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The 2013 NFL Draft pushed the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl

Three years ago the Panthers already had stars Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, but the picks made by general manager Dave Gettleman in the 2013 draft made them dominant.

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When the 2013 NFL Draft came around, the Carolina Panthers already had several of the core pieces of what would become a Super Bowl roster.

Quarterback Cam Newton was already a Pro Bowl player a clearly the face of the franchise. Cornerback Josh Norman was coming along as a fifth-round from Coastal Carolina, equally inconsistent and promising. Center Ryan Kalil was already one of the best players at his position in the league. Linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly helped make the Panthers' defense from bad to an above-average.

After the 2012 season, the Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney. While he was responsible for adding all of those key pieces to Carolina's roster, he was also responsible for leaving the team in salary cap hell. Hurney was replaced by Dave Gettleman at GM. Known in league circles as a film grinder for New York Giants teams that had crushing defensive lines, Gettleman knew having talent up front was critical.

So when it was time to pick in 2013, Gettleman knew he had to bolster his defensive line. He did so by taking Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei with the 14th overall pick. He followed it up by taking Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short 44th overall.

"You look historically at the Super Bowl champions, and you show me one that's had a bad defensive front," Gettleman said in 2013. "Doesn't happen – I'm telling you – it does not happen."

When Gettleman picked Lotulelei, there could have been some temptation to trade down in the draft. That year Carolina had just five picks, the third-fewest in the league.

"If I have a dollar, I'd rather have the dollar than three dimes. That's all there is to it," Gettleman said after picking Lotulelei. "From my view, Star was too good to pass up. Why talk yourself out of somebody good?"

Instead of trading, Gettleman held strong at No. 14 and picked Lotulelei, who slipped after reports of a heart issue pushed him out of the top five. At Utah, Lotulelei was a force. In three seasons, he had 107 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. The comparisons to Ndamukong Suh were commonplace.

Still, teams were concerned about Lotulelei's heart. His medical report at the NFL Scouting Combine showed that his left ventricle was operating at only 44 percent, while the normal range is between 55 and 70 percent. That forced Lotulelei to drop, and Gettleman to pounce.

"It's like when you guys met your wives, you knew, you knew," Gettleman said about Lotulelei after picking him.

The choice of Lotulelei was heavily praised after the draft. The selection of Short, at the time, caused some confusion. The Panthers got the player they needed in Lotulelei in the first round, so why double-dip with Short in the second?

Much like Lotulelei, Short dropped some in the draft. He was regarded by many as a first-round talent thanks to his quickness and athleticism for a defensive tackle. But he dropped after an inconsistent final season at Purdue where is stamina at times was under criticism.

But for Gettleman, Short was the exact type of player he needed next to Lotulelei. While Lotulelei had the size and power to occupy multiple blockers, Short's job was to rush the passer from the interior.

"He's the most natural pass rusher of all the defensive tackles in the draft," Gettleman said after picking Short. "He was at the top of our board. We worked him out, we brought him in, spent time with him ... and we feel really good about this pick."

Gettleman has to feel really good about the pick now. Short had 11 sacks this season, and has rounded himself into being more than just an interior speed player. Now he plays with strength as much as speed and knows how to read the tendencies of offensive linemen.

Lotulelei doesn't generate the type of stats Short does – he never had more than two solo tackles in a game this season. But what he does occupying blockers frees Short up to get into the backfield.

In the three seasons since the 2013 draft, the Panthers have won the NFC South every year. Over that time they've gone 34-13-1. While players like Newton, Davis and Kuechly get the headlines and Norman gets the sound bites, it the pair up front on the defensive line that make the difference.

Combined, the two members of the 2013 draft class form one of the NFL's best defensive tackle duos, and one of the key reasons why Carolina is in the Super Bowl.