CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Carolina Panthers added some big-play potential to their workmanlike passing game by taking speedy Rae Carruth with their first pick in the NFL draft Saturday.
"He can go get it and he can run after the catch," Carolina general manager Bill Polian said of Carruth, who had 135 receptions at Colorado and recently was timed at 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
The Panthers are hoping Carruth can add more firepower to a passing offense that was ranked 22nd in the 30-team league last season. Carolina's wide receivers combined for just three receptions of more than 40 yards all year. By comparison, Carruth had five scoring catches last season of between 42 and 77 yards.
Carolina made Carruth the 27th overall selection in a draft in which the Panthers said they wanted to focus on adding depth to a defense that spearheaded them to the NFC championship game. But while Carolina's defense established itself as one of the best in the NFL, it also was one of the oldest, with 10 starters who are 28 or older, including six in their 30s.
But when Carruth was still available late in the first round, the Panthers said they couldn't pass up the chance to take him.
"We felt we wanted to get the best player who was on the board at the time, and he was clearly the highest-rated player," Polian said. "We wanted to increase team speed, and we've clearly done that."
Carruth, 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, broke both the 50-catch and 1,000-yard receiving marks in each of his last two seasons with Colorado. He had eight touchdown receptions as a senior and averaged 20.7 yards per catch, a figure that Panthers coach Dom Capers said "jumps out at you."
"This is a very positive day," said Carruth, who was joined by about 30 family members and friends as they watched the draft on television at a relative's house in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif. "I'm very excited. I have a chance to play for a team that almost made it to the Super Bowl."
Carruth should get a solid chance to contribute immediately for the Panthers. Their top two wide receivers in each of their first two seasons were Willie Green and Mark Carrier, both of whom became unrestricted free agents. Green has signed with the Denver Broncos and Carrier is shopping his services.
Carolina's best remaining receivers are Raghib Ismail, who had just 12 receptions after being acquired in a trade last season, and Muhsin Muhammad, a 1996 second-round draft pick who was limited to nine games by injuries.
"It will be an interesting position to watch the competition at in training camp," Capers said.