2019 NFL Offseason: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers (Last Year: 7-9)

2019 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Chris Hogan, WR Aldrick Robinson, C Matt Paradis, DT Gerald McCoy, DE/OLB Bruce Irvin.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Brian Burns, OT Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little, QB Will Grier, DE/OLB Christian Miller. Panthers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Devin Funchess, OT Matt Kalil, C Ryan Kalil, DE Julius Peppers, DT Kyle Love, OLB Thomas Davis, S Mike Adams, S Da’Norris Searcy.

2019 Carolina Panthers Offense:
The Panthers were 6-2 at one point last season, but they finished the second half of the year with just one victory. Their collapse coincided with Cam Newton’s shoulder injury. Newton hurt his shoulder at some point in November, then aggravated the injury during the fourth quarter in a loss to the Buccaneers. Newton was a shell of his former self after that.

The question regarding the Panthers is how healthy Newton happens to be, and sources say that he’s looking great at the moment. It would not be surprising if Newton is 100 percent by the preseason. If that’s the case, Carolina will have a legitimate chance to make a run at the Super Bowl, especially when considering the upgrades it made to this side of the ball to help support the former No. 1 overall pick.

The big acquisition this offseason was Matt Paradis. The former Bronco is one of the top centers in the NFL. He’ll be a substantial upgrade over Ryan Kalil, whose play dropped off in recent seasons. Another move that was crucial was re-signing Daryl Williams. Presumably the starting right tackle, Williams is a very talented blocker, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy very often. He played just one game in 2018, so having him around for a change will strengthen the offensive line.

The rest of the blocking unit is solid, save for one exception. Left tackle Taylor Moton is coming off a tremendous first season as a starter and should be even better in 2019. Right guard Trai Turner is an adequate starter. Left guard is an issue – presumed starter Greg Van Roten is a pedestrian player – but offensive lines can get away with having just one weakness. Perhaps second-round rookie Greg Little will help in that regard.

Newton’s play-making group, meanwhile, will be the same, save for one exception. Devin Funchess is gone, and he’s been replaced by Chris Hogan. This seems to be a lateral move, as Funchess is way more physically talented, but Hogan happens to be a better football player. While Funchess never lived up to expectations, D.J. Moore should be able to. The No. 1 receiver showed flashes in his rookie campaign – he caught seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown at Detroit in Week 11, which was just prior to Newton’s injury – so he’s expected to have a great second season. Fellow wideout Curtis Samuel should also continue to improve, while tight end Greg Olsen will attempt not to regress too much in what could be his final year as a pro.

Of course, Carolina’s offense is centered around Christian McCaffrey, one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the NFL. There was some question if McCaffrey could handle a full rushing workload, and he proved his detractors wrong last year. McCaffrey rushed for 1,098 yards and caught 107 passes for 867 receiving yards. He’ll be even more dangerous behind an upgraded offensive line.

2019 Carolina Panthers Defense:
Cam Newton was the MVP in 2015, but a major reason why the Panthers reached the Super Bowl that year was because of their prolific defense. The stop unit has taken a step backward after that, but perhaps a new scheme will do the trick. Carolina will be moving to the 3-4 this upcoming season.

The Panthers struggled to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season, ranking 20th in pass-rushing efficiency. To compensate for this, they acquired two new edge players. They signed Bruce Irvin in free agency, who will be able to play in the 3-4 for the first time in his career. Irvin is known as a do-it-all player, but he’ll be an exclusive pass-rusher for the first time since his days in West Virginia, so he could have a high sack total in 2019. The Panthers then used their first-round pick on Brian Burns. Some teams were down on Burns entering the draft, but there’s no doubting his great athleticism and work ethic. The two will combine with Mario Addison (9 sacks in 2018) to put heavy pressure on opposing passers.

Teams won’t be able to fully focus on Irvin and Sweat because of what the Panthers have on their defensive front. That would be Kawaan Short, one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, and Gerald McCoy, a former perennial Pro Bowler. Short just turned 30, but he should still have at least two more high-level seasons remaining in the tank. Short seems like a natural fit for the 3-4, and he’ll start alongside Dontari Poe and Kyle Love, both of whom excel at clogging running lanes. McCoy, meanwhile, doesn’t seem like a natural for the 3-4, but his presence certainly won’t hurt.

