Carolina Panthers 2021 Team Previewby Mason Thompson August 8, 2021 1 comment
The Carolina Panthers enter the 2021 season as a darkhorse playoff team following a great offseason. Matt Rhule and company have transformed arguably the worst roster in the league last year to one that is on the verge of a playoff berth. Carolina is one of the most intriguing teams this season, and there are many reasons why.
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The Panthers had 11 games during the 2020 season that were determined by one score or less. In those games, Carolina went 3-8. The Panthers had made a move to sign Teddy Bridgewater before the 2020 season, and while Bridgewater kept them in games, he never did enough to push them over the top and win the close games, as was seen so many times during last year. The Panthers had seen enough of Bridgewater and scoured the quarterback market, ultimately making a trade with the Jets to acquire Sam Darnold. Carolina sent the Jets a sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft and second and fourth-round selections in the 2022 draft. After acquiring Darnold, the Panthers sent Bridgewater to the Broncos for a sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft.
With the quarterback position out of the way, the Panthers’ biggest needs were along the offensive line. On the first day of free agency, Carolina forked out a ton of money to Pat Elflein and Cameron Fleming, who are both low-level starters. The Panthers continued their defensive makeover by signing Haason Reddick, A.J. Bouye, Denzel Perryman, DaQuan Jones, Frankie Luvu, and Morgan Fox. On the offensive side of the ball, Curtis Samuel re-joined Ron Rivera in Washington, which opened up a spot for a new receiver, which happened to be David Moore. Chris Manhertz signed with the Jaguars in free agency, but signing Dan Arnold is a sneaky add for Darnold and the Carolina offense.
In the draft, the Panthers had an opportunity to take Justin Fields but opted to go in a different direction. While many thought the pick would be Rashawn Slater, Carolina continued to reshape their defense by taking Jaycee Horn. With Horn and Donte Jackson, the Panthers have their two boundary cornerbacks and Bouye in the slot. On day two of the draft, Carolina traded down multiple times and got a toy for Darnold and a familiar face to Joe Brady with Terrace Marshall. The offense was a key for the next three picks by adding Tommy Tremble, Brady Christensen, and Chuba Hubbard.
Carolina will go as far as Darnold gets them. He has shown potential to be a franchise quarterback, but getting that consistently is something the Panthers need to get. The Panthers have plenty of pieces around him and one of the best bright young minds in the league. Christian McCaffrey is one of the best players in the league when he’s healthy and now won’t be required to carry the same load he has in the past with the addition of Hubbard. The receiving core is one of the deepest in the league with D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Marshall, Moore, and Shi Smith. The other question outside of Darnold on the offensive side of the ball is the offensive line, which we’ll get more into later.
The Panthers have two great young players on the defensive side of the ball. Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn are excellent building blocks on the defensive side of the ball for Carolina. Burns will likely take a step up to become one of the best young edge-rushers in the league. Chinn is a dynamic player that can play a variety of different roles. Yetur Gross-Matos and Derrick Brown look to continue their growth and adding a player with the potential of Daviyon Nixon to the front seven is potentially another steal for the Panthers. Adding in Reddick is another option off the edge, but Carolina needs to use him correctly. The linebacker position is a question mark with how Shaq Thompson performed last year, along with the addition of Perryman. The secondary is a young unit with a lot of upside but lacks a true free safety.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
QB (2) – Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker
Darnold will undoubtedly be the number one quarterback this year so that the Panthers can see if he is the future of the franchise. Walker is an interesting backup option who will shine in the preseason as a former XFL MVP that got some playing time towards the end of last year. The question in this group is if Will Grier will make the roster. The former third-round pick hasn’t gotten many opportunities, and the coaching staff doesn’t seem to trust him.
Both McCaffrey and Hubbard are locked to make the roster. McCaffrey is one of the best running backs in the league, and teaming him up with Hubbard to get some of the load off of his workload was a great idea by the Panthers. After those two, the remainder of the roster spots is unknown. Trenton Cannon is most likely the biggest lock of any of the remaining running backs. Spencer Brown was undrafted out of UAB but was a favorite of many on Draft Twitter and will surprise. Rodney Smith, Reggie Bonnafon, and Mikey Daniel don’t make the roster in this case.
