Panthers take RB Stewart, T Otah in 1st round

Updated: April 26, 2008, 7:08 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers spent the first day of the draft giving up a lot in hopes of quickly fixing their stagnant offense and returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

The Panthers selected Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart with their 13th overall pick on Saturday, then pulled off a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to get the 19th pick, where they took tackle Jeff Otah of Pittsburgh.

The move gives Carolina two bruising players and bolsters an offense that struggled last season. But it came at a price.

The Panthers gave the Eagles their second- and fourth-round picks this year, and next year's first-round pick.

"You never want to give that up, but I think that says a lot about what we feel about Jeffrey Otah," general manager Marty Hurney said. "The two players together help us toward our goal, the personality and character whatever you want to call it. They're two very physical players."

With Hurney and coach John Fox under pressure to get Carolina back into the postseason, the Panthers were looking for a rugged back to complement DeAngelo Williams after they released DeShaun Foster in February.

The Panthers took the 5-foot-10, 233-pound Stewart ahead of Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall and before they addressed their big hole at defensive end.

The 6-foot-6, 339-pound Otah will allow Travelle Wharton to move from tackle and guard as part of a major overhaul of the offensive line. The Panthers released starting center Justin Hartwig and guard Mike Wahle in the offseason.

The Panthers claim they wanted Otah ahead of tackle Ryan Clady of Boise State, who went 12th overall to Denver.

Carolina hopes Stewart, who rushed for 2,891 yards despite starting just 25 games for the Ducks, will end their history of struggles in the running game.

The Panthers have had only two 1,000-yard rushers in their 13-year history, and none since Stephen Davis rushed for a team-record 1,444 yards in the Super Bowl season of 2003.

Foster, plagued by injuries and fumbles, was never able to replace Davis, and Foster was let go in February.

The Panthers got familiar with Stewart last month when he came to Charlotte to undergo surgery to repair a turf toe injury. The surgery was performed by Panthers team physician Dr. Robert Anderson, and the Panthers are confident he has recovered from numerous injuries that have slowed him in his career.

Stewart, who grew up in Lacey, Wash., rushed for 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns for Oregon last season as a junior.

Two players who would have filled urgent needs for the Panthers were gone before the 13th pick.

After the retirement of seven-year starter Mike Rucker on Tuesday, the Panthers need a starter opposite Julius Peppers. But the player many thought the Panthers had coveted -- Florida's Derrick Harvey -- went to Jacksonville with the eighth pick. The Jaguars traded up with Baltimore to get the speedy Harvey.

By giving up their second-round pick, 43rd overall, the Panthers were likely finished for the day just over two hours after the draft began. Carolina went into Sunday with seven picks, including two in the third round. It's likely the Panthers will have to address their need on the defensive line early on Sunday.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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