2020 NFL Offseason: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers (Last Year: 5-11)

2020 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Teddy Bridgewater, QB Phillip Walker, WR Robby Anderson, WR Seth Roberts, TE Seth DeValve, OT Russell Okung, G Michael Schofield, G John Miller, DE Stephen Weatherly, DT Zach Kerr, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Eli Apple, S Juston Burris.
Early Draft Picks:
DT Derrick Brown, DE Yetur Gross-Matos, S/LB Jeremy Chinn, CB Troy Pride. Panthers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Cam Newton, QB Kyle Allen, TE Greg Olsen, OT Daryl Williams, G Trai Turner, G Greg Van Roten, DE Mario Addison, DT Gerald McCoy, DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, CB James Bradberry, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Javien Elliott, S Eric Reid.

2020 Carolina Panthers Offense:
The Cam Newton saga certainly had its twists and turns. Carolina's new owner initially expressed his desire to trade Newton, then backed off that sentiment. Trade rumors then emerged again, which was followed by an incorrect Ian Rapoport report citing that Newton would be the team's quarterback in 2020. Weeks later, the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater and then tried to trade Newton, which proved to be impossible because they lost all of their leverage. They cut Newton shortly later.

Bridgewater has a dubious injury history, which includes a devastating knee injury he suffered prior to the 2016 season. Bridgewater hadn't been a starter after that until this past season when he took over for Drew Brees and thrived. He was 5-0 as a starter, throwing nine touchdowns compared to just two interceptions, all while completing 67.9 percent of his passes. Bridgewater had the luxury of being coached by Sean Payton, so there's reason to expect some sort of decline with a coaching staff that doesn't have much NFL experience.

That said, Bridgewater will have some talented weapons at his disposal. First and foremost, Christian McCaffrey is the most dangerous dual threat back in the NFL. McCaffrey rushed for 1,387 yards, scored 19 total touchdowns and caught 116 passes in 2019. McCaffrey's workload will have to lighten a bit if the Panthers want to preserve him for the long haul, but he'll continue to shoulder a high percentage of the team's output.

Aside from McCaffrey, D.J. Moore is the biggest threat in Carolina's offense. The 2018 first-rounder found himself in Ron Rivera's dog house as a rookie, but he took a huge leap this past season, catching 87 balls for 1,175 yards and four touchdowns. There's no reason to think Moore won't continue to improve as he gains more experience. Moore is part of a talented trio at receiver, which includes Curtis Samuel and the newly signed Robby Anderson, who will be the deep threat in the offense. Meanwhile, new tight end Ian Smith is athletic and should serve as a capable replacement for the departed Greg Olsen.

The greatest area of concern in Carolina's offense is the blocking unit. The team made an odd move this offseason when it dealt talented guard Trai Turner to the Chargers for oft-injured left tackle Russell Okung. It'll be difficult to imagine Okung going through the season unscathed, so it's a good thing Carolina has 2019 second-rounder Greg "Mr. Reliable" Little to fill in for him, if needed. Right tackle Taylor Moton, meanwhile, played very well in 2019. It'll be interesting to see if they decide to move him inside to make room for Little.

Even if Okung can manage to remain healthy, the interior of the Panthers' offensive line will be a liability. As mentioned, Turner is gone, so the starters appear to be center Matt Paradis and guards Michael Schofield and John Miller. Paradis is a solid blocker, but the same can't be said for the guards, both of whom are incompetent.

2020 Carolina Panthers Defense:
The Panthers spent every single pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on defense. It was easy to see why, as there were multiple reasons for this. The Panthers were mercilessly trampled by opposing rushing attacks every week last year. If that wasn't enough, Carolina now has to deal with Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan twice per season. And then, of course, they had some key departures, like stud cornerback James Bradberry and future Hall of Fame linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Beating elite quarterbacks requires heavily pressuring them consistently without blitzing, which would explain why the Panthers used their first two selections on defensive linemen. Derrick Brown was arguably the best prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft, excluding Chase Young, so he'll be a major upgrade next to Kawann Short, who missed most of 2019 with an injury. Brown and Short figure to be one of the top defensive tackle tandems in the NFL, so Carolina's rush defense will be much better this year.

The Panthers' second-round pick was used on Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who was widely projected to be chosen in the opening round. Gross-Matos will pair with last year's first-rounder, Brian Burns, to form what should be a capable pass-rushing duo.

Carolina's next two selections addressed the secondary. It was going to be very difficult to replace Bradberry without spending a first-round pick on cornerback C.J. Henderson, but the Panthers took a shot on Troy Pride Jr. There's a chance he could start across from Donte Jackson, who has been inconsistent thus far in his two NFL seasons. The other option is someone named Corn Elder, whose parents must be disappointed that he did not become a farmer.

At safety, second-round rookie Jeremy Chinn is expected to start next to Tre Boston. Chinn intrigued some NFL Draft analysts, and there was some expectations that he could be chosen in the opening round. He's a versatile player who should be able to play linebacker in sub packages. He'll start next to Tre Boston, who covers well but misses far too many tackles.

