Realistically, it's difficult to fairly grade an NFL team's draft until at least a couple of years after the fact, once the players have had an opportunity to establish themselves as contributors.
Realistically, though, no one is going to wait nearly that long.
So, without further ado, here's a look at several instant analyses of the Panthers' 2011 draft:
Joe Person - Charlotte ObserverGrade: C
The Panthers took a calculated risk by going after (Cam) Newton, who has the physical skills and upside to become a franchise quarterback. If he develops in Rob Chudzinski's offense, which features a lot of vertical stretch in the passing game, fans will look back and wonder what the debate was about. Coach Ron Rivera addressed the biggest defensive need by taking two space-clogging tackles in the third round. Terrell McClain and Sione Fua did not get many sacks in college but should help keep blockers off the linebackers. Cornerback Brandon Hogan (fourth round) and receiver Kealoha Pilares are coming off late-season knee injuries, and Hogan had several off-the-field incidents at West Virginia. Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, Newton's blind-side protector at Auburn, looks like a bargain in the seventh round.
Mel Kiper - ESPNGrade: C
The Panthers got a player I had rated as the No. 15 overall player on my Big Board with the No. 1 pick, a guy even Newton's personal quarterback coach says should be given at least a year to serve an apprenticeship at the NFL level. And yet, of course you have to be intrigued with the potential of Newton. No player in the draft has such an array of physical gifts, and Newton is drafted at No. 1 because the Panthers know he has an extremely high ceiling. So it might be tempting to say it all comes down to Newton, but you can't, because the Panthers really did address a few needs once they got their man. They needed help at defensive tackle, and added two of them early. They needed a wideout and a corner, and hit those picks later as well. The Panthers now have tough decisions to make at the quarterback position, the kind that could see them back drafting this high again next year, but they did some good things.
Nolan Nawrocki - Pro Football WeeklyGrade: B-
GM Marty Hurney has been one of the best in the draft at nailing first-round picks, but he took much more risk than usual with the selection of Cam Newton, forcing offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to redesign the offense and perhaps creating an unhealthy competition between two entitled quarterbacks in Newton and Jimmy Clausen. The decision to couple a new head coach (Ron Rivera) with a new franchise quarterback was logical, and Newton has potential to make a more immediate impact than any other quarterback in the draft, with the capability to become an impact performer. Hurney's decision ultimately will be judged by Newton's development and the sustainability of the spark he can bring to the offense. … DT Terrell McClain and CB Brandon Hogan both possess starting-caliber traits, but also came with some risk. For where they were drafted, the risk might well meet the reward. NT Sione Fua and WR Kealoha Pilares can become solid contributors. The Panthers have had a knack for adding OL depth late in the draft, and C-OG Zack Williams and OT Lee Ziemba have developmental potential. LB Lawrence Wilson could help on special teams. The Panthers addressed key needs, and Rivera's ability to deal with prima donnas makes the high risk that defines this draft more tolerable. However, for a team drafting so highly, the Panthers' draft was dangerously volatile.
Rob Rang - NFLDraftScout.comGrade: B-
The Panthers drafted eight players this year, but the success or failure of the first one will determine their final grade. With presumably no trade opportunities and no other players worthy of the No. 1 overall selection, the Panthers swung for the fences with Cam Newton as the top pick. There are certainly red flags with Newton, but as the NFL Draft proved - when only four Tigers were drafted (Newton, Nick Fairley and seventh-rounders Zach Clayton and Lee Ziemba) - Auburn's ride to the BCS Championship was largely based on Newton's astounding physical talents and poise despite mounting pressure on and off the field. In a division featuring Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman, the Panthers' only chance at success was to find their own franchise quarterback. Other than Newton, the Panthers added two underrated defensive tackles in Terrell McClain (South Florida) and Sione Fua (Stanford) in the third round. The club took advantage of its day three selections with talented (if troubled, injured) cornerback Brandon Hogan (West Virginia), playmaking wideout Kealoha Pilares (Hawaii) and an athletic, productive linebacker in Lawrence Wilson (Connecticut), among others.
Clifton Brown - Sporting NewsGrade: B
Taking Cam Newton was the right move for a team needing new direction. Terrell McClain and Sione Fua will help the defensive line.