2017 NFL Season Preview- Carolina Panthers
A year after losing in Super Bowl 50, Carolina finished at the bottom of the NFC South.
Quarterback Cam Newton followed his best season with his worst. The reigning NFL MVP set career lows in completions per game, completion percentage, and passer rating. In his second season as the main back, running back Jonathan Stewart averaged less than four yards per carry. Tight end Greg Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to register three consecutive 1,000 yard receiving seasons. After missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL, the Panthers expected big things from wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Unfortunately, Benjamin fell short of his rookie season stats. Devin Funchess finished the year on injured reserve after a lackluster second season and Corey Brown was essentially phased out of the offense. Ted Ginn was the team's best wide out for the second straight season, which goes to show how disappointing the corps was. The offensive line was solid in the middle but have concerns at both tackle spots.
Carolina finished second in the league in sacks but that didn't have much to do with the defensive line. Defensive end Charles Johnson was average at best and his age is starting to show and Kony Ealy has failed to live up to his potential. Back up defensive end Mario Addison lead the team 9.5 sacks. The linebacker corps was solid despite injuries. Rescinding the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman hurt the secondary in the first half of the season. Safety Kurt Coleman had another solid year but Tre Boston was very inconsistent.
Kicker Graham Gano missed two critical field goals that would have given the Panthers a .500 record so look for competition next training camp. Punter Andy Lee is one of the best in the league but went on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring.
Despite their struggles, Carolina produced five Pro Bowlers in fullback Mike Tolbert, tight end Greg Olsen, guard Trai Turner, and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Tolbert is a solid blocker but his legs are up. Turner made his second straight trip, playing solid all year. Kuechly is the best middle linebacker in football despite sitting out the last three weeks for precautionary measures and Davis is still getting the job done at age 33.
Despite some obstacles, this year's rookie class looks to have a bright future. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler had his moments before a high ankle sprain derailed his season. Cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley improved steadily as the season went on and look to be a solid tandem for years to come.
Opponent Passing Yards
Opponent Rushing Yards
NFL Rank- 21st
NFL Rank- 10th
NFL Rank- 29th
NFL Rank- 6th
NFL Rank- 19th
NFL Rank- 21st
Entering his seventh season in Carolina, head coach Ron Rivera has a tough task in front of him to get the Panthers back in the playoffs and prove that 2016 was just a fluke.
On July 17 the team announced Dave Gettleman had been relieved as general manager. He was then replaced by Marty Hurney on an interim basis.
Notable Additions- WR Charles Johnson, T Matt Khalil, OLB Julius Peppers, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Mike Adams
Notable Departures- FB Mike Tolbert, WR Ted Ginn, WR Corey Brown, T Michael Oher, S Michael Griffin, S Tre Boston
Panthers 2016 Highlights
2017 NFL Draft
Holding the eighth overall pick in the draft, Carolina has some pieces to address if they expect to return to playoff form. Primarily at running back, offensive tackle, and defensive end.
The run first team has been relying on a soon to be 30 Jonathan Stewart as their workhorse back. That backfield needs a young, dynamic playmaker.
Michael Oher is gone and the right tackle was a liability. They signed Matt Khalil, but adding a run blocking right tackle will make this offensive line great.
Kony Ealy never became the guy the world saw in Super Bowl 50. Carolina needs a double digit sack monster the defense can rely on.
When it came time to pick, the Panthers selected Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey with the eighth pick. McCaffrey was viewed as the top receiving back in the class but lack the power to drive through arm tackles.
Carolina also notably drafted Ohio State wide receiver/halfback Curtis Samuel in the second round and Western Michigan tackle Taylor Moton in the third. Samuel has the feared playmaking skills of a wide receiver in a running backs body, but needs to learn patience in his running. Moton was seen as the top run blocking tackle in the draft, but gets off balance too often.
Christian McCaffrey Highlights
What to Expect
The way I see it, Carolina's problems rest almost solely on their quarterback.
The fact is Cam Newton is a career 58% completion quarterback and 2015 maybe the best we will ever see him. He's gotten by the last six seasons on athleticism rather than actually studying defenses and preparation. Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will be main fixtures of the offense as both can run between the tackles and take snaps at receiver. That will hive one on one opportunities for Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, and Greg Olsen. Having the Khalil brothers along with Trai Turner and Taylor Moton gives the Panthers a dominant run blocking line that fits their style.
Defensively, the team should remain solid. Mario Addison looks to be an upgrade over Kony Ealy which should help the defensive line. The linebacker corps is one of the best 4-3 crew in the league and has a nice amount of depth. With a second year under their belts, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley should have a strong start to the year. Kurt Coleman will likely be moved to free safety as Mike Adams is a more consistent tackler and Coleman has better ball skills.
The fact remains that Atlanta and Tampa Bay look to be on the fast track for the NFC South crown. With Cam Newton's inconsistent play, it will be hard to see Carolina in the postseason despite a talented roster.
Best record they can hope for: 9-7