How This Super Bowl Team Was Built
January 28, 2016
I am counting on the fact that most of my readers know that the Carolina Panthers beat Arizona last Sunday to win the NFC Championship. And that they are heading to the Super Bowl to meet the Denver Broncos. I will preview the matchup next week. This week, I want to educate you on just how the 2015 Panthers were built.
Let me start out with this. Did you know that Carolina began the season with the NFL’s second-oldest roster behind the Indianapolis Colts. The average age of the Panthers’ Week 1 roster was nearly 27 years old, and included an NFL-low seven rookies or first-year players. That number is even higher now as Carolina added three players 30 or over (DE Jared Allen, CB Cortland Finnegan and OL Fernando Velasco).
Having a “old” roster usually does not work in the NFL. Not these days anyway. But general manager Dave Gettleman has done an amazing job of securing talent. This, while making it known that the organization seeks “high-character guys.”
Gettleman ruffled some feathers early on, after he took over for Marty Hurney before the 2013 season. This is the guy who decided to cut Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams, the franchise’s all-time receiving and rushing leaders, respectively. Both had strong personalities and had clashed with teammates and/or the front office over the years.
Gettleman’s initial decision and many since have the Panthers in their second-ever Super Bowl. Let me finish by telling you how Carolina landed several key members on its 2015 roster.
The team’s inspirational leader has to be linebacker Thomas Davis. It started back in 2005 when the Panthers made him their first round choice. Davis is a vocal leader and is also a leader by example. How many NFL players do you know of have recovered from three ACL surgeries to make their first Pro Bowl in their 11th year in the league?
Greg Olsen, best trade in Panthers’ history
Another wily veteran is center Ryan Kalil. He was a second round pick in 2007 and has made five Pro Bowls.
Carolina also came up big with its first round pick in 2008. Runningback Jonathan Stewart is still going strong and had his best season ever in 2015.
The franchise quarterback arrived in 2011 when Cam Newton was taken with the first pick in the draft. It is not going to far out on a limb saying that the presumptive MVP winner put it all together his year.
And let’s not forget another 2011 acquisition in backup quarterback Derek Anderson. The free agent signee just seems to win games when needed to fill in for Newton.
Tight End Greg Olsen also arrived in 2011. Olsen was acquired via trade with Chicago. All it cost Carolina was a third round draft pick. Easily the best trade in team history.
The 2012 draft helped set up the team’s defense for years to come. Luke Kuechly was the Panthers’ first round pick that year and quickly became the top middle linebacker in the NFL.
Josh Norman was a fifth round steal in 2012. He is already a Pro Bowl cornerback that most teams try to avoid.
Kicker Graham Gano was a free agent signee in 2012. His 146 points this season set a team record.
Fullback Mike Tolbert was also a 2012 free agent signee. He was voted to his second Pro Bowl this season.
Mario Addison was a low profile free agent signee in 2012. The defensive end was second on the team with six sacks.
Gettleman began drafting in 2013 and his picks contributed immediately.
He drafted a pair of defensive tackles in Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. Short was a second round pick who has superstar written all over him. Lotulelei is a consistent performer who has been overshadowed by Short.
The 2014 draft netted Kelvin Benjamin. I still find it hard to believe that Carolina has only lost one game since Benjamin, a talented wide receiver, suffered his preseason knee injury. He would have put up monster numbers with Cam this season.
Gettleman struck gold with his third round pick in 2014. Guard Trai Turner is already a Pro Bowl selection.
Roman Harper was one of the “old” and “high character” additions to the team in 2014. He is one of only three Panthers with a Super Bowl ring. You know his experience will be useful between now and Super Bowl 50.
Another guy seemingly not wanted by anyone in 2014 was Jerricho Cotchery. He has Super Bowl experience from his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The wideout does not post big numbers but sure does come up with big catches.
The 2015 draft brought the franchise wide receiver Devin Funchess in the second round. Funchess has improved dramatically and his productivity has been needed due to Benjamin’s injury.
Gettleman’s top free agent signing heading into the season has to be safety Kurt Coleman. The unrestricted free agent from Kansas City had a team-high seven interceptions during the regular season.
A close second in free agent additions is Michael Oher. You remember him from the movie ‘Blind Side,” right? Well, he protects Newton’s blind side and his arrival coincides with Newton’s coming out party.
Another free agent in 2015 is Ted Ginn. No one in the league thought Ginn would catch 10 regular season touchdowns. Most thought he was just a kick returner.
There you have it. The primary players on the Super Bowl favorites Carolina Panthers.