The Panthers hired Scott Fitterer to replace former general manager Marty Hurney for a lot of reasons. To name a few, Hurney bungled the team’s quarterback situation, mismanaged the salary cap and didn’t have much luck finding true talents outside of the first round of the draft.
That last element is the most critical to success for any NFL executive. It’s not hard to find great players in round one, but those who have an eye for finding gems on Day 2 and Day 3 will give their teams a better chance to compete in the long run more often than not.
Fitterer comes to Carolina from Seattle, where he served in a number of front office roles over the last 20 years. For a time, no team in the league did a better job of hitting on mid-late round picks and undrafted free agents.
So, what can their history tell us about Fitterers draft plans for the Panthers? Let’s take a deep dive into a decade’s worth of theire draft classes and see what we can learn.
2011: Richard Sherman has entered the chat
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle 2011 draft picks No. 25: OT James Carpenter No. 75: G John Moffitt No. 99: LB K.J. Wright No. 107: WR Kris Durham No. 154: CB Richard Sherman No. 156: DB Mark LeGree No. 173: CB Byron Maxwell No. 205: DL Lazarius Levingston No. 242: LB Malcolm Smith Carpenter is still in the league 10 years later, which is about as impressive as it gets when it comes to offensive linemen that the Seahawks have drafted. He never became a star or a Pro Bowler but Carpenter has had a respectable-enough career in the NFL. Moffit flamed out quickly though, and that's much closer to the norm when it comes to Seattle linemen over the years. The studs here are of course K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman, who were two key pieces when the Seahawks had the best defensive unit in the league about four years in a row. Both are set to become free agents and are worth considering for the Panthers even though they're past their prime. To have three players in one draft class still around a decade later is impressive and Sherman might be the greatest draft value they got during their golden era.
2012: The Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin bonanza
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Seattle 2012 draft picks No. 15: DE/LB Bruce Irvin No. 47: LB Bobby Wagner No. 75: QB Russell Wilson No. 106: RB Robert Turbin No. 114: DT Jaye Howard No. 154: LB Korey Toomer No. 172: CB Jeremy Lane No. 181: DB Winston Guy No. 225: G/DT J.R. Sweezy No. 232: DE Greg Scruggs The Saints had a brilliant 2017 draft class that netted them several high-quality starters and helped make them the best regular-season team in the league the last few years. This draft class blows that one out of the water and might well be the best of this era. To find a future Hall of Fame quarterback and middle linebacker in the same class is practically unthinkable, but the Seahawks got that and more in 2012. Bruce Irvin was superb for a while and is still kicking around, as is Day 3 pick J.R. Sweezy. This group was the most instrumental in getting Seattle that championship ring and for keeping them competitive for a decade.
2013: Christine Michael could still be a thing
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle 2013 draft picks No. 62: RB Christine Michael No. 87: DT Jordan Hill No. 123: WR Chris Harper No. 137: DT Jesse Williams No. 138: DB Tharold Simon No. 158: TE Luke Willson No. 194: RB Spencer Ware No. 220: G Ryan Seymour No. 231: DE Ty Powell No. 241: DT Jared Smith No. 242: OT Michael Bowie This is when things started to go downhill as far as return on investment in the draft for Seattle. The only exception is Spencer Ware, who turned out to have a better career than the highly-touted Christine Michael. It's impossible to say exactly what was going on behind the scenes, but you can feel Pete Caroll's influence over the process growing here, given the multiple picks at running back when this team already had Marshawn Lynch in his prime and a strong backup in Robert Turbin behind him. That plus three interior defensive linemen doesn't make any more sense today than it did back in 2013. This was a bust class.
2014: Get P-Rich or die trying
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Seattle 2014 draft picks No. 45: WR Paul Richardson No. 64: OL Justin Britt No. 108: DE Cassius Marsh No. 123: WR Kevin Norwood No. 132: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis No. 172: DT Jimmy Staten No. 199: OL Garrett Scott No. 208: DB Eric Pinkins No. 227: FB Kiero Small At least this group was better than the class of 2013, but that's not saying much. Richardson has had a solid career for a WR2. After a few years with the Seahawks he went on to sign a five-year, $40 million deal with Washington. He didn't play last season though and to date he's still only caught 12 touchdown passes in the NFL. That's not terrible but also not a tremendous return for a second-rounder. It took several years but Britt eventually developed into a decent starter at center. However, he never came close to replacing Max Unger, who was sent away to New Orleans in the ill-conceived Jimmy Graham trade (more on that later). A couple other of these picks are still playing, but nobody has really moved the needle.
