The Carolina Panthers have been struggling. The good news is that moves have been made to stop the downward trend. In the 2020 draft, the defense was the focus and all of their picks were used to upgrade. Free agency and the first round of the 2021 draft followed the same approach. Will it be enough to get the Carolina Panthers pounding again? Let’s break it down.
A Defensive Pounce Back
Jaycee Horn will be paired with Donte Jackson at the cornerback position with the hope of locking down the secondary in this young developmental defense. Next up, the safety position. Jeremy Chin became a crucial part of the defense as a strong safety and a box linebacker. Seasoned vet Juston Burris is still the starting free safety and has the most experience out of the starters. Look for him to be an organizer and communicator on the back end. Fifth round corner Keith Taylor out of Washington will need to work extra hard and have some good luck in order to just become a backup in the lineup. It isn’t a knock on him, he’s in the middle of the depth chart with a lot of veteran players.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman is a new addition from the Chargers. In what looks like a 4-3 front for now, Perryman is the middle linebacker. Shaq Thompson is coming off a year with no sacks which is a red flag for a weak side linebacker. At age 27, decline shouldn’t be a huge concern yet. He had 113 tackles, so he was firmly in the mix even though he didn’t get to the QB. It is unusual for a team to start two outside linebackers with no sacks in the pervious year. Jermaine Grant only has a half sack to his name. The linebacker group is a question mark. It remains to be seen if we should be concerned.
The Rest of the Defense
What position will Hasson Riddick will play? In his final season in Arizona, Riddick finally showed some spark as an outside linebacker. He is currently listed as a left defensive end. It would make more since to have him as a starting linebacker as opposed to Grant. However, pairing Riddick with Brian Burns is intriguing. Two former first round picks coming off the edge is something teams will have to watch out for.
Derrick Brown and Bravvion Roy will partner up inside to stop the run and disrupt the protection schemes. Both players can also get to the quarterback, but it hasn’t happened that much yet as they are still early in their professional careers. Roy played under head coach Matt Rhule at Baylor. It doesn’t look good for Phil Hoskins who was selected in the seventh round from Kentucky. He likely won’t make an impact unless injuries to other players allow him to step in. Same with Daviyon Nixon, who was taken in the fifth round from Iowa.
Was Enough Done to Fix the Offense?
First of all, we need to address the elephant in the room. As much as we all wish Teddy Bridgewater the best, that experiment didn’t work. The Panthers took a chance by trading for Sam Darnold. To be fair, the Jets are dysfunctional so some things can’t be blamed on Darnold. But, he will probably need a lot of work. The good news is Christian McCaffrey is back and ready to go. Not only is he a great runner, he may be the best all around running back in football right now with what he does as a receiver.
Chuba Hubbard was drafted in the fourth round from Oklahoma State and brings a similar skill set to the backfield. But wait, there’s more. Robby Anderson already has chemistry with Darnold from their time together with the Jets. With DJ Moore sticking around and the addition of David Moore from Seattle, there is a lot of potential for dynamic playmaking ability for the Carolina Panthers.
Don’t forget that this is the same offense LSU ran during the championship season. Joe Brady came to Carolina after that season as the OC, and now he has one of his LSU weapons with him. Terrace Marshall Jr was taken in the second round and is the favorite to be the fourth receiver. Shi Smith was also drafted in round six from South Carolina. In terms of the tight ends on the roster, it’s an interesting group. Dan Arnold is a good story. A former D3 player who got his chance with the Saints and the Cardinals, Arnold is hoping to become a consistent part of the offense. Ian Thomas didn’t get many targets, and he is at risk of losing his job to third round pick Tommy Tremble from Notre Dame.
Darnold Has Solid Protection
The names won’t stick out, but this is an underrated blocking unit. A little on the older side with some younger backups. The one glaring concern is 31 year old center Matt Paradis. Right tackle Taylor Moton signed a four year extension and Cameron Erving was brought in to play left tackle on a two year deal. In addition to the vets, Brady Christensen was a third round selection out of BYU, and former 2019 second round pick Greg Little is still on the roster.
Christensen is the backup left tackle and Little may shift over to the right side as a backup. The interior of the line may need some remodeling after the season with Jon Miller only signed for a year as the right guard, and the uncertain future of Paradis. The team signed Pat Elflein to a three year deal to play left guard. Because of the age of some of the players, guard Deonte Brown was drafted in the sixth round from Alabama. He is a candidate to eventually become the new right guard. Finally, to wrap up the draft class, long snapper Thomas Fletcher was taken in the sixth round from Alabama. The Panthers are going in the right direction, but they will need to be more consistent in order to become a contender again.
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