Recently, I discussed the benefits that recruiting players who don't need to be de-recruited has played for our player development. If you want to see a testament to how well our coaches are doing in the development department, look no further than this year's NFL Draft. All seven of our players who were drafted could be considered players who beat expectations, other than perhaps DeVonte Holloman and Marcus Lattimore.
The poster-child for player development in the group has to be Justice Cunningham. As this year's Mr. Irrelevant, Cunningham hardly enters the league as a sure-fire star. However, the fact that he got this far is quite a feat. Cunningham was rated a two-star prospect by Rivals back in 2009, and Clemson's Billy Napier infamously said that Cunningham was the kind of player Clemson was glad to see go to Carolina. Cunningham improved every year, though, evolving from a primarily blocking TE to a more versatile player who played a big role in our passing offense in his senior season. He may be Mr. Irrelevant, but many formerly highly rated TEs would love to be in his shoes right now.
T.J. Johnson was another player who exceeded modest expectations by making a long-term contribution and making his way into the draft against the odds. Ace Sanders, Devin Taylor, and D.J. Swearinger were more highly rated out of high school, but all exceeded even their more sizeable expectations. Take Swearinger, for instance. He was a three-star recruit out of high school and had some solid offers, and even looked to be on his way to Tennessee before the dismissal of Phil Fulmer. Yet despite the high expectations, he played at an even higher level, performing as one of the best safeties in football in his final two seasons and working his way almost to the first round in the 2013 draft.
As far as Lattimore and Holloman go, the only reason those two can't really be considered overachievers is because they came in with huge expectations, particularly Lattimore. Not considering Lattimore's injuries, both met expectations. In a world where so many future stars fail to pan out, perhaps you could say these two beat the odds, too.
Of course, Carolina has had some players who didn't live up to the hype in recent years. One of them, Damario Jeffery, was signed by Carolina as an undrafted free agent this year. But overall, we seem to have suffered much less of those kinds of troubles than other programs around us have recently. Heck, even Jeffery had a productive career for us, showing that just because he didn't pan out as the star he looked like he would be didn't mean he wouldn't put in his time and make his contribution. I would argue that our success in development has been just as important as the demographic blessings of having players like Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney come out of the state.