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2012 NFL Offseason: Carolina Panthers

Draft Grades, Season Previews, Offseason Needs, Free Agents

Carolina Panthers (Last Year: 6-10)

2012 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Mike Tolbert, OT/G Bruce Campbell, C/G Mike Pollak, OLB Kenny Onatolu, S Haruki Nakamura, S Reggie Smith.
Early Draft Picks:
LB Luke Kuechly, OT/G Amini Silatolu, DE Frank Alexander, WR Joe Adams, CB Josh Norman, P Brad Nortman.
Offseason Losses:
RB Mike Goodson, WR Legedu Naanee, TE Jeremy Shockey, OT/G Geoff Schwartz, G Travelle Wharton, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, OLB Thomas Williams, ILB Dan Connor.

2012 Carolina Panthers Offense:
Some NFL analysts thought Cam Newton would eventually be a dynamic play-maker in the NFL. Other pundits stated that there was too much of a transition from Auburn's goofy offense to a pro-style attack. No one predicted that Newton would have immediate success - great enough that he would break a slew of league rookie records.

There are too many achievements to list. The most prominent ones are "most passing yards by a quarterback in a debut game" (422); "sixth quarterback to throw 400-plus yards in back-to-back games;" "most passing yards by a rookie in a season" (4,051); "most rushing touchdowns in a single season by a quarterback" (14); and "first player in NFL history with 4,000-plus yards and 500-rushing yards in a season."

It's mind-boggling how prolific Newton was. The question is: Can he do it again, and perhaps even improve upon his rookie campaign? It's a tough one. A pessimist would say that Newton slowed down a bit down the stretch. Consider that he threw for 208 yards or fewer in five of his final six games. A pessimist might also argue that NFL teams now have a season's worth of tape on Newton, so the young quarterback will have to adjust to what the defensive coordinators plan on throwing at him.

The optimist, however, would just point out that Newton has always proven his doubters wrong. He has yet to fail. Newton has also told the media that he has worked on stuff this offseason, and that his improvement is "through the roof."

Newton's progression, of course, depends somewhat on Steve Smith, who had a rebound 2011 campaign after mailing it in the year before (and understandably so). Smith registered 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns last year, but it's fair to expect some regression. Smith is 33 now, and receivers usually begin declining at the age of 32. His performance will be key because the Panthers don't have anyone else at wideout. Their No. 2 receiver is Brandon LaFell, who has serious problems getting open. Tight end Greg Olsen, meanwhile, will have to rebound from a dismal season.

Newton does have someone new to throw to, and that would be former San Diego running back Mike Tolbert. The 245-pounder will be the team's new fullback, acting as a safety valve in the passing game. Meanwhile, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams will continue to share carries until Ron Rivera finally discovers that the former is the superior athlete. Williams is only receiving touches because he's paid much more.

Of course, Carolina's running game, especially in the red zone, is mostly Newton. He'll have to do more scrambling this year because the Panthers lost guard Travelle Wharton to the Bengals. Amini Silatolu, a second-round rookie, will step into that spot, though he may eventually end up at right tackle if Jeff Otah can't stay healthy. Otah has played in just four games the past two seasons because of chronic knee problems. If Otah can't play again, Byron Bell will once again start again, which would prove to be disastrous because he's terrible. He was guilty of 12 penalties and seven sacks last year - the latter being a very high number considering Newton's mobility.

Fortunately, the rest of the offensive line is solid. Left tackle Jordan Gross struggled a bit in the middle of the season because of an ankle injury, but was solid otherwise. Ryan Kalil is one of the premier centers in the NFL. Right guard Geoff Hangartner is a decent starter with versatility.

2012 Carolina Panthers Defense:
There are several contracts each spring that are very strange. Tampa's Eric Wright receiving five years and $37.5 million, for example, was simply idiotic. One of the weird deals last year was Charles Johnson's 6-year, $76 million with $32 million in guarantees. Johnson, a one-year wonder at the time, somehow obtained more money than Nnadmi Asomugha.

