Sports

Panthers Trade Up, Grab South Carolina’s Xavier Legette

Could the X-factor be just what this foundering franchise needs?

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After mortgaging the future of the franchise to take quarterback Bryce Young with the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers were left without a first round pick in this year’s draft – which kicked off last night in Detroit, Michigan.

Or so we thought …

Amid a run on wide receivers, the Panthers traded up one pick on Thursday night to choose former University of South Carolina standout Xavier Legette with the No. 32 overall selection. Carolina obtained the right to pick Legette by sending its second round (No. 33 overall) and fifth round (No. 141 overall) selections to the Buffalo Bills.

Legette, 23, was the seventh wide receiver chosen in the first round – tying a record set in 2004. By choosing Legette in the first round, Carolina secured the right to a fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

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“He was our target, we really liked him, and we went and got him,” Panthers’ first-year general manager Dan Morgan said. “”We love Xavier, not only as a person but as a player … he’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical. I think he has a lot of upside. We wanted to take that opportunity to go get our guy.”

A 6-foot-1, 221-pound native of Mullins, S.C., Legette had a monster year for the Gamecocks in 2023 – hauling in 71 passes for 1,255 yards and seven touchdowns. In school history, only Alshon Jeffery posted more yards in a single season than Legette. Jeffery went on to play nine seasons in the NFL – winning a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2017 season.

Legette is part of the latest franchise rebuild in Charlotte, N.C. after the Panthers hit rock bottom last season – their sixth under irascible owner David Tepper. Since Tepper purchased the Panthers in 2018, the team has posted an absolutely abysmal 31-68 (.313) record – failing to reach the playoffs or secure a winning season. Conversely, in the five years prior to Tepper buying the team, the Panthers went 54-31-1 (.621) – reaching the playoffs four times and making it to Super Bowl 50.

During his tenure, Tepper has fired three coaches, run off the best player in the league (Christian McCaffrey) and alienated half of his team’s fan base in the Carolinas. He’s also repeatedly shown his ass.

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RELATED | JADEVEON CLOWNEY COMES BACK TO CAROLINA

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Is Tepper finally figuring it out? In addition to bringing on Morgan, the Panthers hired offensive-minded Dave Canales as their head coach in January and immediately began working on upgrades to Young’s supporting cast.

Earlier this offseason, the franchise obtained wide receiver Diontae Johnson from the Pittsburgh Steelers – giving Young an experienced wideout who excels at shaking off defenders at the line of scrimmage and getting open on deep routes down the sidelines. Carolina also dropped $153 million to lock down former Miami guard Robert Hunt for five years and former Seattle guard Damien Lewis for four years – moves intended to bolster Young’s pass protection and give the Panthers a more robust rushing attack.

Young flopped as a rookie, completing only 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,877 yards. He threw just eleven touchdowns and had ten interceptions en route to an abysmal 73.7 passer rating. By contrast, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft – C.J. Stroud – completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 4,108 yards. Stroud threw 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions en route to a 100.8 passer rating.

Stroud also led his team to the divisional round of the playoffs in his rookie campaign.

While it remains to be seen whether the on-field product in Charlotte will be an upgrade over last season’s unmitigated debacle, it’s hard to imagine things getting any worse. Also, Tepper’s team has likely reclaimed some of the goodwill it lost with South Carolina fans after drafting Legette – and previously signing 2014 No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, a consensus first-team All-American during his three years at South Carolina.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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