DT Ed Johnson, OLB Jamar Williams, CB Marcus Hudson, S Aaron Francisco, ST Wallace Wright.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Jimmy Clausen, WR Brandon LaFell, CatQB Armanti Edwards, DE/OLB Eric Norwood, DE Greg Hardy.
QB Jake Delhomme, QB A.J. Feeley, FB Brad Hoover, WR Muhsin Muhammad, G Keydrick Vincent, DE Julius Peppers, DT Damione Lewis, DT Ma'ake Kemoeatu, DT Hollis Thomas, OLB Na'il Diggs, S Chris Harris, S Quinton Teal.
2010 Carolina Panthers Offense:
The Panthers never had a chance last year. Their offense was sabotaged from the very beginning, when Jake Delhomme carelessly tossed four interceptions and lost a fumble in the season opener against the Eagles. Delhomme went on to commit 18 interceptions and six fumbles before he was finally benched in favor of Matt Moore.
Moore was 4-1 as a starter and helped the Panthers average 23.2 points per game when he was under center. He impressively beat the Giants and Vikings by double digits, amassing six touchdowns and no interceptions, and completing 67.9 percent of his passes in those two contests. Granted, he doesn't have much experience and is still relatively unknown, but that's why the Panthers selected Jimmy Clausen in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Clausen, ranked No. 4 overall on NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper's big board, is a pro-ready quarterback thanks to his experience in Charlie Weis' offense. Clausen already knows most of Carolina's playbook word-for-word, so he's fully capable of stepping in right away and posting a 2008 Matt Ryan-esque season if Moore can't pick up where he left off.
Carolina's quarterback, whether it's Moore or Clausen, will lean heavily on Steve Smith and a powerful running game. Smith notched 65 receptions for 982 yards in 2009, which was disappointing compared to his 2008 stats (78-1,421). With stability at quarterback, Smith's 2010 campaign should mirror his 2008 season - if he can play all 16 games, that is. Smith fractured his arm while playing flag football recently. His recovery timetable says that he'll be ready to play by Week 1, but that's not guaranteed. Plus, without the ability to practice fully, will he be in complete football shape?
The Panthers really need Smith to play because they don't have an otherwise proven receiver. Dwayne Jarrett is the favorite to replace Muhsin Muhammad across from Smith. Jarrett's career has been disappointing thus far, but he caught five balls for 68 yards in the 2009 finale. If he can't carry that over into 2010, rookie Brandon LaFell will have a shot to become the No. 2 wideout. Fellow rookie Armanti Edwards figures to function in the slot.
Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart rushed for a combined 2,250 yards on a 5.2 average last year despite enduring Delhomme's anemic quarterbacking. With a better aerial attack, Williams and Stewart could be even more dangerous in 2010, which is a scary proposition for every team on the Panthers' schedule.
Williams and Stewart were able to be so successful because of their offensive line. Bookend tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah are both fierce run-blockers. Gross, playing on the blind side, was lost for the 2009 campaign in the wake of a broken leg suffered in Week 10. Left guard Travelle Wharton struggled when he had to move over to take Gross' spot, but is otherwise very sound at his position. Center Ryan Kalil is a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. The only hole up front is at right guard, vacated by Keydrick Vincent. The Panthers will be hoping second-year Duke Robinson can beat out the awful Mackenzy Bernadeau for the job.
2010 Carolina Panthers Defense:
The Panthers suffered a huge blow when they learned that weakside linebacker Thomas Davis tore his ACL on June 9. Davis was one of the top players on Carolina's defense.
As it stands now, Dan Connor will play in the middle, moving elite inside linebacker Jon Beason over to the weak side. Mediocre strongside linebacker James Anderson will be the third starter, with newly acquired Jamar Williams being the top reserve.
Prior to the Davis injury, the most prominent story regarding this defense was the departure of Julius Peppers. Peppers was often criticized of taking games off, but the fact remains that he was Carolina's top pass-rusher. Of the team's 31 sacks, Peppers collected 10.5.
Charles Johnson and second-year Everette Brown will compete to replace Peppers. Johnson, who had four sacks in 2009, is currently the favorite because Brown is small and unproven, and happens to be a liability against the run. On the other side, left end Tyler Brayton is a very good at containing the run.
Defensive tackle is a gaping void for the Panthers. With Damione Lewis off to New England, Carolina will have to work with some combination of Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler, Ed Johnson, Nick Hayden and Corvey Irvin. All five players leave much to be desired.
Carolina's secondary, helping the team rank fourth versus the pass, is the strength of this defense. Chris Gamble is an upper-echelon cornerback whom most teams try to avoid. Richard Marshall, starting across from Gamble, was very good in coverage and improved as a tackler last season. He'll be seeking a lucrative long-term contract after this year.
Charles Godfrey is coming off a quality second NFL season at free safety, but will be moved over to strong safety in the wake of the Chris Harris trade. Sherrod Martin, entering his own second year, will step into Godfrey's spot. Martin saw limited action in 2009, but played well in five starts, which allowed the Panthers to deal Harris.
