Ask Bryan: Raving about the rookies

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Overall, how do you feel our 2014 draft class turned out to be? – Nathan in Wilmington, N.C.

It's often difficult to fairly judge a draft class until a couple of seasons have passed, but early returns on the Panthers' most recent crop speak for themselves – especially when you add undrafted rookies to the equation.

First-round wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin made the spectacular look easy while setting franchise rookie records with 73 catches, 1,008 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns. His next step is cleaning up the simple stuff like drops and penalties.

The other four draft picks on the roster – defensive end Kony Ealy, guard Trai Turner, safety Tre Boston and cornerback Bene Benwikere - closed the season strong after their share of early struggles, most of them injury-related. The one member of the class no longer on the roster is sixth-round running back Tyler Gaffney. New England claimed Gaffney in training camp after the Panthers waived him with a knee injury to pick up running back Fozzy Whittaker, who went on to score arguably Carolina's most important touchdown of the season.

On the undrafted rookies front, Carolina appears to have struck gold. Guard Andrew Norwell and wide receiver Philly Brown were key cogs over the second half of the season, as was linebacker Adarius Glanton over the last month. Running back Darrin Reaves and cornerback Carrington Byndom also made contributions at different times during the season.

It all bodes well for the future.

Did guards Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell do enough to secure themselves starting spots next season? – Greg in Fairdale, W.Va.

Time will tell if that's the case, but they certainly made a strong case down the stretch. Turner, a third-round selection out of Louisiana State, started the final six regular season games and both playoff games at right guard after knee and ankle injuries sidelined him for three games. Injuries to Turner and Amini Silatolu initially opened the door for Norwell, undrafted out of Ohio State, to get some playing time. He ended up starting the final nine regular season games and both playoff games – 10 games at left guard and one at right guard.

Silatolu had been the Panthers' starting left guard when healthy since being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft, but he played in just 10 of a possible 35 games (including playoffs) over the last two seasons. The Panthers had planned to give him a look at right tackle at Minnesota in Week 13, but he re-aggravated a knee injury and didn't play the rest of the season. Want to hear what general manager Dave Gettleman thinks about the team's guard situation? Here's a deeper look courtesy of Panthers.com staff writer Max Henson.

WHAT'S NEXT?!?!?!? – Timothy in Havelock, N.C.

Timothy sent this my way a few minutes after NBC's coverage of the Super Bowl wrapped up, so I assume it has to do with already feeling the effects of football withdrawal.

A cure will be available in the fall, but until then you can manage your symptoms at Panthers.com. We'll continue to look back at some 2014 storylines for the next couple of weeks, then we'll turn our attention fully to the 2015 season starting with coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine and continuing with free agency, the NFL Annual Meeting, the offseason workout program, the NFL Draft, organized team activities and finally training camp.

Hang in there. I think you can make it to the other side.

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