CHARLOTTE -- Although it looks as though Julius Peppers will be back with the Carolina Panthers for one more season, the team began the process of grooming his long-term replacement on Saturday.
The Panthers didn't trade Peppers, but they did make a huge move trading into the second round to select Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, a top-notch pass rusher who played prep ball at Beddingfield High in Wilson, N.C., with the 43rd overall pick. The Panthers came back 16 picks later and selected cornerback Sherrod Martin from Troy with the 59th selection, filling another major need on defense following the departure of Ken Lucas.
The Brown trade came at a steep price.
The Panthers traded away their first-round pick in 2010 to San Francisco, marking the second straight year they’ve surrendered their first-round pick in the following year’s draft. The Panthers did pick up the 49ers’ fourth-round pick this year, giving them five picks on Sunday.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney admitted the move was a calculated risk, but the team felt good about.
“Sure it is, every time you do it,” Hurney said. “But you do it for players you think can come in and help you right away. When you look at giving up next year’s first for a guy like Everette Brown, you have him for a year and he’s that much better in 2010 (with a year of NFL experience under his belt).”
Hurney said the Panthers had a first-round grade on Brown.
“I think he will get better every year but he does have the ability to come in and help us right away,” Hurney said. “It’s always hard. You do think about it. You only do it for the right player and we felt like he was the right player. And getting the fourth-rounder will help us.”
Ironically, Brown grew up about 30 miles from where Peppers was raised in Bailey and said he’s been a Panthers fan his whole life.
"If I had one team that I could have went to it would have been the Carolina Panthers," Brown said. "I didn't think I had a chance of playing for the Panthers. That is my hometown team and the team I grew up watching."
Brown grew up idolizing Peppers and now has a chance to play alongside him on Sundays, providing Peppers plays for them this season as the Panthers expect.
"When I was younger I used to go watch him play high school basketball and watch him run track and play football,” Brown said.
When asked what it would be like to play with Peppers, Brown said it hadn't sunk in yet but quickly added he’s looking forward to the experience.
"Coming out of high school I was going to follow in his footsteps and go to North Carolina and hopefully get picked by the Panthers," Brown said. "But I followed my heart and chose to go to a different college. But the opportunity to play on the opposite side of Peppers is great company to be with."
The Panthers had a first-round grade on Brown and began making calls to other teams early in the second round to try to get him.
The 6-foot-2, 256-pound Brown was a two-year starter who emerged as one of the elite pass rushers in the collegiate ranks as a junior. With NFL teams putting much more emphasis on speedy edge rushers, Brown felt it was the right time to forgo his senior season and applied for the 2009 NFL Draft.
In 25 starts the right defensive end registered 23 sacks, tying for fifth on the school career record list.
He is just the fifth player in Seminoles history to record more than 40 stops behind the line of scrimmage (46.5), moving ahead of Hall of Fame nose guard Ron Simmons (44, 1977-80) for second on the FSU all-time record list behind Darnell Dockett (65, 2000-03). Most of those totals came during his 2008 campaign, as his 13.5 sacks and 21.5 stops for loss both rank third on the school single-season record list.
“We thought that Everette Brown was one of the better pass rushers in this draft,” Hurney said. “He’s got all of the intangibles and is a very hard worker. He has a good first step and plays with good strength. I think he helps our pass rush immediately and will work in the rotation with the ends.”
As for Martin, he spent the majority of his career as a safety at Division-I Troy, but also spent time at cornerback which is where he’ll line up for the Panthers, Hurney said.
“He’s very explosive. He’s a tough kid and a hard hitter,” Hurney said. “Everybody at the school has great things to say about him and they have produced some great players. We think again that he can come in and be in the mix at corner. He has plays nickel before and safety and special teams. He’s just a very good player.”
Said Martin: “I’m athletic enough to play wherever they need me.”