CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No. 5 in my ranking and evaluation of the 21 Carolina Panthers scheduled to become unrestricted free agents is a player that led the team in scoring.
Place-kicker Graham Gano.
Gano and punter Brad Nortman like to joke that kickers are people too. Well, they're free agents as well, and valuable.
To rehash the rankings so far: No. 21 quarterback Jimmy Clausen, No. 20 wide receiver Brandon LaFell, No. 19 cornerback Drayton Florence, No. 18 guard Geoff Hangartner, No. 17 linebacker Dan Connor, No. 16 linebacker Jason Williams, No. 15 tackle Bruce Campbell, No. 14 cornerback James Dockery, No. 13 defensive tackle Colin Cole, No. 12 guard Travelle Wharton, No. 11 linebacker Jordan Senn, No. 10 quarterback Derek Anderson, No. 9 cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, No. 8 wide receiver Domenik Hixon, No. 7 wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and No. 6 tight end Ben Hartsock.
On to No 5:
Graham Gano: Beyond is value as a scorer, Gano had the NFL's highest touchback percentage (79.7) for any kicker since 1994. Giving opponents a long field to work with was a big contributor to the defense ranking second in the NFL in scoring behind Super Bowl champion Seattle. As a scorer, Gano was a weapon. He converted 24 of 27 field goal attempts, including all six attempts of 50-plus yards and five of seven between the 40 and 49. He was perfect on all 42 extra point attempts. There weren't many kickers in the league better. When you have a defense as stingy as Carolina's, along with a ball-control offense, having a threat at kicker is important because you're going to be in a lot of close games. Look no further than Gano's game-winning 53-yard field goal in a 10-9 regular-season victory over San Francisco.