After a great second season in the NFL in which the Carolina Panthers won their first division title and their first playoff game, the team headed into the 1997 offseason with high expectations.
In the 1997 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers used their first round pick, 27th overall, on wide receiver Rae Carruth.
Carruth played four seasons of college football with the Colorado Buffaloes, where he led the Big Eight in receiving yards in 1995 with 1,008 and in 1996 led the Big 12 in receiving yards with 1,116 and in receiving touchdowns with eight.
Carruth had a respectable rookie season playing in 15 games, with 44 receptions, 545 receiving yards and four touchdowns. In the next two seasons with Carolina, Carruth would only play in seven games finishing with only 21 receptions, 259 receiving yards, and zero touchdowns.
Carruth’s poor play on the field was not the only reason he was Carolina’s biggest draft day regret, the other reason was the downward spiral of his life off the field.
In November of 1999, Carruth was a participant, along with a friend of his, in the shooting of his girlfriend who was eight months pregnant at the time. Carruth was identified as a participant by his girlfriend before falling into a coma and eventually dying. Carruth had been arrested and posted bail along with the condition that he would turn himself in if his girlfriend or the child died.
Carruth’s son survived the shooting but his girlfriend died, however instead of turning himself in he ran from the police but was later recaptured. Carruth would eventually be convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle, and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child.
He is currently serving his sentence at Nash Correctional Institution in North Carolina and is set to be released in October of 2018.
In the 1997 NFL Draft, 24 wide receivers were selected with 20 being chosen after Carruth. Out of those 20 only five were still playing following the 2002 season with the most notably being Derrick Mason who was drafted in the third round and whose last season was in 2011. Therefore, in hindsight, the 1997 Draft was not a good one for receivers.
Carolina wanted a wide receiver with the first pick and they made the best choice they could have made at the time. Outside of drafting Mason, any of the 21 receivers left on the board the Panthers would have taken in the Draft would have most likely given Carolina the same type of results minus having a former player in prison.