The powerful blocking of fullback Brad Hoover is one of the major reasons the Carolina Panthers had such a good run game between 2000 and 2009.
Now that the 2013 NFL Draft is over and we are being subjected to the agony of NFL offseason, I think it’s a good time to take a walk back through history and look at the top ten greatest players the Carolina Panthers have drafted. On Friday we profiled picks 10 through 6; today we pay homage to the Top Five.
The Top Five
Safety Mike Minter put fear in the heart of every offensive player he played against.
5. Brad Hoover (2000: undrafted)
Okay, so maybe I should have titled this piece “Top 10 greatest players who started with the Carolina Panthers.” Fullback Brad Hoover spent his entire career in Carolina, and he belongs on this list.
His rookie year he entered training camp as a running back because starter Tim Biakabutuka was injured; Hoover then moved to fullback when Biakabutuka returned. A decent running back, Hoover excelled at the fullback position because he was a great run blocker and a good reviving threat out of the backfield. In 2009 he became the only fullback in NFL history to block for two 1,100-yard rushers (Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams) in the same season.
4. Mike Minter (1997: 2nd round, 56th overall)
Mike Minter was a hard-hitting free safety opposing offenses feared. He was very good in coverage but was at his best when he could blitz and hit the quarterback or running back. Over the course of his career, he totaled 787 tackles, 12 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, and 17 interceptions.
Although no longer with the team, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad is still loved by every Carolina Panthers fan.
3. Muhsin Muhammad (1996: 2nd round, 46th overall)
Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad was a complete player; he could do it all. Although he didn’t have elite speed, he had great hands and ran crisp routes that helped him break off the big play from time to time. He was also physical at the line of scrimmage, making him a solid run blocker. “Moose” holds the record for longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history at 85 yards. He finished with 860 receptions, 11,438 receiving yards, and 62 touchdowns.
2. Julius Peppers (2002: 1st round, 2nd overall)
If there is one word to describe defensive end Julius Peppers, it is freak. There is a reason he has been called The Freak of Nature. He is one of the most — if not the most — athletically gifted players in the NFL. Not only can sack the quarterback, he can get his hands in the air and intercept the football. Now with the Chicago Bears, Peppers remains Carolina’s all-time sack leader with 81. To this point, Peppers has amassed 512 tackles, 111.5 sacks, 37 forced fumbles, and eight interceptions.
They don’t come tougher than The Freak of Nature himself, defensive end Julius Peppers.
And now for the all-time greatest Carolina Panthers draft pick!
Drumroll, please . . .
1. Steve Smith (2001: 3rd round, 74th overall)
Due to his diminutive stature, wide receiver Steve Smith was originally regarded as little more than a return man at best. He was a pretty good one at that; in the four years he returned kicks, he accumulated 4,069 return yards and six touchdowns. Smith always played with a chip on his shoulder, and in his prime was one of the most respected and prolific receivers in the NFL. His best season was 2005, when he lead the league in receptions (103), receiving yards, (1,563), and touchdowns (12). Even at his advanced age (he’ll be 34 this year), Smith remains an upper-echelon pass catcher. Steve Smith proved that smaller wide receivers can play outside and put up big numbers against No. 1 cornerbacks.
Steve Smith was shorter than the prototypical NFL wide receiver, but he could make teams pay, as the 2008 Green Bay Packers learned to their sorrow.