2010 Carolina Panthers Schedule and Intangibles:
The Panthers were a laughable 51-53 as hosts from 1995 to 2007, but really solidified their homefield advantage since; they are 13-4 at home since 2008.
The 2008 campaign marked the first time since 2003 that John Kasay failed to hit at least two 50-yarders in a single season. He was 1-of-3 from that distance then, and 1-of-4 since 2009 - a clear sign that the 40-year-old kicker is over the hill. However, Kasay was 22-of-27 overall last year.
Jason Baker maintained a decent 44.1 punting average for the second season in a row. He dropped 22-of-76 punts inside the 20.
Carolina allowed two special-teams touchdowns and didn't score one of its own. Captain Munnerlyn was decent on punt returns, but the team struggled as a whole taking back kickoffs.
The Panthers have a pretty easy non-divisional schedule; their only tough opponents are the Steelers and Ravens. They'll have the luxury of beating up on the Rams, Seahawks, Kurt Warner-less Cardinals, Bears and Browns.
2010 Carolina Panthers Analysis: The Panthers have the talent to bounce back into the playoffs, but the loss of Thomas Davis really hurts a defensive unit that recently said goodbye to Julius Peppers and Damione Lewis. Steve Smith's injury is also troublesome. Will he be 100 percent come mid-September?
Carolina needs every edge it can get in a very brutal NFC South, and the injuries to Davis and Smith tip the balance toward the Saints and Falcons.
If we had to redo the 2005 NFL Draft, Aaron Rodgers would undoubtedly be the No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers. I have a feeling that in three or four years, when we look back at the 2010 NFL Draft, we'll think that the Rams should have selected Jimmy Clausen No. 1 overall. I better believe that; I spent two days and 2,000 words writing a USA Today article just about that.
Whether Clausen is better than Bradford is irrelevant here, however. Two things are relevant. First, the Panthers drafted a guy who should have been a top 10 pick at No. 48. And second, Carolina now has a franchise quarterback for the first time in 13 years.
As for Carolina's other picks, I loved all but one of them. Brandon LaFell is a very skilled receiver, but dropped into the third round because of small hands. Eric Norwood projects as a good pass-rusher. And Greg Hardy has major talent, but fell in the wake of numerous injuries.
The one exception is Armanti Edwards. He's a Wildcat quarterback/raw receiver, and spending a third-round pick on him wasn't wise. But when you compound that with the fact that Carolina threw in a 2011 second-round pick to move up for him, it makes the selection that much worse.
I'd love to give the Panthers an A+ for acquiring Clausen, but that Edwards trade was horrific. The disregard for the defensive tackle position has to be mentioned as well.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: A-
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
48. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
This is a great situation for Jimmy Clausen. Unlike Sam Bradford, he's not part of a rebuilding project. The Panthers are ready to win now, and all they were missing was a talented quarterback. If Clausen is half as good as Mel Kiper, Ron Jaworski, Steve Young, etc. think he is, the Panthers will be a perennial Super Bowl contender. (Pick Grade: A)
78. Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
A weapon for Jimmy Clausen. Brandon LaFell is a really talented receiving prospect. His only issue are his small hands, but that's not a big deal in the middle of the third round. This is a great value pick. (Pick Grade: A)
89. Armanti Edwards, CatQB/WR, Appalachian State
Do the Panthers plan on running the Wildcat? They certainly have the personnel to do so now. I really am not a fan of this pick; I learned my lesson last year with Pat White. This would be a "D", but Carolina gave up a 2011 second-rounder to get him. (Pick Grade: F)
124. Eric Norwood, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Eric Norwood would have been a better fit in a 3-4. Still, he's a skilled pass-rusher, so the Panthers may utilize him like the Redskins used Brian Orakpo last year. (Pick Grade: B)
175. Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
Great pick. Greg Hardy is a former first-round prospect who has fallen because of massive injuries. If he can recover, he'll be a great pass-rusher for the Panthers. (Pick Grade: A)
198. David Gettis, WR, Baylor
A raw, but very physically gifted receiver, David Gettis has high upside. A decent pick late in Round 6. (Pick Grade: B)
202. Jordan Pugh, CB, Texas A&M
I didn't have this guy drafted, but the Panthers needed to find depth at corner. (Pick Grade: C)
204. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati
With Jimmy Clausen on the team, Matt Moore won't be around much longer. So, the Panthers needed a developmental guy behind Clausen. Tony Pike was too good to pass up here. (Pick Grade: A)
223. R.J. Stanford, CB, Utah
More secondary depth for a team that has to deal with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Makes sense. (Pick Grade: B)
249. Robert McClain, CB, Connecticut
Yet another corner. Why not a defensive tackle with one of these picks? (Pick Grade: C)
Death, taxes and a mediocre Panthers season following a great one. In John Fox's tenure in Carolina, he has compiled 11-5 or 12-4 records three times. In each instance, the Panthers responded with a 7- or an 8-win campaign immediately afterward. Amazingly, Carolina has never put together back-to-back winning seasons in its 15-year existence.
