Newton was the NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2011 and has been to two Pro Bowls. Kuechly was the NFL defensive rookie of the year in 2012 and the NFL defensive player of the year in 2013. Lotulelei started all 16 games as a rookie last season and led the league in run stop percentage among defensive tackles.
You're supposed to hit on your first-round picks. Teams that do often build a foundation that promotes long-term success.
These three definitely were huge in Carolina's 12-4 record this past season.
But every team has its share of first-round busts, and the Panthers certainly have had their share. Some might argue quarterback Kerry Collins, the team's inaugural pick in 1995, was a bust because of his off-the-field issues, even though he led Carolina to the NFC Championship Game in his second season.
Beginning Tuesday, I'll look at Carolina's five worst draft picks. Except for today's pick, each was a first-rounder. But today's choice was the first player the Panthers picked that season.
Feel free to disagree and let me know your picks. After this, I'll look at the five best in team history.
But for now, let's start with the worst, beginning with No. 5.
Jimmy Clausen, quarterback, 2nd round, No. 48 overall in 2010: The Panthers drafted Clausen with the hope he could replace Jake Delhomme, easily the greatest quarterback in Carolina history. Many had the Notre Dame star pegged as a first-rounder, but amid speculation that his attitude was a detriment, he fell to the second round. He was considered a steal for the Panthers, who didn't have a first-round pick because in 2009 they traded their 2010 first-round pick to San Francisco to select Florida State defensive end Everette Brown in the second round at No. 43. Brown also became a bust, waived in 2011 after having six sacks in two seasons. That makes the Clausen pick look even worse.
Clausen was thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie after Matt Moore, who had six turnovers in two games, was benched following an 0-2 start. Clausen had three interceptions and fumbled three snaps in his first start. It went downhill from there. In 10 starts, Clausen threw three touchdowns and had nine interceptions. He had a rating of 58.4.
He spent the next two seasons as a backup. He was waived injured after the 2013 training camp. When no team picked him up, he went on Carolina's injured reserve list. He is now a free agent with no sign of being signed.