With Short, McCoy, Irvin, Burns and Addison all rushing the quarterback, the Panthers’ secondary should perform better in 2019. This is crucial, as Carolina’s issues in the defensive backfield are well publicized. Donte Jackson, chosen in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, has plenty of potential, but the rest of the group is shaky. James Bradberry is very inconsistent, while Ross Cockrell will be coming back from a broken leg that he suffered last summer.

Jackson’s predicted improvement and Cockrell’s return should help the cornerbacks, so the bigger worry is at safety. Veteran Mike Adams is gone, so the Panthers will need someone to start next to the solid, but heavily penalized Eric Reid. That could be 2018 third-rounder Rashaan Gaulden. The former Tennessee product didn’t play very much last year, but has plenty of upside.

Conversely, there are no concerns at linebacker. The Panthers have one of the best players at that position in the entire league in Luke Kuechly. The 28-year-old used to have some major concussion concerns, but he has missed just one game in the past two seasons. Kuechly will start next to Shaq Thompson, a solid player. It remains to be seen how Thompson will be able to transition into the 3-4.

2019 Carolina Panthers Schedule and Intangibles:
The Panthers needed to develop a strong home-field advantage. They were a mediocre 20-22 as hosts in the five seasons prior to 2015. Problem solved: They’ve been 25-9 as hosts since 2015.

Graham Gano was one of the top kickers in the NFL last year, going 14-of-16, including 3-of-4 from beyond 50. He was a near-perfect 29-of-30 the prior season.

Michael Palardy did a solid job of punting last year, ranking 12th in net average.

Carolina did not do well on special teams otherwise, as it was outgained on both punts and kickoffs.

The Panthers have a chance to get off to a good start. They play the Buccaneers twice in their first six games, and they also host the Jaguars and battle the Cardinals in that span. Things get much more difficult later in the year.

2019 Carolina Panthers Rookies:
Go here for the Panthers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2019 Carolina Panthers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2019 Carolina Panthers Analysis: The Panthers likely would have made a playoff appearance last year had Cam Newton not gotten injured. Remember, they were 6-2 before he hurt his shoulder. Sources say Newton is back to 100 percent, which is obviously tremendous for Carolina. The team, armed with a better offensive line and pass rush, could make a deep postseason run in 2019.

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

2018 Projection: 11-5. 2018 Actual Result: 7-9.
2017 Projection: 7-9. 2017 Actual Result: 11-5.
2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 6-10.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C Grade

Goals Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: The Panthers absolutely must protect Cam Newton, given his shoulder issues. Failing to do so could cut his career short, which would be extremely unfortunate. Meanwhile, the defense needs personnel for its new 3-4 scheme. Carolina’s pass rush was lackluster this past season, so that must change. The secondary is also in need of help.

2019 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Panthers began the draft well, landing Brian Burns with the 16th-overall pick. There was speculation leading up to the draft that Burns could be chosen earlier than that, so credit Carolina for staying put and ultimately getting its man. Burns will provide a big boost on the edge, which was a lacking area in the new 3-4 scheme.

Things soured for the Panthers after that, however. While they didn’t panic and trade up for Burns, they did just that in acquiring Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little, who is a raw prospect who probably won’t be able to help Carolina this season. The Panthers then wasted a pick on Will Grier when they already had a superior, young quarterback on their roster in Kyle Allen. The third poor selection was Jordan Scarlett, a mediocre running back who happens to be a bad character guy to have in the locker room.

Carolina made some nice picks in addition to Burns, particularly Christian Miller, who will be another threat on the edge. However, they weren’t enough to offset some of the unwise decisions the Panthers made throughout the weekend.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

16. Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Florida State A- Grade
I slotted Brian Burns as high as No. 8 in my mock draft at one point. I thought that was a bit too high for them, but the 16th-overall selection provides good value for the Seminole. The Panthers are moving to a 3-4 defense, and they needed to select one of the talented edge rushers. They certainly got one in Burns. He has explosive ability and high-character marks, as he was a captain at Florida State. This is the right move by the Panthers, though Andre Dillard could be argued for at this juncture.

37. Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little, OT, Ole Miss C Grade
I don’t really think the Panthers needed to move up for this pick. There’s a chance that Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little would’ve fallen to their own selection, and if not, Carolina could have obtained a comparable prospect. Little has great upside and could eventually emerge to be a good starter, but he’s raw and will probably need to sit for a year. He’ll have the opportunity to do that in Carolina, as the Panthers re-signed Daryl Williams for one season.

100. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia C- Grade
I couldn’t believe that Will Grier was getting first-round consideration, according to the media. I had him slotted in the fourth round. Grier has bad mechanics, poor pocket awareness and putrid decision-making ability. He throws a nice ball, but he is far from a finished product. He might be able to develop into a capable backup behind Cam Newton and his worrisome shoulder, but the Panthers already had a solid backup in Kyle Allen. I’m not sure Grier is better than Allen.

115. Christian Miller, DE/OLB, Alabama A Grade
The Panthers made an excellent pick in the fourth round with Christian Miller. I thought Miller could’ve been chosen a whole round earlier than this, and probably would have if he didn’t have some injury concerns. Miller is not only a dynamic edge rusher, but also a high-character person. He’ll fill a big need for the Panthers in their new 3-4.

154. Jordan Scarlett, RB, Florida D Grade
I can’t say I’m a fan of this pick. Jordan Scarlett was a mediocre producer at Florida and didn’t test well athletically. Furthermore, he had multiple off-the-field issues, including a situation in which he got into trouble for credit card fraud. I didn’t think there was a good chance the Scarlett running back would be drafted.

212. Dennis Daley, OT, South Carolina A- Grade
Dennis Daley is a raw player, but he has enough athleticism to be a potential No. 3 tackle on an NFL roster. He could have been chosen much earlier on Day 3, so I think this is pretty solid value for the Panthers, who needed to add another lineman.

237. Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia B- Grade
Terry Godwin appeared in my mock draft at times, but didn’t make the final cut. Godwin is a short and slow receiver who doesn’t run routes very well. He also tested poorly at the combine. The one positive is that he possesses high-character marks, so perhaps he’ll be able to work hard and develop.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Panthers were 6-2 to begin the year, but they collapsed in the wake of Cam Newton’s shoulder injury, which worsened as the second half of the season progressed. Carolina will bring everyone back for 2019, so it’ll have a chance at a playoff run if Newton stays healthy.

Offseason Moves:
  • Panthers sign DT Gerald McCoy
  • Panthers cut S Da’Norris Searcy
  • Panthers sign WR Chris Hogan
  • Panthers sign DE/OLB Bruce Irvin
  • Panthers cut OT Matt Kalil
  • Panthers sign C Matt Paradis

    Team Needs:
    1. Left Tackle: As mentioned in the season summary, Carolina’s downfall coincided with Cam Newton’s shoulder injury. The Panthers absolutely must make sure that Newton is protected as well as possible next year. Re-signed Daryl Williams

    2. Center: Long-time center Ryan Kalil said that 2018 would be his final season in the pros. If so, the Panthers will definitely need to replace him, perhaps on Day 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft. Signed Matt Paradis

    3. Two Cornerbacks: Moving on to the other side of the ball, the Panthers had an atrocious pass defense last year. Aside from rookie Donte Jackson, none of the cornerbacks played well. Two new ones are needed.

    4. Safety: A new safety must be acquired as well. Mike Adams’ play fell off last year, while Eric Reid was penalized too frequently.

    5. Defensive End: The Panthers need a young edge rusher to harass Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Julius Peppers played well last year, but he turns 39 this offseason.

    6. Guard: By now, it should be fairly evident that Carolina’s offensive line needs an overhaul. The Panthers will not make the playoffs in 2019 if they can’t protect Newton.

