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Thursday, July 3, 2008
Greatest Panther Ever?

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Just read an item in the Charlotte Observer in which former co-worker Scott Fowler selects the two greatest Carolina Panthers of all time. He comes up with two answers based on class and production, and I agree with both of his choices.

He lists linebacker Sam Mills as the classiest Carolina player ever. I didn't get to Charlotte in time to cover Mills' career as a player, but he was working as an assistant coach and still making a huge impact on the entire organization. The guy was nothing but class right up through the final days of his brutal battle with cancer. Let's take it a little further in this category. I'll go with former Carolina quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who took on the role of team spokesman during the Rae Carruth saga, at No. 2 and former linebacker Dan Morgan third. I'll round out the top five with Mike Rucker and Mike Minter.

Fowler's other category is based solely on production and the easy winner there is receiver Steve Smith. Just like Rucker and Minter wouldn't get a lot of consideration for greatest player based solely on production, Smith probably wouldn't stand a chance in the class category. His behavior has been boorish at times and he's nicknamed "The Little Monster'' by the Carolina media.

But that's not important because we're basing this on what Smith has done on the field and nobody's done more for the Panthers than he has. He could end up being the team's first Hall of Famer. Former tight end Wesley Walls would be my No. 2 because he was very good for a long time. No. 3 will draw some argument because this guy was never very popular or appreciated by fans, but when Kris Jenkins was taking care of himself and before he hit a couple of major injuries, he was the best defensive tackle in the league. Go back and look up his Pro Bowl appearances. Quarterback Jake Delhomme, who's better than a lot of people give him credit for, is No. 4. Five is a tough call because there are probably four or five guys for whom you could make a case.

So I'm going to make this category a top 10 and put running back Stephen Davis at No. 5. He had only one great year with Carolina, but it happened to be the 2003 season when Davis carried the Panthers to their only Super Bowl appearance.

No. 6 is a guy who is going to rise into the top five before all is said and done. That's Jordan Gross. He's spent his entire career bouncing between right and left tackle and has done a solid job all along. Ordinarily I wouldn't count kickers in something like this. But given the team's short existence, John Kasay qualifies. Aside from a couple of injuries, he's been Carolina's kicker since the team started in 1995. He's made some clutch kicks and if it wasn't for that shanked kickoff in the Super Bowl loss to New England, Kasay might rank better than No. 7.

I only saw cornerback Eric Davis near the end of his time with the Panthers, but I heard enough about his previous seasons to feel comfortable placing him at No. 8. At No. 9, I'll go with No. 90 -- Julius Peppers. Yep, it's easy to be done with Peppers after a horrible 2007 season and that probably cost him between two to eight spots on this list. If Peppers bounces back with double-digit sacks this year, he'll jump right back into the top five. The final spot is tough and guys like Minter and Rucker at least deserve some thought because the talent pool is getting very thin. But I'm going to go with the only player from the class list who makes the production list. Put Beuerlein at No. 10. He ushered the team through some tough times after the Kerry Collins fiasco and was a rock during the crazy tenure of coach George Seifert.

If I'm putting together an all-time Panthers team, Delhomme's the starting quarterback. But I'd fight like heck to make sure Beuerlein was No. 2. He was a natural leader and Beuerlein never got enough credit for having a surprisingly strong arm.

Got some down time coming up -- we'll do a similar take for the other three NFC South teams before training camps start.