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Kawann Short, once an afterthought, is ready to be a Panthers star

Kawann Short was a slight afterthought to Star Lotulelei in the 2013 NFL Draft, but through two seasons he has rounded into Pro Bowl form more quickly than his ballyhooed teammate.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*Cues up ESPN 30 for 30 music*

"What if I told you the Carolina Panthers drafted a future Pro Bowl defensive tackle in 2013 ... but his name wasn't Star Lotulelei?"

Kawann Short may be the lesser known of the two defensive tackles the Panthers drafted in 2013, but that should all change after this season. Hell, maybe it already has.

Lotulelei has started 29 out of 32 regular season games since being drafted, and he has 68 total tackles and a combined five sacks over that period. Short has started only nine out of 32 regular season games in his first two seasons, but he has been credited with 69 total tackles and five sacks in that time period. We know that tackles aren't an official NFL stat, but it is clear that their tackle numbers are at least comparable and Short has more sacks in 20 fewer starts. All facts.

There is no designated under tackle in Carolina's 4-3 system, which means they just stay on the left or right side. That also means they both have seen plenty of time at three technique as well as nose tackle, so neither guy has the advantage of being in a better position to make plays than the other.

It's possible that Lotulelei puts it all together this season and has a monster year. In fact, I wouldn't doubt that his numbers make a significant jump in 2015. However, I still think Short's leap will be much more significant in his first season as a starter.

No, it's not just about the numbers. The film doesn't lie. Both guys are big, strong dudes, but Short seems to have better understanding of how to actually use leverage and get off blocks to make plays. As last season went on and Short got more and more playing time, you could see his confidence going off the meters. He was no longer playing like a robot just trying to stay in the right gap and make the right play. By the end of the season he was all about making plays by any means necessary.

Having good technique is great, but at some point you have to make plays. Short, more so than Lotulelei to this point, has come to understand that it's okay not to be perfect as long as you put the guy with the football on the ground. It's not a coincidence that Short got 2.5 sacks in the last four weeks of the regular season or his sack against the Arizona Cardinals in the first week of the playoffs.

The more playing time Short earned, the more he produced. I don't see anything suggesting that will change in 2015. He's a powerful man who also has a good bit of wiggle to him and is slippery as hell getting off blocks. Barring injury, Short will be a force to be reckoned with this season and may even contend for a Pro Bowl spot. That's why he's my top choice to be the Panthers' breakout player for 2015.