Buccaneers sign G Keydrick Vincent
Panthers announce retirement of WR Mushin Muhammad
Panthers re-sign CB Richard Marshall
Panthers re-sign OLB Thomas Davis
Seahawks sign S Quinton Teal
Bears acquire SS Chris Harris from Panthers for LB Jamar Williams
Panthers re-sign CB C.J. Wilson
Panthers re-sign DT Louis Leonard
Panthers re-sign OLB James Anderson
Panthers re-sign TE Jeff King
Panthers claim CB Brian Witherspoon
Panthers re-sign DT Tank Tyler
Panthers sign S Aaron Francisco
Rams sign OLB Na'il Diggs
Patriots sign DE/DT Damione Lewis
Panthers re-sign WR Kenneth Moore
Panthers sign ST Wallace Wright
Panthers cut DT Damione Lewis
Panthers re-sign DE Tyler Brayton
Panthers sign CB Marcus Hudson
Panthers re-sign OT Rob Petitti
Browns sign QB Jake Delhomme
Panthers re-sign QB Matt Moore
Redskins sign NT Maake Kemoeatu
Panthers cut FB Brad Hoover
Panthers sign WR Wallace Wright
Bears sign DE Julius Peppers
Rams sign QB A.J. Feeley
Panthers cut OLB Na'il Diggs
Panthers cut DT Ma'ake Kemoeatu
Panthers cut QB Jake Delhomme
Panthers tender WR Kenneth Moore
Panthers tender DT Nick Hayden
Panthers tender OLB Thomas Davis
Panthers tender CB Richard Marshall
Panthers tender S C.J. Wilson
Panthers sign DT Ed Johnson
No. 2 Wide Receiver: Jake Delhomme should take a lot of the blame for his interceptions, but one reason he struggled was because he had only one viable option to throw to. The Panthers will be hoping that someone like Brandon LaFell or Golden Tate falls to them in Round 2 of the 2010 NFL Draft. Drafted Brandon LaFell
Defensive Tackle: Outside of Julius Peppers, no one on Carolina had more than five sacks. The team needs some help with its interior pass rush. Geno Atkins, D'Anthony Smith, Mike Neal and Tyson Alualu are all worthy options in the third round this April. Signed Ed Johnson
Right Guard: When everyone is healthy, Keydrick Vincent is the weak link on Carolina's offensive front. A Round 3-5 pick should be used on competition.
Left Tackle Depth: The Panthers can't have another injury that forces them into moving Travelle Wharton into the left tackle position. Depth can be acquired with a mid-round pick this April. Chad Clifton and Mike Gandy will be options in free agency.
Kick Returner: Neither Mike Goodson nor Tyrell Sutton was effective on kickoffs, averaging 20.7 and 21.6 yards per return, respectively.
Strongside Linebacker: Na'il Diggs is a marginal player and can be upgraded. This isn't a pressing need, however, and with the scarcity of unrestricted free agents and the lack of a first-round pick, this likely won't be addressed until next year. Drafted Eric Norwood; traded for Jamar Williams
Defensive End Depth: Assuming Julius Peppers leaves, Carolina will need depth behind Everette Brown, Charles Johnson and Tyler Brayton on the defensive line. Drafted Greg Hardy
Cornerback Depth: A late-round pick should be used to bolster the cornerback depth on this team. Signed Marcus Hudson and Brian Witherspoon
Special Teams: The Panthers' kick and punt coverages were awful; they allowed two touchdowns and tons of yardage. This needs to change.
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Ed Johnson, DT, Colts. Age: 26. Signed with Panthers (1 year)
There's no questioning Ed Johnson's talent. However, he has played in only five games in the past two seasons because of a marijuana arrest and weight issues. If the motivation is there, he can be a good addition.
Marcus Hudson (RFA), CB, 49ers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Panthers
Aaron Francisco (RFA), S, Colts. Age: 27. -- Signed with Panthers
Carolina Panthers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 12): No cap.
Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers. Age: 30. Signed with Bears (6 years, $91.5 million; $42 million guaranteed)
Julius Peppers had 11 sacks in 2009, marking the fifth time in six seasons that he has accumulated double-digit sacks. Peppers just turned 30, but he has at least four more very productive seasons left in the tank.
Thomas Davis (RFA), OLB, Panthers. Age: 27. Re-signed with Panthers (1 year, $3.2 million)
Thomas Davis was having a great year before tearing his PCL in November.
Richard Marshall (RFA), CB, Panthers. Age: 25. Re-signed with Panthers (1 year, $1.7 million)
Richard Marshall had a very good season for the Panthers and is only 25. He'll be retained for a high tender.
Matt Moore (ERFA), QB, Panthers. Age: 26. Re-signed with Panthers (1 year, $3 million)
I hate to make strong judgments after only a few starts, but Matt Moore played exceptionally well down the stretch. In his final three starts, he threw seven touchdowns and no interceptions, completing 65.8 percent of his passes in the process. Moore defeated the Vikings and Giants in consecutive weeks during that span.
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: The host has won the past four meetings. All four games have been decided by at least eight points. New Orleans Saints: The road team has mysteriously won nine of the previous 13 matchups. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Domination. Carolina has claimed 11 of the past 14 meetings, including a season sweep in 2009.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)