An In-Depth Look at the 2020 Carolina Panthers – Power Ranking 29by Mason Thompson June 14, 2020
Mason Thompson | June 14th, 2020
The Panthers coaching staff and roster endured a complete overhaul during the offseason. Ron Rivera, Cam Newton, Trai Turner, Luke Kuechly, and Mario Addison have all left in some way and have been replaced by a younger, offensive-minded staff that will have to rebuild a defense that is ranked dead last in these power rankings.
Make sure to check out all of our in-depth power rankings here.
- Overall – 72.69 (29th)
- Offense – 74.34 (28th)
- Defense – 71.725 (32nd)
- Coach and Culture – 74.5 (T-28th)
- Home Field Advantage – 77, 26th (4% Defense, 2% Overall)
Quarterbacks – 69, 29th (36% Offense, 27% Overall)
The Newton saga is over in Carolina. Newton has been replaced by Teddy Bridgewater, who was last in New Orleans where he filled in mightily for Drew Brees. He started five games (winning them all), throwing for almost 1,400 yards, and nine touchdowns compared to two interceptions. The best part about Bridgewater’s playing style is how accurate and safe he is with the ball. He has completed over 65% of his passes and completed 68% last year when he was filling in for Brees. Behind him is 2019 third-round pick, Will Grier and XFL star, P.J. Walker. Grier started in two games last year, throwing no touchdowns compared to four interceptions. Walker is an intriguing option and could come in to start a few games if Bridgewater struggles.
Running Backs – 96, 1st (4% Offense, 3% Overall)
Carolina ranks first for running backs because they have Christian McCaffrey. He is the most complete back in the league and was rewarded with the highest-paid running back contract in history. His workload is a bit concerning, especially coming off of a season where he had 403 touches. He finished last year with almost 2,400 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns and will once again be the main focal point of the offense.
If McCaffrey gets injured, the season is over. Reggie Bonnafon and Jordan Scarlett combined for 20 touches last year for 125 yards and a touchdown. Mike Davis was brought in to potentially relieve some of the workload off of McCaffrey and make sure he doesn’t receive the 403 touches he had last year. Undrafted free agent, Rodney Smith could surprise during the preseason enough to make the roster after a 1,100-yard season at Minnesota.
Pass Catchers – 82, T-13th (17% Offense, 8% Overall)
Of course, McCaffey factors in this aspect greatly after catching over 100 passes for 1,005 yards last year. Carolina also has an intriguing trio of receivers in D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and the newly acquired, Robby Anderson. Moore broke out last season for 87 catches, 1,175 yards, and four touchdowns. Samuel finally showed some development and is heading into a contract year. Anderson couldn’t take his game to the next step for the Jets and now reunites with Matt Rhule. Brandon Zylstra and DeAndrew White return from last year, while the team also brought in Seth Roberts and Pharoh Cooper during the offseason. Keith Kirkwood was also added to team up with his former head coach from college.
Greg Olsen departed for Seattle, opening the door wide open for Ian Thomas to emerge as the safety blanket for Bridgewater. Thomas finished last year with 16 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown and should on take some of Olsen’s production from last year.
Offensive Line – 72, 25th (24% Offense, 12% Overall)
The offensive line for Carolina was abysmal last year, surrendering 58 sacks. The offensive line might’ve actually gotten worse as the Panthers sent their best lineman, Trai Turner, to the Chargers for an aging Russell Okung, who will start at left tackle. Veteran John Miller, Dennis Daley, and second-year player Greg Little will battle for the left guard spot. Matt Paradis takes over as the best offensive lineman on the team as the starting center.
Michael Schofield was added and will start at right guard, while Taylor Moton will man the right tackle spot this year. Chris Reed brings starting experience from Miami as a backup. Carolina’s offensive line is in a difficult position as it was bad enough last year and decided to trade their young, star guard for an aging left tackle who has injury concerns.
Run Defense – 70, 29th (6% Defense, 2% Overall)
Carolina ranked 29th in run defense last year and that was with Kuechly, Gerald McCoy, and Dontari Poe on the roster. Fun fact: Those three are all not on the team anymore. Yes, Kawann Short is still there and the Panthers drafted Derrick Brown in the first round, but the loss of Kuechly is astronomical. Zach Kerr and Bravvion Roy were added during the offseason to provide some depth outside of Brown and Short. Shaq Thompson and Tahir Whitehead will start in base formations and in nickel at linebacker and offer some run defense as the top two linebackers. Kuechly was the leader of the defense and is now gone.
