NFL News of March 30, 2003

The Carolina Panthers already have bagged a stud running back, a quarterback with potential, a couple of quality wide receivers, an offensive lineman and plenty of kudos for an off-season of intelligent maneuvering thus far.

Now it’s time to turn to the NFL Draft.

…Before they signed Stephen Davis, the need for a running back who could carry the load for an offense that features the running attack seemed obvious. But the 2003 draft is woefully thin on quality running-back prospects, which might have forced the Panthers to reach for something that wasn’t really there.

Before they signed Jake Delhomme, it looked to many as if the Panthers absolutely had to use one of their first two picks on a quarterback. Before they signed Kevin Dyson and Ricky Proehl, it looked to others as if they absolutely had to spend the first pick on a wide receiver. Before they signed guard Doug Brzezinski, it looked to still others as if they’d better go for the best offensive lineman they could find.

…Everyone knows the offense was awful last season, when it was rated 31st in a 32-team league. But it already has gotten better on paper. Now the draft needs to provide some players who can fit into the mix.

And who might that be?

It is a question the Panthers are continuing to figure out.

One mock draft has the Panthers taking quarterback Byron Leftwich of Marshall with the ninth pick. That would be nice if it happened -and Fox has said often in recent weeks that the Panthers will not rule out taking a quarterback despite the re-signing of Rodney Peete, last year’s starter, and the free-agent signing of Delhomme, who is expected to challenge Peete.

But in reality, Leftwich is likely to be long gone by the time the Panthers pick. He’s the second-rated quarterback behind Southern California’s Carson Palmer and probably won’t last past the first six selections.

The best fit for the Panthers would be wide receiver Charles Rogers, but most folks figure he won’t last past the top two or three picks. The Detroit Lions, picking second, would be foolish to pass on the local hero, who played at nearby Michigan State.

So who’s left?

Who will be there for the Panthers to choose from, assuming they hold at No. 9?

The next tier of top-flight prospects include wide receiver Andre Johnson from Miami (Fla.), defensive end Terrell Suggs of Arizona State, cornerback Terence Newman of Kansas State, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State, defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky, offensive tackle Jordan Gross of Utah, offensive tackle Kwame Harris of Stanford, defensive tackle William Joseph of Miami (Fla.) and cornerback Marcus Trufant of Washington State.

— Winston-Salem Journal “Draft is up next: What direction are the Panthers headed?”

The Panthers selected OT Jordan Gross 8th (moving from 9th after the Vikings infamously did not make their 7th overall pick in time, allowing the Jaguars and Panthers to move ahead of them). Gross has been selected for the Pro Bowl twice and remains with the team. The 2003 Panthers advanced to the Super Bowl, losing to the Patriots 32-29.

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