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The Panthers go get their guy Xavier Legette in the first round

Xavier Legette draft party

CHARLOTTE—Surrounded by family, friends and a good portion of the town of Mullins, South Carolina, Xavier Legette heard his name called and his dream realized.

"We're blessed to be in this position. My whole family, my whole city happy for me. I had to do this for them," Legette said late Thursday night. Or technically, early Friday morning, donned in a Panthers hat and smiling through every exclamation, promise and jubilant moment as the South Carolina receiver celebrated becoming a first-round draft pick.

The Carolina Panthers selected Legette with the 32nd overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft. The pick came after the Panthers traded with the Buffalo Bills to move into the first round and take the local Carolina product.

Xavier Legette draft party 2

The Panthers sent their 33rd and 141st pick to the Bills to move into the first round (along with acquiring the 200th overall pick). It became clear a move might happen, as a run on receivers kicked up Thursday night. Five pass catchers had already come off the board. By taking Legette in the first round, instead of waiting until the 33rd pick in the second round, the Panthers will now have a fifth-year option on Legette's rookie contract.

Legette spent five years with the Gamecocks, breaking out particularly in his final season. In 2023, he pulled in 71 receptions for 1,255 yards and seven touchdowns. This mark made Legette only the fifth receiver in Gamecocks history to surpass 1,000 yards, joining Sidney Rice, Alshon Jeffery, Pharoh Cooper, and Sterling Sharpe.

The receiver visited the Panthers on an official 30-visit and returned to Bank of America Stadium several more times during the draft process. Coaches have had an eye on him for months, and Legette said he started getting a feeling as far back as the Senior Bowl in late January, that he'd land in Charlotte.

"We had three days we had to meet with teams and each day I had to meet with the Panthers," Legette laughed telling the story. "That's when I realized ok they really want me. And then I just kept meeting me with them."

240130 Senior Bowl-09

The staff met with the receiver again at the Combine, then sent a large contingent to Columbia for South Carolina's Pro-Day in early March.

General manager Dan Morgan, in his first draft with the final say, had been notably coy about what the Panthers might want to do this weekend. This week, Coach Dave Canales was even careful to play off talk about Legette's multiple visits with the Panthers, hoping not to tip their hand.

At the end of the day, though, Legette fit what the Panthers want in Charlotte, and now the whole world knows.

"He was our target, we really liked him, and we went and got him," Morgan said.

Legette will come into a room that includes incumbent starter Adam Thielen, and newly acquired Diontae Johnson (brought in via a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers). The unit also returned Jonathan Mingo, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and added free agent David Moore. Yet receivers coach Rob Moore still needed a true down-field speed threat, something he now has with Legette.

Dave Canales was careful to temper expectations on Thursday night, lauding what Legette brings from a physicality standpoint, but reiterating that as a rookie, there would still be a learning curve. Legette embraces that challenge, and knows he's walking into a room with enough veteran experience from which he can learn.

"Just lean onto the older guys in the room, just to pick their brain as well. What tendencies do they use to be able to get open in this league," Legette said of what he hopes to learn from those ahead of him.

"And then I'm just watching film and study teams as well, just to see what's their flaw, what are the things that they lacking on? What are their weakness? Just so I could be able to know that, OK, going in this game, if I hit a certain move, that'll be able to put me open and put me in a better position."

The Panthers are also hoping Legette can bring his experience as a kickoff returner, and take advantage of the new kickoff rules being implemented this season in the NFL.

"That new rule man is, I feel like it's more easier for the returner. As long as I get a crease and a hole, I feel like I can outflank (anyone)," Legette said.

Coach Dave Canales joked on Wednesday that while he'd been out and about in Charlotte in recent weeks, fans had taken to coming up to him and asking for the club to draft Legette. Now the Panthers fan base gets their wish, with Legette heading slightly north to don the process blue.

View photos of South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Legette, drafted by Carolina in the first round of the 2024 draft.

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