Pass Rush – 71, 29th (21% Defense, 10% Overall)
Carolina finished second in the league last year with 53 sacks, so you may be wondering how they rank 29th. Well, of those 53 sacks, only 13.5 of those sacks are by players that stayed on the roster from last year to this year. Brian Burns is far and away the number one pass rusher on this team after a 7.5 sack rookie season. Second-round pick, Yetur Gross-Matos will likely be the second option as a raw pass rusher who will form a good tandem with Burns.
Stephen Weatherly was signed coming off of a three sack season in Minnesota and should factor into the rotation early while Gross-Matos gets acquainted with the system. Short has fallen off since his 11-sack season in 2015 and will be back from an injury suffered last year. Christian Miller had two sacks last year and will be battling with Marquis Haynes for snaps at outside linebacker. Brown offers some interior pass rush as well, but the pass rush unit is very young and inexperienced.
Linebackers – 73.5, 25th (15% Defense, 4% Overall)
Thompson is still inexperienced and is in that hybrid pass rusher/linebacker role that has shown some flashes in coverage but still needs some polishing. Whitehead is your downhill linebacker that will soak up blocks as a run defender. Behind those two are Andre Smith and Jermaine Carter. The linebacking room needs depth and a true superstar since it lost Kuechly.
Secondary – 69.5, 32nd (26% Defense, 17% Overall)
With James Bradberry heading to the Giants, Donte’ Jackson takes over as the number one corner. The number two spot was a major question mark as Corn Elder was scheduled to be the second corner opposite of Jackson until Carolina signed Eli Apple. With the addition of Apple, it now opens the door for Troy Pride to start in the slot. Luke Cole, Derrek Thomas, and Elder round out the cornerback room as unreliable depth behind a secondary in transition.
Tre Boston doesn’t get talked about enough as one of the better safeties in the league as he has played for three teams in four years and is currently in his second tenure in Carolina. Opposite of Boston is an open competition between Juston Burris and rookie, Jeremy Chinn. Chinn has more upside but Burris isn’t a bad player either. T.J. Green, Quin Blanding, and Natrell Jamerson round out the depth chart other than Kenny Robinson. Robinson played in the XFL and was drafted as a potential low-floor, a high-upside player that could challenge for snaps at nickel corner or at safety. In an inexperienced secondary, Robinson will most likely carve a role at some point this year.
The secondary does have some pieces, but the depth is severely lacking. If one of the starting three cornerbacks get injured, the Panthers might need to make a move for another corner via trade or on the free-agent market.
Coach and Culture – 74.5, T-28th (19% Offense, 28% Defense, 15% Overall)
The new coaching staff in Carolina is exciting. The offense will look similar to what Arizona had last year as Rhule is implementing his offensive scheme from his time at Baylor. The receiving core is deep and it’s not just the top three. The receiving core goes six deep with Roberts, Cooper, and Kirkwood likely to have roles of their own this year. Rhule brought in LSU passing-game coordinator, Joe Brady. The offense looks dynamic albeit behind a below-average offensive line. Rhule and Brady’s inexperience is the only reason Carolina’s offensive coach and culture ranks 25th.
Rhule brought over Phil Snow as his defensive coordinator from Baylor. Snow implemented a 3-3-5 scheme at Baylor and it is unknown what system he will be bringing to Carolina. It would be beneficial to run a 4-2-5 in my opinion as it gets Short, Brown, Burns, and Gross-Matos on the field to develop and also helps get Chinn, Pride, and Robinson some playing time in the secondary. The unknown scheme Snow brings in and the fact the defense is young and needs developing is the reason the defensive coach and culture ranks 31st.
The offense will be the main reason Carolina wins games this year. Bridgewater could lead the team to a 5-7 win season, taking Carolina out of contention for any of the top three quarterbacks in the 2021 draft. Playmakers aren’t a problem but the depth and experience on defense are worrisome. The Panthers could surprise many, but could also be worse depending on how the defense plays.
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