Johnson didn't exactly validate the contract, but he didn't disappoint either. He tallied nine sacks and continued to play the run well, though he had a high amount of penalties (8). But Johnson was far and way the best lineman on Carolina's roster. Left end Greg Hardy performed well at times, but every other Panther lineman struggled mightily, mainly the defensive tackles.

The general consensus heading into the 2012 NFL Draft was that Carolina would heavily consider defensive tackle Fletcher Cox to upgrade the position. Sources told this Web site, however, that Cox was not an option because the front office was comfortable with the situation at the position. It's unclear why. The team spent two third-round picks on defensive tackles last year. Sione Fua wasn't bad in run support, but Terrell McClain struggled in every aspect. Ron Edwards will be back from torn triceps, but he's 33 and offers no pass-rushing ability.

The Panthers passed on Cox, but obtained an even better prospect in linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has been compared to Brian Urlacher in some circles. They needed Kuechly, considering that Dan Connor left for Dallas, Thomas Davis can't stay healthy, and Jon Beason is coming off a torn Achilles and may not be 100 percent until 2013. The third player in the linebacking corps is James Anderson, who had a terrific 2011 campaign in every facet. He has no weaknesses and can remain on the field on every single down.

Excluding the defensive tackle position, Carolina's area of greatest defensive weakness is the secondary. Chris Gamble is a good player, but the Panthers had absolutely nothing across from him. Captain Munnerlyn was used last year, but he didn't play very well. The Panthers will be hoping that 2011 fourth-round pick Brandon Hogan will be ready by September, but he recently told the media that he's not 100-percent recovered from ACL surgery, which took place in December 2010. It's also worth noting that fifth-round rookie Josh Norman has looked like a stud in OTAs. He could push for the starting job.

The safety situation is just as dubious. Strong safety Charles Godfrey struggles in coverage, while free safety Sherrod Martin is a liability against the run. The Panthers signed two possible replacements in free agency (Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith), but it's likely that neither new addition will pan out.

2012 Carolina Panthers Schedule and Intangibles:
The Panthers need to develop a strong homefield advantage. They were just 3-5 as hosts last year, with their only wins coming against the mediocre Redskins, and dreadful Jaguars and Buccaneers. They should have been able to defeat the Vikings, Titans and Falcons.

The John Kasay era concluded a year ago. The last original Panther retired and was replaced by Olindo Mare, who went just 22-of-28, with 0-of-2 from 50-plus. Carolina did not bring in any competition for the 39-year-old.

The front office spent a late-round pick on punter Brad Nortman because Jason Baker was awful last year.

Carolina had atrocious special-teams play last year. Kealoha Pilares returned a kickoff for a touchdown, but the team surrendered a whopping three punt returns for scores.

The Panthers have their work cut out for them. Five of their first seven opponents are the Saints, Giants, Falcons, Cowboys and Bears. And no, it doesn't get easier. The second half of the season is laden with tough foes like the Broncos, Eagles, Chiefs, Falcons, Chargers and Saints.

2012 Carolina Panthers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):

Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2012 Carolina Panthers Analysis: There's some good news and bad news. The good includes the Saints' Bountygate scandal, several players returning from injury and Cam Newton's possible progression. The bad includes a really tough schedule, awful defensive and special-teams units and Newton's possible sophomore slump.

Newton obviously has a huge say in how Carolina fares in 2012. The Panthers could be a playoff team, but they could also struggle if defensive coordinators find a solution for Newton. There's a better chance the former scenario will occur.

Projection: 10-6 (Tied 1st in NFC South)

2012 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2012 NFL Season Previews


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Billy 04-29-2013 09:46 am (total posts: 3)
11     7

Love the site and always enjoy debating with friends about the grades, choices, etc made here. I just need to ask for clarification on this:

For the Panthers goals you have listed "If they want to pass the Falcons and Saints, they'll need to at least slow down Matt Ryan and Drew Brees just a bit."

Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short are both guys that will create havoc up the middle and get Johnson and Hardy more pressure, faster on the QB. This will disrupt the pass games of those QB's in the end, so technically they met that goal in my mind. Any chance of clarification (if you see this particular post on an individual teams page)

Smellgood 04-29-2013 09:37 am (total posts: 1)
13     6

Adding another middling CB with 4th, 5th or 6th round pick would have done less to help this team.

Of course panthers need a new top flight cb and wr but neither were there after 1st round pick so why waste picks pretending they were?
Jay 04-29-2013 06:32 am (total posts: 1)
8     8

The Panthers secondary is the same group almost to the man that they fielded last season after Gamble went on I.R.

They actually were ranked best in the NFL in yards per pass completion given up.
Mike 04-29-2013 04:53 am (total posts: 1)
70     9

Anyone care to explain how an A, B+, C, B, and B average out to a C+?

That literally makes zero sense.
Hello Cruel World 04-29-2013 03:52 am (total posts: 1)
10     8

However, you can make the argument that the Panthers weren't going to fix their poor secondary with late-round picks. A rookie drafted in the the fifth or sixth round of the draft likely isn't going to be starting on opening day and if he does, then the team is probably in trouble.
c'mon man 04-28-2013 11:06 pm (total posts: 5)
35     9

"but the Panthers have to repair one of the worst defensive units in football"

13th vs the pass
14th vs the run despite journey men/bust dt's

18th in points allowed is one of the worst units in football? wow They signed undfa Robert Lester, not good enough huh? Bet if he was drafted you'd have gave them a better grade.
Gerry 04-28-2013 09:34 pm (total posts: 2)
9     7

About the grade (C+)--Star should have gone in the top 10 and Short should have gone around 35. Moving up for those picks would have cost the Panthers a second and a third rounder. Being patient and waiting should count for something.

By the way, the third rounder they lost was for Frank Alexander, a key and effective part of the DE rotation last year.

The last two picks were also great values because they free the Panthers, eventually, to get rid of huge contracts. Beason is getting paid as the best MLB in the league and he cannnot even beat out the MLB on his own team. WHne smart to do so, he will be cut. DWIll is gone June 1. That savings will pay for the rookie contracts. Gettlemen is smart. He is not drafting in rounds 4-6 for 2013. How many of those rookies start anyway?
Gerry 04-28-2013 09:26 pm (total posts: 2)
32     7

The Panthers did address their secondary when they improved their interior pass rush. Thomas and Norman are very young CBs and they are developing. Free agent Florence was insurance and provides a veteran presence. They signed Morris and re-signed Munnerlyn, a solid nickel. At S, they liked Godfrey after switching him to FS and they signed Mitchell. They also liked Campgell's development.
Yes, they could get better there, but they had 5 picks. After signing or re-signing a total of 4 DBs, I think they decided to look elsewhere. The Panthers signed two of the top 5 DTs in this draft. That is awesome. The G pick is suspect because he is an unknown. They must like him a lot, having worked him out and interviewed him extensively. I am a fan and completely understand this draft. You cannot fix Marty Hurney's mess ($16 million over the cap and only 5 draft picks) in one season. Helluva a draft.
Mike 04-28-2013 09:14 pm (total posts: 1)
11     7

With the sheer amount of power we have on the front 7, our secondary will not struggle as much as people believe. When teams can't run the ball (which they won't be able to since Star, Short and our amazing LBs will see to it that they don't) and they are forced to pass it... it gives Hardy, Johnson, Short and underrated Star (in terms of pass rush) the chance the pin their ears back and just rush the passer with unrelenting force. The secondary not only gets a heads up that it'll be a pass... but they won't have to worry about holding their coverage for long since ANY QB in the NFL will have no more than 1.5 seconds to throw it. From what I've learned... a fantastic defensive line makes the secondary quite formidable. Being that our pass defense was already 10th (or 11th... not ENTIRELY sure) in the NFL (even WITHOUT GAMBLE), I don't think we missed out. Godfrey will take Nakamura's job and Mitchell will move into the void that Godfrey left.
Llama 04-28-2013 06:31 pm (total posts: 1)
16     8

