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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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Zithers 06-28-2012 01:14 am (total posts: 1)
14     13

Ron Rivera has said why he thinks the DTs will improve. In the 4-2 stretch to end the season, I believe the DTs had more sacks than they did the entire previous 10 games combined. I think we allowed less than 100 yards on average. It isn't really that surprising that we didn't select Cox/Brockers/Coples. Kuechly provides insurance for Davis and Beason (Anderson is not a 3 down backer by the way, guy is not very good in coverage). If Beason is healthy, he and Kuechly might become the next Urlacher and Briggs.

Nakamura and R Smith will probably both push Martin for the FS job because he's just *that* awful. If not, they can work on the ST unit which will no doubt improve. Also, Olindo Mare did get competition in the form of Justin Medlock. I don't think you even mentioned Joe Adams improving the field position battle as a punt returner since Armanti Edwards is quite literally the worst player in history.

Amini Silatolu will not play a single snap at RT this season. Its pretty clearly a battle between Otah and Bell while Silatolu is playing LG with the first team. Dunno what you're talking about with LaFell not getting open... he was the most improved player on the team last season and sometimes reminded Panther fans of a Muhsin Muhammad-lite. You didn't even mention David Gettis who everyone liked more than LaFell after their rookie years in 2010. He's 6'3 and maybe the fastest guy on the team. Would have fit in with San Diego's/Chud's offense. Not saying he and LaFell will be superstars or anything but they, along with Smitty, Olsen, Tolbert, and Stewart, should be more than enough for Cam to throw to.

And you didn't bring up any coaching movies for whatever reason. Steven Wilks is a HUGE hire at Secondary Coach considering he was with Rivera when they had #1 defenses in Chicago and San Diego. Will gel a lot better than Ron Meeks who is more used to a conservative Fox defense.
Joe 06-27-2012 06:48 pm (total posts: 1)
14     448

The biggest black eye on Cam's early resume is an 0-1 record against the Vikings. If you are familiar with how terrible the Vikings were last year that fact will make you wince.
ESPN is an epic fail 06-27-2012 02:25 pm (total posts: 2)
56     15

Ron Jaworski shouldn't be allowed to express any public opinions. He rated Cam Newton as the 15th best QB last season and Matthew Stafford the 14th. This means Jaworski thinks Joe freaking Flacco and QB Dog Killer are better than Newton and Stafford. Seriously, whats wrong with this guy? Newton set the record for rushing touchdowns by a QB in a season and Stafford is 5th all-time in single season passing yards. I swear, I watch Ron Jaworski for laughs and come here for the real info. Keep up the good work Walter.
@Mr. McSwag 06-25-2012 09:59 pm (total posts: 2)
39     10

You made good points about opposing QB's torching this defense, but your neglecting the fact that this defense will be healthier and the addition of Kuechly is huge. They should improve the pass rush which ultimatley holds QB's to less yards vs. their defense. QBs will still have big games vs. the Panthers because of their weak secondary, but the pass rush should be better.
cchsol68 06-25-2012 09:45 pm (total posts: 1)
13     10

The Panthers struggled at the Falcons and Saints but the games at BOA should have been win for the Panthers. Curtis Painter had a good day against the Panthers secondary last year so of course Ryan and Brees would.

We were so close to splitting last year with the Saints and Falcons.
Hot Tops 06-25-2012 04:04 pm (total posts: 1)
391     508

Newton fails at buying stolen property and getting away with it.
Matt 06-25-2012 03:12 pm (total posts: 1)
13     21

@ sportsdeckblog

"David Gettis" and "significant offensive addition" should never be used in the same sentence. 06-25-2012 01:40 pm (total posts: 1)
70     9 mention of WR David Gettis returning this season in there. Can't help but consider that a significant Offensive Addition as well...
Turd Ferguson 06-25-2012 01:36 pm (total posts: 1)
158     297

Black quarterbacks, lol yeah right!
Mr. McSwag 06-25-2012 01:08 pm (total posts: 1)
28     511

Panthers have too many holes on defense in such an offensively strong division to make the playoffs (namely in their secondary). I'd say the Saints would make the playoffs before the Panthers, even with a more difficult schedule and bountygate distractions.

Cam was pretty bad the last few games of the season, and the Falcons and Saints have Cam's number.
Cam's QB rating vs the Falcons: 56.25
Cam's QB rating vs the Saints: 79.2

Meanwhile Matt Ryan and Drew Brees' QB ratings vs the Panthers last season:
Matt Ryan: 110.8
Drew Brees: 120.4

The Panthers are on their way up, but they aren't there yet, not until they can figure out the Falcons and Saints. Until then they're just competing for the 6th seed and 3rd place in the division.
Cam Newton 06-25-2012 08:50 am (total posts: 1)
46     63

I've never failed? What about at Florida ...
Robert Barron 06-24-2012 12:00 pm (total posts: 2)
50     12

One of the biggest mistakes a team can make is drafting according to need first when you have a top 15 pick. I love that Carolina went against that tendency and just drafted the best player available. Depth at LB can ultimately help the DTs because they'll have help in the second line of defense. Carolina has an elite pass-rusher and their LBs have so much versatility and potential. If they can stay healthy, they can live with an average DT or two.
Shiree Howard 06-13-2012 08:26 am (total posts: 1)
14     17

I was pretty happy with our overall draft. I've been complaining for the last couple of seasons about needs on the o line so it was definitely good to see that. Hopefully this will lead to some growth and development of our team.
..... 06-02-2012 09:25 am (total posts: 1)
170     13

Gamble has the 2nd best QB rating against in the league with 48.6. Only darelle revis' 45.6 is better.
Sherrod Martin is awful
Billy 05-29-2012 09:03 am (total posts: 3)
16     13

@passed up: Glenn was crashing for a reason, and I'm sure the teams in the NFL know what those reasons are that we'll never know. Amini is a powerful, aggressive run blocker. We happen to run an offense that features a lot of running, he fits nicely into the scheme. Let's just trust that the guys paid to know these players and how they'll fit know more than we do for now :)

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 31

    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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