The Carolina Panthers, as well as their fans, probably thought they came out of the 2021 NFL draft with a franchise-altering type of class. And, quite frankly, how could you not hope for that with a franchise-record 11 picks?
Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the case—at least not yet.
The first-year reviews for the 2021 draft classes are in at ESPN and the Panthers have settled in at No. 18 in their overall rankings.
“Carolina’s rookie class produced at a middling level in 2021. No rookie stood out, while few performed well below expectation, and first-round pick Jaycee Horn missing most of the season didn’t help,” notes the collaborative piece between the worldwide leader and Pro Football Focus. “Wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. actually ended up as their least-valuable rookie for the season, per PFF WAR, which would have been a surprise to some in the offseason.”
Marshall Jr.’s startling lack of production was a surprise indeed considering the preseason hype garnered by Carolina’s second-rounder. The LSU wideout—who went for 181 receiving yards and a touchdown over three exhibition outings—amassed just 138 yards with no scores over 13 regular-season games.
On the other side of the spectrum, running back Chuba Hubbard ended up leading the team in rushing in the absence of Christian McCaffrey. The fourth-rounder took 172 attempts for 612 yards and five end-zone visits.
But regardless of the underwhelming numbers as a whole, the Panthers should still be of the thought that they have a handful of keepers out of this group.
On offense, Brady Christensen showed he could hold his own at left tackle while Tommy Tremble and Shi Smith flashed some signs of promise. On defense, eighth overall pick Jaycee Horn shined before succumbing to a season-ending foot injury in Week 3, fellow cornerback Keith Taylor Jr. proved to be a fifth-round bargain and defensive linemen Daviyon Nixon and Phil Hoskins were able to work their ways into a crowded trench.
So while they didn’t really put the league on notice in their rookie campaigns, there’s still plenty of time for this talented bunch to make an imprint. Patience, young grasshoppers.