2015: Two big exceptions to the rule
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Seattle 2015 draft picks No. 63: DE Frank Clark No. 69: WR Tyler Lockett No. 130: G Terry Poole No. 134: G Mark Glowinski No. 170: CB Tye Smith No. 209: DE Obum Gwacham No. 214: DT Kristian Sokoli No. 248: DB Ryan Murphy After a couple of mediocre draft classes, the Seahawks finally got a couple of early picks right. Clark was a pass-rushing force from the get-go, racking up 32 sacks in the three seasons he was a starter for a loaded Seattle defensive line. He was eventually traded to Kansas City, where he remains one of the league's most potent edge defenders. The real find here was Lockett, who might be the most underrated receiver in the sport. The Seahawks gave up a lot of draft capital to get him (a third, fourth, fifth and sixth) but he's proven to be worth every bit of it. Lockett's insane skill, speed and connection with Russell Wilson makes him the leagues top deep threat outside of Tyreek Hill. The rest were a wash, but when you get two All-Star caliber players in one draft, you take it and don't look back.
2016: The slide begins in earnest
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Seattle 2016 draft picks No. 31: OL Germaine Ifedi No. 49: DT Jarran Reed No. 90: RB C.J. Prosise No. 94: TE Nick Vannett No. 97: G Rees Odhiambo No. 147: DT Quinton Jefferson No. 171: RB Alex Collins No. 215: C Joey Hunt No. 243: WR Kenny Lawler No. 247: RB Zac Brooks Somehow the Seahawks managed to pick three offensive line busts in this class, beginning with the terrible Ifedi, continuing with Odhiambo and finishing with Hunt. Two more wasted running back picks (Prosise, Collins) didn't help, either. The only saving grace here is Jarran Reed, who is at least still on the team and started every game in 2020. He posted 6.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits last year, bouncing back after a quiet 2019 campaign.
2017: Literally a car wreck
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press
Seattle 2017 draft picks No. 35: DT Malik McDowell No. 58: C Ethan Pocic No. 90: CB Shaq Griffin No 95: S Lano Hill No. 102: DT Nazair Jones No. 106: WR Amara Darboh No. 111: S Tedric Thompson No. 187: S Michael Tyson No. 210: OT Justin Senior No. 226: WR David Moore No. 249 RB Chris Carson Malik Mccdowell suffered an accident in a four-wheeler and never played a single snap in the NFL. There's nothing you can do about that, but it speaks to the bad luck this franchise has had in the draft in recent years. As for the rest, Pocic was another mediocre offensive line pick who looks like he won't be re-signed to a second contract. Griffin hasn't really developed into the kind of cover corner one expects in Seattle - he's allowed 15 touchdowns in coverage over the last three seasons. Carson was the rare exception of being a late-round find for the Seahwks after they won the Super Bowl. He's certainly been their best and most physical running back since Lynch left. If Carolina doesn't re-sign Mike Davis, Carson would be the best possible pickup in free agency to play behind Christian McCaffrey. Overall, this was another dismal return despite 11 picks.
2018: The run WILL be established
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle 2018 draft picks No. 27: RB Rashaad Penny No. 79: DT Rasheem Green No. 120: TE Will Dissly No. 141: OLB Shaquem Griffin No. 146: S Tre Flowers No. 149: P Michael Dickson No. 168: OT Jamarco Jones No. 186: LB Jacob Martin No. 220: QB Alex McGough This is when Pete Carroll's obsession with ball control really jumped the shark. Drafting Rashaad Penny that early was a bizarre choice from the get-go and to date he hasn't made an impact. So far, Penny has scored five rushing touchdowns and hasn't started a single game for the Seahawks. The best selection here may have come in the fifth round when they got Michael Dickson, who can do some special things with his leg. It's generally not a good thing when your best pick is a punter - especially when you can always get them as an undrafted free agent.