Gotta be higher than a C+. As much as the Panthers need someone in the back end, the combo of Star and Short is just too good for this draft to be lower than a B.
Ken 04-28-2013 05:19 pm (total posts: 1)
11     7

The Panthers secondary won't be as bad as you think it will be. Why?
1) Gettleman believes there are good players on the roster, he also made some decent FA pick ups. Clearly there are no stars and it'll be done by committee.

2) Based on the scheme the Panthers are running, having a big time secondary isn't a main focus. They are playing a hard press style and help with safety over the top. Very little blitzing from the CB & S spots. To make this effective you need a stout D-Line to get pressure and your secondary to jam receivers and adjust their routes.

3)Run defense was the main problem on defense. Star will go a long way to rectifying that and free up Kuechly from always having to play run hard.
Danny 04-28-2013 01:26 am (total posts: 1)
9     4

It's about time they addressed the DT spot. They had the worst pair of starters in the league by far. Maybe now they'll have a functioning defense. The pass-rushers and linebackers are good. Secondary is a big question mark, but it's more important to fix the front 7 first.
Bman32x 04-27-2013 11:23 pm (total posts: 1)
3     5

Love the pass pressure focus. And putting Klein next to Keuchly? Love that pick. Pressure can not only create sacks, but also force bad passes. Still a lot of off season I'm sure the Panthers will still address the expensive overrated RBs they have and the secondary a bit more.
c'mon man 04-27-2013 05:09 pm (total posts: 5)
7     3

This is more potentially D.Williams last yr with the panthers, as they could save $6-8 million by cutting Willaims in 2014.

Better to pay a cheaper change of pace back, then keep an overpaid one in Willaims
c'mon man 04-27-2013 01:37 pm (total posts: 5)
104     5

"Edmund Kugbila was widely viewed as a sixth- or a seventh-round prospect"

Hmm i recall him being a projected 4-6th round pick. teams don't care about value, they'll choose the bpa avaiable on their boards, not yours.

2012 NFL Draft Grade: B+

Goals Entering the 2012 NFL Draft: The Panthers have their franchise quarterback in place. Now, they have to build around him and improve their defense. Upgrades can be acquired at almost every position on the stop unit.

2012 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Many projected Fletcher Cox to Carolina because defensive tackle apparently was its biggest need. The Panthers instead opted for Luke Kuechly, the top player available at No. 9 overall. Kuechly didn't fill an obvious hole, but Carolina could not rely on the injury-prone Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, who is coming off a torn Achilles.

The fact that the Panthers didn't select a defensive tackle whatsoever is quite puzzling. I was told by a reliable source to "move on" from mocking Cox to Carolina a few days prior to the draft because the team believed that defensive tackle was not a need. The front office believed in Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, and it had Ron Edwards coming back from injury. That sounds like a huge misevaluation of talent.

On a positive note, I liked some selections the Panthers made. Amini Silatolu should bolster the offensive front. Joe Adams projects as a nice deep threat for Cam Newton. And Josh Norman, filling the cornerback need, was a steal in the fifth round.

2012 NFL Draft Individual Grades:

9. Luke Kuechly, OLB, Boston College: A Grade
Luke Kuechly might be the best defensive player from this class. He's a stud, so the Panthers made a great move by selecting the top prospect on the board. With Jon Beason and Thomas Davis being so unreliable, Carolina had to address the linebacker position.

40. Amini Silatolu, G/OT, Midwestern State: A Grade
Amini Silatolu was projected by some to be a late first-round pick, so he provides great value at No. 40. Silatolu can play guard and tackle, both of which are areas of need. There's a hole at guard because Travelle Wharton was cut, while Jeff Otah can't seem to stay healthy.

103. Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma: B Grade
Mike Mayock had Frank Alexander as his No. 94 player. The Panthers have to improve their pass rush, so while I don't love this pick, it definitely makes sense.

104. Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas: A- Grade
Joe Adams is a fast receiver. With Steve Smith entering the final stages of his career, the Panthers needed someone to take his spot in a few years. Adams, who provides decent value here, could be that guy.

143. Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina: A+ Grade
I can't believe Josh Norman lasted until the fifth round. He should have gone in the third. Mike Mayock had him ranked No. 58. Norman fills a big need at cornerback across from Chris Gamble.

207. Brad Nortman, P, Wisconsin: B- Grade
It's hard to get excited about a punter, but the Panthers needed one.

216. D.J. Campbell, S, California: B Grade
The Panthers need some safety depth and D.J. Campbell fits the range in Round 7. Solid pick.

Season Summary:
What a difference a franchise quarterback can make. Carolina was absolutely dreadful in 2010, finishing 2-14 and constantly getting blown out. Cam Newton, however, exceeded expectations, and while the Panthers were just 6-10, they were in position to win several more contests. They'll definitely be in the playoff mix next year.

Offseason Moves:
  • Bears sign DT DeMario Pressley
  • Dolphins sign WR Legedu Naanee
  • Panthers sign S Reggie Smith
  • Panthers re-sign LB Jordan Senn
  • Raiders acquire RB Mike Goodson from Panthers for OT/G Bruce Campbell
  • Panthers re-sign DE Antwan Applewhite
  • Panthers sign C/G Mike Pollak
  • Vikings sign OT/G Geoff Schwartz
  • Panthers sign RB Mike Tolbert
  • Bengals sign G Travelle Wharton
  • Panthers sign OLB Kenny Onatolu
  • Cowboys sign G Mackenzy Bernadeau
  • Panthers sign S Haruki Nakamura
  • Panthers cut DT DeMario Pressley
  • Cowboys sign ILB Dan Connor
  • Panthers re-sign QB Derek Anderson
  • Panthers cut G Travelle Wharton
  • Panthers re-sign G Geoff Hangartner
  • Panthers re-sign OLB Jason Phillips

    Offseason Needs:
    1. Defensive Tackle: Carolina spent a pair of third-round picks last year on defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain. Fua wasn't that bad as a rookie, but McClain was awful, constantly getting abused against the run. The Panthers could spend a second-rounder on someone like Brandon Thompson in April.

    2. Cornerback: There are many reasons why the Panthers ranked dead last versus aerial attacks in terms of YPA (8.4). One of which is the cornerback position; they don't have anything across from Chris Gamble. Drafted Josh Norman

    3. Left Guard: The Panthers cut Travelle Wharton as a cap casualty. Signed Mike Pollak; traded for Bruce Campbell

    4. Strongside Linebacker: Can Thomas Davis ever stay healthy? He's played in just two games the past couple of seasons, thanks to his third-career torn ACL suffered in Week 2. Linebacker depth is also needed if Dan Connor departs via free agency. Drafted Luke Kuechly

    5. Right Tackle: Jeff Otah has played in just four games the past two seasons because of knee and back injuries. He's unreliable, so if the Panthers don't believe he can stay healthy, they could use the No. 9 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on Riley Reiff or Jonathan Martin. If not, they should use a later selection on insurance. Drafted Amini Silatolu

    6. Two Safeties: Sherrod Martin played the worst game I've ever seen from a safety in a Week 17 loss at New Orleans. He can't be allowed to start again. Charles Godfrey isn't much better. Signed Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith

    7. Wide Receiver: Steve Smith took the year off in 2010, but actually tried hard last season, proving that he can still perform on a high level. However, he turns 33 in May, so there could be a big decline coming. The Panthers need a new No. 2 receiver at the moment regardless. Drafted Joe Adams

    8. Kicker: Olindo Mare, 39 in June, was just 22-of-28 (78.6%) in 2011.

    2012 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Panthers (4 years)

      If you play fantasy football, you know about Mike Tolbert. He is a power runner with solid pass-catching ability.