WR (6) – DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr, David Moore, Shi Smith, Brandon Zylstra
The receiving core is very deep. There is a question of how long it will take for Marshall to enter the starting lineup. He was very raw coming out of LSU and still needs to refine a lot of his skills. Smith will likely take to the starting lineup quicker despite being drafted later. Moore and Anderson both had excellent seasons last year. Zylstra was an excellent addition off of the Minnesota practice squad a few seasons ago. Omar Bayless and Keith Kirkwood miss out on this prediction.
TE (3) – Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble
The tight end room is set. Arnold should see a massive uptick in production in the offense this year. After a solid season in Arizona last year, he is now the lead-dog in Carolina. Thomas hasn’t lived up to potentially being the Greg Olsen replacement and could be on his final chance in Carolina. Tremble is a versatile player that can play fullback or tight end, and Brady will get the most out of him this season.
The offensive line is very concerning. Outside of Paradis and Moton, the remaining starting slots are up for grabs. Christensen could start at either spot on the left side. He, Erving, and Little will battle for the left tackle job. Elflein and Miller will have to fend off youngsters Moore, Brown, and Daley for their starting jobs. The left side of the offensive line as a whole looks questionable at best, and the Panthers made a mistake by not selecting a tackle with their second-round choice when they traded down twice.
DL (4) – Derrick Brown, Bravvion Roy, Daviyon Nixon, DaQuan Jones
Brown showed last year why the Panthers drafted him in the top ten. His pass-rushing ability was untapped, and he was still the great run-defender he was in college. Roy will likely start next to Brown, with Jones factoring in here and there. Nixon was a steal on day three of the draft. He could be the pass-rusher from the middle of the defensive line the Panthers are looking for.
EDGE (5) – Brian Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, Haason Reddick, Morgan Fox, Marquis Haynes
Burns and the tandem of Gross-Matos and Reddick is one of the more intriguing pass-rushing units in the league. Reddick will look to show the NFL that last season as a Cardinal wasn’t an outlier. Fox was added during the offseason to be a rotational piece, and Haynes looks to make the roster with a strong camp and preseason.
The tandem of Thompson and Perryman brings a lot of question marks to the fold immediately. Thompson wasn’t himself last year, and Perryman hasn’t been a full-year starter in a few seasons now. Perryman could be pushed by Carter and Miller for starting snaps. Luvu and Fisher make the roster as additions made during the offseason. While it is weird to carry six linebackers, Carolina has many varying skill sets in the room.
The top three cornerbacks are a lock with Jackson and Horn on the boundary and Bouye in the slot. Pride will likely soak in everything Bouye has to tell him as the next potential starter in the slot. Taylor was an excellent selection on day three, and Hartsfield will compete for the final cornerback spot and will likely snag it, thanks to his special teams skills.
While Chinn is an excellent player, he isn’t a true safety. He plays a lot of dime linebacker. Chinn is excellent in the roles he plays and is already one of the most exciting players in the league on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, the Panthers don’t have a free safety that is starting-caliber at the moment. There will likely be a competition between Burris and Robinson to win that job, but overall, the safety room is lacking.
Slye is one of the best kickers in the game, and Charlton will be the punter. The real question is at the long snapper position. JJ Jansen has been in the league for a long time, but Carolina used a draft choice on Fletcher, which signals potentially the end of Jansen’s time in Carolina.
One Player to Add
The Panthers could look at a variety of different positions here. The positions of need range from left tackle, free safety, and linebacker. Tre Boston remains unsigned, so the Panthers would be wise to bring him back for another year. K.J. Wright is another player that would be an excellent addition to take the load off of Thompson and Perryman.
2021 Outlook & Odds
The Panthers’ success is on the shoulders of Darnold this season. The coaching staff is quietly becoming one of the best in the league with Rhule, Brady, and Phil Snow. Carolina is one of the youngest teams in the league, and there is plenty of reason to be excited if you’re a Panther fan. The Panthers have an over/under of 7.5 wins, which is fair for this year. Thankfully, Carolina has an easy start to the season, which could lead to them being a darkhorse playoff team come December.
Season Prediction: 8-9 and Miss the Playoffs