The Panthers are entering Year 1 of the Matt Rhule era, who inked a seven-year deal to build Carolina into a consistent winner.
Part of that process is roster turnover to add the pieces Rhule envisions to advance the Panthers forward. While expectations are generally low for Carolina in 2020, it’s still an important year for laying the initial groundwork in the early stages of the Panthers’ overhaul. Let’s examine each position group and rank them in order of how close they are to being set and how much work is left to being done. The positions are ordered from least set to most set.
The Panthers’ top-three cornerbacks are Donte Jackson, Corn Elder and Troy Pride Jr., which is cause for great concern. In a division that features prolific passers in Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan and dynamic receivers in Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and Mike Evans, Carolina’s cornerbacks matchup poorly.
While Carolina’s safety and pass rush are formidable, this cornerback situation will be tough to overcome. Jackson has some appeal as a slot corner and Pride is an intriguing developmental piece, but the Panthers are several meaningful pieces away from this unit being set.
2. Offensive Line
Offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s spread offense at LSU was made possible largely because of its elite offensive line that enabled him to feature five-man protections. The Panthers have a long way to go in building an offensive line comparable to what Joe Brady enjoyed at LSU.
The tackle duo of Russell Okung and Taylor Moton is a sound pairing but both are entering the final year of their contract, and the interior offensive line is very concerning. Center Matt Paradis struggled in his first year with the Panthers and injuries may have taken too much of a toll for him to regain his status. John Miller has been a replacement-level starter at guard throughout his career and is now on his third team in as many years. The other guard position is up for grabs between Dennis Daley and Michael Schofield. Daley, a sixth-round draft pick in 2019, is converting from tackle, and Schofield’s career has been defined by perpetual struggles since he entered the league in 2015.
For Joe Brady’s spread offense to be fully unleashed in Carolina, this unit will need to either overachieve or remain a work in progress.
Teddy Bridgewater is the quarterback in Carolina after signing a three-year, $63 million contract. But the Panthers have a reasonable out of his deal after the 2021 season while they take the time to find their long-term answer under center. Bridgewater can keep this ship afloat but he shouldn’t be viewed as “the guy” for the long haul.
4. Tight End
Greg Olsen had a special run at tight end for Carolina, but Ian Thomas has been groomed as his replacement. But in two seasons on the roster, Ian Thomas has been more promising as a blocker than in the passing game. While that isn’t different than what Brady had in Thaddeus Moss at LSU, Carolina could be in the market for a more dynamic receiving option should Ian Thomas not take a step forward in his third season.
Luke Keuchly and Thomas Davis are no longer in the mix but Carolina still has Shaq Thompson at one spot. His second-level running mate is currently slated to be veteran Tahir Whitehead, but it shouldn’t be difficult for Carolina to continue finding an answer at that second off-ball spot.
6. Wide Receiver
D.J. Moore is a budding superstar while Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel round out the top of the receiving corps. Carolina has veteran depth in Seth Roberts and Pharoh Cooper, which makes this unit fairly set. In the context of Carolina’s roster, this isn’t much of a position to be concerned about despite it still being upgradeable.
7. Defensive Tackle
Kawann Short and Derrick Brown have the potential to be a special pairing on the interior for the Panthers assuming Short can regain his form after missing most of 2019 with an injury. The depth at defensive tackle could be improved but that shouldn’t be too challenging to upgrade as the roster evolves.
8. Running Back
Carolina has arguably the NFL’s best running back in Christian McCaffrey and is firmly set when it comes to the focal point of the backfield. However, I continue to be underwhelmed by the depth the Panthers have assembled behind him to ease his workload after playing at least 90% of Carolina’s offensive snaps the last two seasons.
The young pairing of Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos to go with Stephen Weatherly, Efe Obada and Christian Miller is young, talented and exciting. This unit is set with dynamic talent that can develop into a fearsome rotation of pass rushers.
The team finally committed long-term to Tre Boston, signed Juston Burris and drafted Jeremy Chinn and Kenny Robinson. The unit is young and versatile with a wonderful blend of complementary skill sets. Safety, along with EDGE, are the two strengths of this roster.