Jacksonville's opening day 53-man roster in 2007 featured 33 of its own picks, most in the league. Perennial winners Indianapolis and San Diego were next with 32, Baltimore had 31, and Cincinnati, San Francisco and Tennessee had 30. The Panthers' 29 tied with another pair of perceived draft geniuses, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
The 14 starters the Panthers picked stacks up favorably.
The Colts, Eagles and Steelers had 16 each, and Arizona, Cincinnati and the New York Jets had 15 picks in the opening weekend starting lineup.
Washington had the fewest (14), while Denver's six drafted starters were the league-low.
The correlation between keeping your own picks on the field and winning is strong.
Of the top 12 teams in the NFL in wins since 2002 (the Panthers are tied for 10th at 51-45), eight were also among the top 12 in draft picks on last year's opening day roster.
New England's a statistical outlier, with just 24 picks on their opening week 53-man roster. That's the result of having a number of veteran free agent backups and making some big trades, although they had a healthy 14 starters come from the drafts. The Patriots also aren't without their own head-scratchers, such as second-round receiver busts Bethel Johnson (2003) and Chad Jackson (2006), and disappointing third-round safety Guss Scott (2004).
Every team misses, but hitting enough picks to keep your roster in balance is the key.
That Panthers have made structural changes to their draft staff is also significant when analyzing their draft record, since the changes came after the disastrous 2005 class. Former college scouting director Tony Softli was marginalized in 2006 before he left for St. Louis, and last year's draft (from which all eight picks were on the roster at one point) was the first with new head scout Don Gregory.