2019: The next Julio Jones?
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle 2019 draft picks No. 29: DL L.J. Collier No. 47: S Marquis Blair No. 64: WR D.K. Metcalf No. 88: LB Cody Barton No. 120: WR Gary Jennings Jr. No. 124: G Phil Haynes No. 132: S Ugo Amadi No. 142: LB Ben Burr-Kirven No. 204: RB Travis Homer No. 209: DT Demarcus Christmas No. 236: WR John Ursua It's still a bit early to judge this class. However, as of yet we haven't been impressed by anyone else in this class outside of No. 14. How Metcalf managed to slide to the end of the second round is a mystery - one that 31 other teams around the league will come to regret. His game is still relatively raw and he has some maturing to do, but Metcalf has all the physical tools to become the next Julio Jones, whose game he resembles in a lot of ways. There's not much to like, here. However, Metcalf alone gives this class a huge boost.
2020: You picked who?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle 2020 draft picks No. 27: LB Jordyn Brooks No. 48: DE Darrell Taylor No. 69: G Damien Lewis No. 133: TE Colby Parkinson No. 144: RB DeeJay Dallas No. 148: DE Alton Robinson No. 214: WR Freddie Swain No. 251: TE Stephen Sullivan The Brooks pick was a weird flex considering Seattle's roster needs and the modern game's emphasis on defensive backs and pass rushers. Brooks might eventually develop into a great defender but taking an off-ball linebacker at that spot who isn't known for his coverage was yet another head-scratcher by this front office. On the bright side, Damien Lewis had a strong rookie season for the Seahawks at guard. He's also about the only interior lineman they've drafted in a decade who's had a promising start to his career. The rest are yet-to-be-determined - including seventh-round pick Stephen Sullivan - who recently signed a futures contract with the Panthers.
Trend: Can't buy a good offensive lineman
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If you looked over these picks carefully - or just watched any Seahawks game over the last nine years - you already know that pass protection has been a big problem for this team. Since he was drafted Russell Wilson has been sacked 394 times - far more than any other quarterback in the NFL during that timespan. That's one of the reasons why Wilson has reportedly broached the subject of a trade. This failure has several fathers. A lot of the blame has to fall on the front office for making poor evaluations on OL prospects. It's also been a player development problem. Former offensive line coach Tom Cable has to take a lot of it, as does Wilson's instinct to stretch every play to its breaking point. That said, at the end of the day if Wilson had better offensive lineman in front of him he wouldn't have taken so much punishment. This one area is probably the most concerning as far as what Fitterer might bring to the table in Carolina. Hopefully he's learned from Seattle's failures, or will offer different ideas on how to scout and develop linemen.
Trend: Trading away first-round picks
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Another thing you may have noticed is that the Seahawks rarely were picking in the top 32 in the draft. Seattle made a habit of dealing away their first-round picks in order to get players they were in love with. Some of the famous big trades they've made over the years include Percy Harvin in 2013, Jimmy Graham in 2015 and Jamal Adams in 2020. Harvin was an exceptional athlete who at one time was one of the most dynamic playmakmers in the league. While he clashed with teammates and was soon traded away, Harvin did offer one huge play in their Super Bowl victory - an epic kickoff return touchdown to open the second half that destroyed any hope of a Broncos comeback. Still, if they could do it over we'd bet the Seahawks would take this one back. The Graham trade was much worse considering what Seattle gave up - their first-round pick that year on top of their best offensive lineman, starting center Max Unger. Since he left the unit has never fully recovered. Graham scored some touchdowns but he never really fit in or embraced the blocking part of the game that the Seahawks require from their tight ends. Graham left for Green Bay after three seasons. The Jamal Adams deal is still too fresh to judge fairly - but the Seahawks gave up a massive amount of draft capital for him which generally doesn't work out well. Adams has undeniably made Seattle's defense much better, though. The big takeaway here is that Seattle's decision-makers aren't afraid to go out and get a player they're in love with. That's a good instinct and hopefully one Fitterer will carry over with him.