    2. Mike Pollak, C/G, Colts. Age: 27.
      Signed with Panthers

      Mike Pollak was in and out of the lineup in 2011 due to inconsistency, but he played well at times. He won't kill you if you have to start him at guard or center.

    3. Haruki Nakamura, S, Ravens. Age: 26. -- Signed with Panthers (3 years)
    4. Reggie Smith, S, 49ers. Age: 25. -- Signed with Panthers
    5. Kenny Onatolu (RFA), OLB, Vikings. Age: 29. -- Signed with Panthers (3 years)

    Carolina Panthers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Dan Connor, ILB, Panthers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Cowboys

      Don't expect Dan Connor to be back with the Panthers; otherwise, he'll have to play behind Jon Beason. Connor is talented and young, and could easily be a starter somewhere else.

    2. Travelle Wharton, G, Panthers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Bengals

      Travelle Wharton is mediocre in pass protection, but he's one hell of a run-blocker. He was cut because he was owed almost $6 million in 2012. Wharton will be a good signing for power-blocking teams.

    3. Geoff Hangartner, G/C, Panthers. Age: 30.
      Re-signed with Panthers

      The Bills jettisoned Geoff Hangartner, but he bounced back and actually performed pretty well for the Panthers at right guard.

    4. Geoff Schwartz (RFA), OT/G, Panthers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Vikings (1 year)

      Geoff Schwartz played well in 2010 at both right tackle and right guard, but he missed all of 2011 with a hip injury.

    5. Legedu Naanee, WR, Panthers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Dolphins (1 year)
    6. Antwan Applewhite, DE, Panthers. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Panthers
    7. Mackenzy Bernadeau, G, Panthers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Cowboys (4 years, $11 million)
    8. Thomas Williams, OLB, Panthers. Age: 27.
    9. Jeremy Shockey, TE, Panthers. Age: 32.
    10. Omar Gaither, OLB, Panthers. Age: 28.
    11. Jason Phillips (RFA), OLB, Panthers. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Panthers (1 year)
    12. Derek Anderson, QB, Panthers. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Panthers (1 year)
    13. Cletis Gordon, CB, Panthers. Age: 29.
    14. Jason Baker, P, Panthers. Age: 34.
    15. DeMario Pressley, DT, Panthers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears

    2012 NFL Free Agent Rankings Coming Soon

    Divisional Rival History:
    Atlanta Falcons: The host has won six of the past eight meetings. The Falcons had a fluky comeback at Carolina in 2011 though.
    New Orleans Saints: The road team has inexplicably won 11 of the previous 17 matchups. The Saints have swept the past two years though.
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After losing 11 of 14 meetings to Carolina, the Buccaneers swept the Panthers in 2010. Things were back to normal in 2011.

    Features to be Posted This Offseason:
    1. 2012 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)
    2. Detailed season preview
    3. Fantasy football projections
    4. Positional rankings
    5. Daily updates on free-agent signings

    More 2011 NFL Offseason Pages:

    DAL / NYG / PHI / WAS /
    CHI / DET / GB / MIN /
    ATL / CAR / NO / TB /
    ARZ / SEA / SF / STL /
    BUF / MIA / NE / NYJ /
    BAL / CIN / CLE / PIT /
    HOU / IND / JAX / TEN /
    DEN / KC / OAK / SD /

    2012 NFL Offseason Pages

    Fantasy Football Rankings - July 24

    2016 NFL Mock Draft - July 24

    2015 NFL Mock Draft - July 23

    2015 NBA Mock Draft - July 1

    NFL Free Agents

    NFL Picks - Feb. 2

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