Now that the Carolina Panthers have trimmed their roster to 53, we can safely take a look at specific areas where the Panthers are extremely talented and the areas that are in need of improvement. Of course, the 53 man roster will probably have a few changes made over the next two days as free agents that were released from other teams have a chance to land in Carolina. But until then, here is how it is shaping up.
THE GOOD NEWS
Wide Receivers – The Panthers decided to keep six wide receivers on the roster this year at the expense of the running backs position, releasing Brandon Wegher in the process. The good news for the Panthers is that from top to bottom, this is the most talented the wide receivers corps have ever been. Yes, I am well aware of the days of Moose and Smith, but the depth at the position today surpasses anything the Carolina Panthers have ever had. Cam Newton has more weapons this year than last year. Considering he was the NFL MVP last season, one cannot help but get excited about the possibilities in 2016.
Benjamin, Funchess, Brown, and Ginn are all capable of gashing a defense. Throw in Byrd and Bersin for depth, and it is easy to see why I have zero concerns about this group.
Linebackers – I suspected a few weeks ago that the Panthers would keep seven linebackers, and sure enough they did. Gettleman loves linebackers for their versatility on defense but also on special teams. Again, this is the deepest and most talented group of linebackers the Carolina Panthers have ever had. The mere fact that rookie Jeremy Cash in itself speaks volumes about the young player from Duke. He will be groomed behind Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson as an outside linebacker and could see significant playing time as early as next season.
Also, don’t sleep on second year player David Mayo. Mayo may have shown the most improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Considering AJ Klein is an unrestricted free agent after this season, Mayo’s development is crucial.
Defensive Tackles – Depth at defensive tackle was a huge problem for the Carolina Panthers last season. Remember those multiple late game defensive collapses like in New York? A big contributor to the defensive meltdowns started with a gassed interior defensive line. Once QB pressure was no longer coming from the middle, every other piece of the defense fell like dominoes. The good news here is that the Panthers now have much more talented depth.
Acquiring defensive tackle Paul Soliai as a free agent from Atlanta this offseason has gone mostly under the radar, but this signing is as important as any other free agent acquisition in recent memory. Throw in rookie first round pick Vernon Butler who is already starting to show flashes, and weakness from last year is now a strength.
THE BAD NEWS
Defensive Ends Depth – Kony Ealy and Charles Johnson are a solid pair of defensive ends capable of rushing the passer and stopping the run. The problem is that they cannot play every snap and still maintain the high level of play needed from them. Once again we see Ryan Delaire, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton as backup defensive ends.
The departure of Jared Allen has actually caused this defensive unit to take a step backwards from 2015. If I had to target one area for a possible free agent signing in the next week or so, it would be at defensive end. If so, either Delaire or Horton will be the odd man out.
Tight Ends – There was much movement for the Carolina Panthers in terms of tight ends this offseason. The Panthers brought in numerous young guys to compete for the number two and number three spots on the depth chart. They even drafted tight end Beau Sandland, but waived him. He will likely land on the Panthers practice squad for future development.
When it was all was said and done, the Panthers ended up with the exact same tight end roster as last season. We know for certain the Panthers would like to upgrade this group, but it appears they have fallen short.
Yes, Greg Olsen is a tremendous player, probably top 3 in the league. But from there the falloff is as drastic as any you will see in the league. Ed Dickson is hot and cold, one play catching an amazing pass and another dropping an easy touchdown. Scott Simonson, who should be commended for making the team is serviceable, but serviceable should not be the goal of a Super Bowl hopeful. We should all hope for Olsen’s troubled back to stay loose this season, because without him it won’t be pretty.
Offensive Line – The starting offensive line is the exact same as last year, and that is a good thing. Chemistry is extremely important on the offensive line and takes more than one season to develop. I suspect we will see improved play from the starters this year. However, injuries do happen and fairly frequently with linemen. Our joints can only take so much weight, and these guys are the biggest on the team. So looking at offensive line depth is extremely important.
Offensive tackle Daryl Williams appears to have hit a wall his development. His performance has dropped a bit from a year ago. Free agent Donald Hawkins has made the team and played pretty well, but if he had to start this week against Denver, well, it would be a game changer and not in the Panthers’ favor. At guard, Chris Scott has been an important piece of the offensive line puzzle but is suspended for the first four games due to PED’s. Yikes. Bottom line? Pray the starting offensive line stays healthy as long as possible.
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