Trend: Things going downhill after 2015
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It's hard tell just how much credit and/or blame Fitterer deserves for Seattle's drafts. Like the current situation in Carolina, the Seahawks front office has a unique power-sharing arrangement. Head coach Pete Carroll wields a lot of power, but general manager John Schneider has been sharing personnel decisions with him going back a long time. There have also been other key front office players - most notably Scot McCloughan, who might have been the true brains of the operation. Before McCloughan came to Seattle, he had a hand in building their most bitter rivals. As the 49ers' general manager from 2008-2009 he was instrumental in putting together the Jim Harbaugh-era Niners teams that gave us so many classic battles with the Seahawks. After San Francisco, McCloughan also helped build a dynasty-that-should-have-been in Seattle, then he also had a strong run with Washington from 2015-2016. Since McCloughan left town, the Seahawks' draft classes seemed to get weaker and weaker every year. While there have been occasional smash hits like Tyler Lockett, it's been a long time since they put together a truly impressive draft class. We don't know exactly how much influence McCloughan had over the process compared to Fitterer, Carroll or Schneider - but the downward trend after his exit is significant enough to think he was the party most responsible for their success in the draft.
Trend: Too much capital spent on running backs
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This was probably the most obvious takeaway from a glance at these draft classes. For whatever reason, the Seahawks seem to value running backs much more than the average NFL team even in an era when "running backs don't matter" is a common meme. From early busts like Christine Michael and Rashaad Penny to wasted mid-round picks like C.J. Prosise and DeeJay Dallas, Seattle seems willing to sink any pick at any time into another running back. It's also telling that the best of their backs didn't come via the draft - they acquired Marshawn Lynch in a trade with the Bills back in 2010. Now that he has his own team to run, Fitterer should ignore Pete Carroll's outdated ideas about controlling the ball and focus his picks elsewhere.
Trend: All of those long, lanky cornerbacks
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Fitterer will no doubt have some of his own ideas that will differ from the philosophy of Carroll and Schneider. The one thing we really can bank on his that he'll be looking for a certain type of cornerback. Richard Sherman was the prototype for the long, lanky cover corner that Seattle came to covet. Over the years, they brought in several more with a big wingspan, a physical mentality and a talent for pressing at the line of scrimmage. The Panthers desperately need more help at corner, as right now Donte Jackson is the only solid starter on the outside on the roster. They also play the same cover 3 that Seattle made famous, so we should expect to see some of the same physical characteristics in the cornerbacks Fitterer selects.
Trend: Loading up on the defensive line
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Another clear trend we see if the Seahawks' willingness to load up on defensive line picks even when they were seemingly well set up for that position group. At their peak, Seattle had an obscenely talented front that could get pressure with four rushers against anyone. It's been a long fall since, but they're starting to regroup with the underrated Poona Foord and the recent pickup of Carlos Dunlap. This is another theme we'd like to see Fitterer bring with him to Charlotte. Even though the Panthers are strong on the defensive line you can never have too many pass rushers in today's game. Adding quality young DL to the strong core of Brian Burns, Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos could turn this promising group into a real long-term strength.
Trend: A serious investment at linebacker
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Another position that the Seahawks have never been shy about investing in is linebacker. Taking Wright in the fourth round was a brilliant choice, as was selecting Wagner in the second. They've also gambled on other linebackers at almost every level of the draft throughout the years. It hasn't always worked out, but they clearly value this spot more than most. The game has rapidly changed over the last 10 years and linebackers are quickly becoming the most expendable players on the field. This is one area Fitterer should probably depart from his mentors on.
Trend: Finding rare gems at wide receiver
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Perhaps the most impressive thing the Seahawks have done over the years is find rare talents at the wide receiver position. While guys like Metcalf, Lockett and Richardson are well deserving of attention, it's notable that their greatest success was an undrafted free agent. There will never be another Steve Smith - but Doug Baldwin's combination of tenacity and talent is about as close as we'll ever see in this league. Injuries cut his career short but for a while he was as clutch as any receiver in the game. No other position is more critical success in today's NFL outside of quarterback. So, whatever Seattle has been cooking, fans should hope Fitterer wrote down the recipe.