While the needs vary each year, the NFL Draft brings hope and optimism to every single franchise. Many view this hope as being for the fortunes of the franchise and in a lot of ways they are correct. New faces to the organization can spark championship dreams. But there is another kind of hope that needs to be discussed. The hope is that player lives up to the standards set before him by those who once stood in his shoes for the franchise. This year, the Carolina Panthers drafted Bryce Young, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Alabama. Let's take a look at their history with the position and the standards that have already been set.
The Panthers began with Kerry Collins under center. Standing 6'5" and weighing 247, he was built well for the punishment most quarterbacks of expansion teams endure. While he wasn't great in 1995, he did lead the team to a 7-6 record. The following year, the Panthers shocked the NFL by reaching the NFC Championship Game. Their quarterback did quite well too, throwing for 2,454 yards and 14 touchdowns while being invited to his first Pro Bowl. The following year was a disaster as he led the league with 21 interceptions and within two years was out of Carolina.
From there, the franchise went through some lean years as they tried to find their quarterback. Steve Beuerlein, Chris Weinke and Rodney Pete all competed for the starting spot, but in the end, it was a little-known free agent named Jake Delhomme that claimed the coveted spot.
Though he had never started a game until that year, his 3,219 yards and 19 touchdowns were enough to lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Even though the Panthers would fall to the Patriots, America was stunned to see how well Jake Delhomme played under the lights, passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns. But it was more than mere statistics that drew the audience to its feet. They were in awe when he launched an 85-yard bomb to Muhsin Muhammad and were left to ponder what the future held for the sudden star.
Like any good opportunist, he took victory from defeat and became the established starter that the Panthers craved. Despite the team missing out on the playoffs in 2004 (a common practice by Super Bowl losers), Jake Dehlome passed for 3,886 yards and 29 touchdowns. He didn't make the Pro Bowl that year but did make it the following year when he passed for 3,421 yards and 24 touchdowns as the team made the playoffs, losing to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.
Jake Delhomme led the Panthers to the playoffs three years later, earning the second seed in the playoffs, but lost to the Cardinals in the Divisional Round after he coughed up five interceptions on his birthday. Two years later, Delhomme was out of Carolina and the Panthers posted a league-worst 2-14 record, giving them the first pick in the draft.
The Panthers used that pick to select Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy-winning phenom from Auburn. Newton was electric as a rookie, throwing for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 706 yards and another 14 touchdowns, a league record for quarterbacks. Even though the Panthers had a long way to go before becoming a winning organization, he easily earned the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award and his first invitation to the Pro Bowl.
The next few years saw Cam Newton and his teammates grow as both individuals and as a team. They made the playoffs in 2013 as the second seed but were bounced by the 49ers. In 2014, they made the playoffs despite having a losing record, thanks to a weak division. Late in the year, Newton got in a car accident that could have ended his career.
Ultimately, Cam Newton's fractured back didn't cost him his career, but it served as a major wake-up call that fueled him for the season ahead. Inspired by his wake-up call, Cam Newton led the Panthers to a 15-1 record in 2015 while throwing for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns while scoring another 10 on the ground. As he led his team to Super Bowl 50, Newton earned his third Pro Bowl invitation, was named an All-Pro for the only time in his career and earned the league MVP.
Yes, Cam Newton looked as good as advertised when he was picked number-one overall just four years earlier. but success is fleeting, often there for a moment. Humility wins every time. All of the Panther's hopes and dreams came to a halt in Super Bowl 50 as they lost to the Broncos. What's more, Cam Newton looked mortal for one of the few times all season. After that chilly February night in 2016, Cam Newton's career slowly wound down and by 2020 he was a Patriot.
The Panthers have been trying to find his successor ever since. Beginning in 2019 (Newton was hurt for much of that year, but was still technically a Panther), the Panthers have started Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater and Baker Mayfield. While Sam Darnold briefly found his groove late in 2022, it was too little, too late as the Panthers lost the division title to the Buccaneers.
Now the Panthers have drafted Bryce Young. Another savior. Can he pull the Panthers out of the league's cellar? Only time will tell.