Like Seattle, Panthers find undrafted gems

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
1:00
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The World Champion Seattle Seahawks don't have much of an advantage over the Carolina Panthers when it comes to undrafted players.

Much was made prior to Sunday's Super Bowl blowout about how smart the Seahawks were in building the team, because they had 19 undrafted players, including five starters.

Well, the Panthers had 16, or 30.1 percent of their final 53-man roster. Seven -- offensive tackle Byron Bell, outside linebacker Chase Blackburn, guard Nate Chandler, defensive tackle Colin Cole, strong safety Quintin Mikell, fullback Mike Tolbert, and cornerback Melvin White -- were starters.

Add to that, defensive end Mario Addison started two games and safety Robert Lester started four.

Blackburn
And don't forget placekicker Graham Gano, long snapper J.J. Jansen, and linebacker Jordan Senn all were key contributors on special teams.

In the salary-cap era, finding diamonds in the rough has become more important than ever. It allows teams to fill the roster with solid role players -- some that become stars -- and give high-dollar contracts to key impact players.

It's why the next few months are important as teams evaluate players leading into the draft. Quarterback Cam Newton, for example, was the only player from Carolina's 2011 draft class on this year's final roster. Two players that were undrafted in 2011 were among the 53.

The Panthers didn't discover all 16 of their undrafted players, but they saw the value in each when building their roster.

Here's a closer look, and their contributions to this year's 12-5 record:

DE Mario Addison: Undrafted rookie by Chicago 2011

Comment: Started two games when Charles Johnson was out with an injury. Finished the season with 21 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

OT Byron Bell: Undrafted rookie by Carolina in 2011

Comment: Started 14 games at right tackle. Helped anchor the line for an offense that averaged 126.6 yards rushing per game.

LB Chase Blackburn: Undrafted rookie by N.Y. Giants 2005

Comment: Much of Carolina's success came after Blackburn was made the weakside starter over Jon Beason, who was traded to the New York Giants. Blackburn started seven games and was key to the team ranking second in the NFL in stopping the run. A foot injury sidelined him for three games.

TE Richie Brockel: Undrafted rookie by San Diego in 2010

Comment: Used as part of Carolina's jumbo package.

OG Nate Chandler: Undrafted rookie by Carolina in 2012

Comment: A former defensive tackle, he became a pleasant surprise when he took over the starting right guard position after Chris Scott suffered a knee injury in the eighth game. Chandler kept the job when Scott was ready to return.

DT Colin Cole: Undrafted rookie by Minnesota in 2003

Comment: Started 13 games at defensive tackle after missing nearly two full seasons after being cut by Seattle prior to the 2011 season. His veteran leadership and run-stopping ability was key.

C Brian Folkerts: Undrafted rookie by New Orleans 2012

Comment: Backup to Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil.

PK Graham Gano: Undrafted rookie by Baltimore in 2009

Comment: Had the league's highest touchback percentage (79.7) and converted 24 of 27 field goal attempts, including all six from 50-plus yards.

DE Wes Horton: Undrafted rookie by Carolina in 2013

Comment: Had two sacks as a backup end.

LS J.J. Jansen: Undrafted rookie by Green Bay in 2008

Comment: A coach's selection to the Pro Bowl.

SS Robert Lester: Undrafted rookie by Carolina in 2013

Comment: Elevated from the practice squad after Week 2 because of injuries and started four games. Had three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

SS Quintin Mikell: Undrafted rookie by Philadelphia in 2003

Comment: Started 13 games. Finished sixth on the team in tackles with 62. Also had two fumble recoveries.

LB Jordan Senn: Undrafted rookie by Indianapolis in 2008

Comment: One of the leaders on special teams.

FB Mike Tolbert: Undrafted rookie by San Diego in 2008

Comment: Selected to his first Pro Bowl. Rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns, the most by a Carolina running back. Also caught 27 passes for 184 yards and two scores. A key to the offense because of his ability to play fullback, running back and H-back.

CB Melvin White: Undrafted rookie by Carolina in 2013

Comment: Started 11 games at left cornerback. Finished eighth on the team with 45 tackles. Had two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown that was key to Carolina winning the NFC South in the season finale at Atlanta.

TE Brandon Williams, Undrafted by Carolina in 2013

Comment: Was discovered in one of the NFL's nine regional combines.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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