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Panthers mailbag: Was the 2014 draft class a home run?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Welcome to the first installation of the Carolina Panthers Saturday mailbag for the 2015 offseason.

I apologize up front for not getting to all the questions. There were more I had space to answer, so don't let that discourage you from submitting for future mailbags.

Having said that, let's get to the ones that made it:

@DNewtonESPN: Not sure a home run, but at least a bases-loaded triple when you look at the entire class. Let's go one by one. I'd say first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin was at least an inside the park homer with 11 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards receiving. Were it not for the drops he would have been a grand slam. Second-rounder Kony Ealy, a defensive end from Missouri, steadily improved throughout the season and showed he has potential for the future. Third-rounder Trai Turner, after overcoming injuries, proved he could be an anchor at guard for years to come. Fourth-rounder Tre Boston, a free safety from North Carolina, and fifth-rounder Bene' Benwikere, a cornerback from San Jose State played big roles in Carolina's late-season surge. Injuries, particularly to Boston (sports hernia), kept them from contributing all season. The only miss was sixth-round draft pick Tyler Gaffney, who suffered a season-ending injury in training camp and then was claimed off waivers by New England. He never got a chance to prove himself. Still, four out of six starters at the end of the season is exceptional. Arguably the best class in team history.

@DNewtonESPN: I'd say 10 percent. Ron Rivera likes what Greg Hardy brings to the team in terms of production and the way he prepares week in and week out. But this won't be the coach's decision. It will have to have the stamp of owner Jerry Richardson, and I just don't see him giving it.

@DNewtonESPN: Assume you are talking Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, and not including Fozzy Whittaker in the conversation. It's hard to imagine Carolina bringing Williams back. He'll be 32 this season and Stewart has proven he can bear the load of 20 carries a game. He was one of the league's top rushers at the end of the season. The Panthers also need to start prepping young running backs for the future, and there wouldn't be enough carries for that if all three stayed on the roster. Plus, cutting Williams would free up still much-needed room on the salary cap.

@DNewtonESPN: I don't really see Carolina going after the ones you mentioned. While general manager Dave Gettleman is looking beyond the “Dollar Store,'' he'll still be looking for good value. If the Panthers spend big money in free agency on one position it will be a left tackle or a defensive lineman. Gettleman loves his “hog mollies.''

@DNewtonESPN: First, let me ask how the restoration of the Big Peach water tower is going? As for big-name free agents, as I mentioned above, not too big. Gettleman said they wouldn't be shopping at Tiffany's, remember.

@DNewtonESPN: I love mailbag humor. I'd suggest putting landmines behind him so he'll stop throwing off his back foot and step into his throws more. Seriously, he was throwing as well as I've ever seen him during training camp before the fractured ribs. The time spent not being allowed to run because of the ankle surgery forced him to focus more on fundamentals. I suspect he'll get back to that during the offseason.

@DNewtonESPN: As I wrote on Thursday, Duron Carter had a good visit that included dinner with Rivera and Gettleman, and a workout with receivers coach Ricky Proehl. He went from Carolina to Cleveland. I'm hearing the Panthers stepped up with a potential offer, but Minnesota remains the favorite for the son of former Vikings star Cris Carter. Still, the opportunity to play with Cam Newton and opposite Benjamin has to be enticing. A decision is expected next week.