253 draft picks transformed the NFL in a matter of days. Around the League will examine the aftershocks by asking one post-draft burning question for all 32 teams.
The Carolina Panthers couldn't have hit a bigger home run in last year's draft. Armed with the top overall pick, they grabbed Cam Newton and watched the rookie quarterback transform their offense. The team went from scoring an NFL-worst 12.2 points per game in 2010 to 25.4 last season, tied for fifth best in the league.
Newton didn't do this alone, but he came close. Nobody wanted to deal with Carolina's offense by season's end, but the Panthers were made human by their defense.
We can't give Carolina a top grade in this draft because they failed to address the defensive tackle position, but there's no mistake about the first round: They hit it big with Luke Kuechly.
Just as Newton did at quarterback, Kuechly turns the linebacker position from a weakness into a strength, based on the health of Jon Beason.
Kuechly projects as a middle backer long-term, but will likely start on the weakside with Beason lined up inside. Kuechly is praised for his versatility and steady play; a smart defender who spoke to Panthers reporters about his love of preparation. He's mature, but said, "You can be a different person when you play. You don't have to be nice. You can change your mind-set a little bit."
"He's exactly what we thought he is," coach Ron Riveratold the team's official site after Friday's rookie minicamp. "He's an athletic, big guy that runs well, a very smart football player, very sharp. He handled things very well for us, and I'm pretty excited about what we got from him today. He's going to learn and grow within our defense, and we feel very confident about his abilities."
A nice touch here: Kuechly will wear No. 59, the same number Rivera wore during his playing days. Rivera confirmed Kuechly's under no pressure to mimic his coach on the field.
"There's no legacy for him to worry about there, so he'll be fine," Rivera said.
Our sense is that Kuechly will have no problem creating a legacy of his own in this league. More immediately, he represents an immediate upgrade on a defense crying for help.