    7. Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are promising young receivers, but the Panthers need another wideout, as Devin Funchess was a big disappointment. Bringing in a veteran to help in the meeting room would be a good idea. Signed Chris Hogan

    8. Running Back Depth: The Panthers could use a viable backup behind Christian McCaffrey. It’s unclear why they got rid of C.J. Anderson.

    9. Linebacker Depth: Thomas Davis is headed for free agency. A replacement will be needed if he’s not re-signed.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2019 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Gerald McCoy, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Panthers (1 year, $8 million)

      Gerald McCoy was the subject of trade rumors, but the Buccaneers had no leverage. He was released for financial reasons, as well as the fact that he’s not a good fit in the new 3-4. McCoy is no longer the dominant force he once was, but he’s still capable of playing on close to a Pro Bowl level. He turned 31 this offseason, so a sharp decline will come soon, but he should still have two or three more strong years remaining in the tank.

    2. Matt Paradis, C, Broncos. Age: 29.
      Signed with Panthers (3 years, $27 million)

      Matt Paradis is an excellent center. He missed the final seven games of the year with a fractured fibula, but he hasn’t been out for any other contest in his career. Paradis turns 30 in October, but he should continue to play on a high level for several seasons.

    3. Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Falcons. Age: 31.
      Signed with Panthers (1 year)

      Bruce Irvin was problematic in Oakland’s locker room, which is why the team got rid of him. Irvin was slow to adjust to the Falcons, but found his stride late in the year when he recorded 3.5 sacks in the final four games. Irvin could begin slowing down, however, as he turns 32 right before Thanksgiving.

    4. Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers
    5. Aldrick Robinson, WR, Vikings. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers

    Carolina Panthers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Daryl Williams, OT, Panthers. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Panthers (1 year)

      Daryl Williams was sorely missed in 2018. He played just one game because of a knee injury. Williams is Carolina’s best offensive lineman, and he’s only 27 (in August), so he’s still due a large contract despite barely playing last year.

    2. Thomas Davis, OLB, Panthers. Age: 36.
      Signed with Chargers

      Thomas Davis played well in 2018 despite being 35 years old. He was solid in coverage, proving that he can still perform decently despite being in his mid-30s.

    3. Ryan Kalil, C, Panthers. Age: 34.
      Annnounced retirement

      Ryan Kalil, a former perennial Pro Bowler, hasn’t been the same recently because of injuries. He said that 2018 was going to be his final season in the pros.

    4. Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers. Age: 39.
      Announced retirement

      Julius Peppers still played well last year, recording five sacks and stopping the run well. However, he’s now 39, so it’s only a matter of time before he becomes useless.

    5. Mike Adams, S, Panthers. Age: 38.
      Mike Adams had played very well in his mid-30s, but he finally suffered regression in 2018. Adams struggled to cover, so it seems as though his career is coming to an end.

    6. Kyle Love, DT, Panthers. Age: 32.
    7. Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers. Age: 25. — Signed with Colts (1 year)
    8. Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Panthers. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Panthers
    9. Chris Clark, OT, Panthers. Age: 33.
    10. Matt Kalil, OT, Panthers. Age: 30. — Signed with Texans (1 year)
    11. Marshall Newhouse, OT, Panthers. Age: 30.
    12. Da’Norris Searcy, S, Panthers. Age: 30.
    13. Chris Manhertz, TE, Panthers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Panthers (2 years)
    14. Wes Horton, DE, Panthers. Age: 29.
    15. Colin Jones, S, Panthers. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Panthers (2 years, $2.6 million)
    16. David Mayo, ILB, Panthers. Age: 26. — Signed with 49ers (2 years)
    17. Kenjon Barner, RB, Panthers. Age: 30. — Signed with Falcons
    18. Fozzy Whittaker, RB, Panthers. Age: 30.
    19. Amini Silatolu, G, Panthers. Age: 30.
    20. Ian Silberman (RFA), OT, Panthers. Age: 26.
    21. Ben Jacobs, OLB, Panthers. Age: 31.
    22. Damiere Byrd, WR, Panthers. Age: 26.
    23. Jared Norris (RFA), OLB, Panthers. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Panthers

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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