2014 NFL Season Preview- Carolina Panthers
After starting the 2013 season 1–3, the Carolina Panthers went 11–1 the rest of the way including a club-record eight-game winning streak. This secured their first winning season and playoff appearance since 2008. This was also the first winning season under head coach Ron Rivera and the fifth in franchise history. They also notched their third NFC South title, and their fourth division title overall. The Panthers' season ended in the divisional round of the playoffs with a 23–10 loss to the 49ers.
Quarterback Cam Newton has his most efficient season to date. His passing and rushing yards went down but he set career highs in passing touchdowns, completion percentage, and passer rating. The running game of DeAngelo Williams was solid but unimpressive. Tight end Greg Olsen led the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns while wide receiver Steve Smith's production went down.
The defense was the star of the Panthers season. Defensive end Greg Hardy set a franchise record with 15 sacks in 2013. The linebacker corps of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Chase Blackburn were core of the team. Kuechly followed up his defensive rookie of the year season by being named the NFL defensive player of the year. The supposedly weak secondary played much better than expected. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn played on a one year contract and proved to be an impact player in the secondary.
The teams top draft picks, defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, will be at the center of the defensive line for years to come as great run defenders.
Panthers 2013 Rankings
Opponent Passing yds
Opponent Rushing yds
NFL Rank- 29th
NFL Rank- 11th
NFL Rank- 6th
NFL Rank- 2nd
NFL Rank- 26th
NFL Rank- 2nd
In his first season as general manager, Dave Gettleman had great success in free agency and the draft. The team will be restricted by cap space and decisions to be made on players to resign or let go.
After signing his franchise tag tender of $12 million, Greg Hardy was arrested for assault. With Ravens running back Ray Rice being suspended two games for the same charge, Hardy is likely to face a similar disciplinary action.
Notable additions- WR Jason Avant, WR Jerricho Cotchery, TE Ed Dickson, CB Antoine Cason, FS Thomas DeCoud, SS Roman Harper
Notable departures- WR Steve Smith, WR Brandon LaFell, WR/KR Ted Gunn Jr., T Jordan Gross, SS Quintin Mikell, CB Captain Munnerlyn
Panthers 2013 Highlights
2014 NFL Draft
Holding the 28th pick in the draft, Carolina needed to address their cap casualty losses. Primarily at cornerback, tackle, and wide receiver.
With the departure of Captain Munnerlyn, the cornerback position is in desperate need of attention. There isn't a corner on the roster that an offense looks at and gets scared.
After Jordan Gross retired, the team has to think about finding a new blindside blocker for Cam Newton. Gross was a three time Pro Bowler, so the expectations are high for whoever has to fill that void.
Carolina's top three receivers were lost to free agency and the one's the signed this offseason aren't going to instill fear in defenses. The team needs a true number one receiver that is capable of doing it all.
With the 28th pick, Carolina selected Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. At 6'5", Benjamin was one of the the tallest receivers coming in from college and should the ability to play any receiving role and was a good down field blocker. He was mainly criticized for not catching the ball consistently with his hands as well as a poor pro day performance where it was reported that he was 20 pounds overweight.
The team also selected Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round and Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney in the sixth. Ealy was seen as one of the quickest defensive ends in the draft and showed great athleticism. His run defending needs some work and has little experience dropping back in coverage. Gaffney was a physical runner and was the corner stone of Stanford's offense. He was criticized for only having one speed and was very inconsistent in offseason performances.
Kelvin Benjamin Highlights
What to Expect
By adding Kelvin Benjamin, the team now has a number one receiver who can stretch the field for the rest of the receiving corps and be a great red zone threat. Without Jordan Gross, Cam Newton will revert to his old scrambling ways. Tyler Gaffney is at a disadvantage sitting behind a load depth chart like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and Kenjon Barner. It will be hard for him to move up the chart let alone make the team.
If Greg Hardy is suspended, Kony Ealy will be asked to step up in his absence. The linebackers will continue their dominance with Luke Kuechly leading the charge. Adding Thomas DeCoud, Roman Harper, and Antoine Cason gives the secondary more bandages rather than long term answers but should still be able to make an impact.
The Panthers have the ability to make the same impact they made in 2013. With the emergence of the rest of the NFC South, it will be hard for Carolina to retain the division crown but are still capable of making the playoffs.
Best record they can hope for- 12-4