Replacing Kuechly will be the difficult task. Carolina's defense suffered a major decline whenever he had been injured in the past, so it's reasonable to expect the same sort of regression now that he has retired. Shaq Thompson is a talented linebacker, but that's all the Panthers really have at the position unless Chinn is included. The Panthers have one of the worst linebacking corps in the NFL, which is something Brees, Brady and Ryan will be able to exploit.

2020 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 between 2015 and 2018, but reverted to 2-6 in 2019.

Graham Gano was one of the top kickers in the NFL in 2018, going 14-of-16, including 3-of-4 from beyond 50. He was a near-perfect 29-of-30 the prior season. However, he missed all of 2019 because of a knee injury.

Michael Palardy did a solid job of punting in 2018, ranking 12th in net average. He dropped to 28th last year.

Carolina had the worst punt return unit in the NFL. It was outgained by nearly six yards and surrendered a ridiculous three touchdowns.

The Panthers have some winnable games to start the season, as they host the Raiders, Cardinals, Bears and Falcons in four of their initial eight contests. However, there's a stretch later in the year where they must battle the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Vikings, Broncos, Packers and Saints in six of their final eight games.

2020 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.

2020 Carolina Panthers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2020 Carolina Panthers Analysis: The Panthers are in rough shape. Their offensive line is a mess, which is especially problematic because they're breaking in a new quarterback. Their defense, meanwhile, has some major problems in the linebacking corps and secondary because of some key departures. Then, there's the problem with the Panthers having a coaching staff with barely NFL experience that has to install new systems in a chaotic offseason. Add all of this up, and factor in how difficult the NFC South is, and it's reasonable to expect Carolina to have one of the worst records in the NFL this year.

Projection: 2-14 (4th in NFC South)

2019 Projection: 10-6. 2018 Actual Result: 5-11.
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: A Grade

Goals Entering the 2020 NFL Draft: Despite the signing of Teddy Bridgewater, the Panthers are in rebuild mode. They have holes all over their roster that must be addressed, including the offensive line, defensive backfield, defensive line, and most of all, linebacker in the wake of Luke Kuechly's retirement. This draft is all about the Panthers just adding as much talent as possible so they can begin winning again in 2021.

2020 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Panthers became the first NFL team in the modern era to have seven or more picks in a draft and use them all on the same side of the ball. This draft class was all about Carolina bolstering its defense, and rightfully so. Except for the offensive line, all of the holes the Panthers had on their roster were on the defensive side.

Carolina began with a tremendous pick, snatching the best prospect in this class, excluding Chase Young, at No. 7 overall. Derrick Brown will join Kawann Short, Brian Burns and second-rounder Yetur Gross-Matos in what could end up being the best defensive line east of San Francisco. Both Brown and Gross-Matos were outstanding picks, as was Jeremy Chinn, who was a steal at the very end of the second frame.

The Panthers made some nice choices on Day 3 as well, namely former XFL star Kenny Robinson. None of the picks helped the linebacking corps, but I don't believe there was any scenario in which Carolina was in a position to replace Luke Kuechly. For example, both Jordyn Brooks and Patrick Queen were snatched off the board before the Panthers were on the clock at No. 38. With that in mind, I believe Carolina deserves an "A" for its haul.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

7. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn - A+ Grade
Some consider Derrick Brown to be the second-best prospect in this class behind Chase Young. The Panthers were able to get the No. 2 prospect with the seventh pick, so you could say that this is a steal. The Panthers now reside in a division with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Beating elite (and very good) quarterbacks requires teams to have elite four-man fronts that can deliver pressure consistently without the help of a blitz. Brown will be able to provide that for the Panthers. I love this pick.

38. Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State - A+ Grade
What a steal by the Panthers! Yetur Gross-Matos was definitely a first-round prospect, but he slipped a bit because of off-the-field issues. As I wrote earlier, with Derrick Brown joining Kawann Short and Brian Burns, the Panthers are another talented edge rusher short of having the best defensive front east of San Francisco. Gross-Matos could be the solution.

64. Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois - A Grade
The Panthers traded up to this spot, but for good reason. There were a handful of second-round safeties entering Day 2, and Jeremy Chinn is the final one. The Panthers, who did a good job of bolstering their defensive front already, needed help in the back end. Chinn will be a nice upgrade, and Carolina is getting him for good value.

113. Troy Pride, CB, Notre Dame - B+ Grade
Troy Pride was very inconsistent at Notre Dame, but he ran a very fast 40 time at the combine and showed nice potential. The Panthers needed to add a cornerback in the wake of James Bradberry's departure, and Pride makes sense in this spot as a third- or fourth-round prospect.

152. Kenny Robnson, CB/S, XFL - A+ Grade
This may not mean much, but Kenny Robinson shut down the best receiver in the XFL when that league was happening. Robinson was once considered a first-round prospect, but decided to play in the XFL. The Panthers are potentially getting a great steal.

184. Bravvion Roy, DT, Baylor - D- Grade
I'm stumped. I didn't have this guy on any list anywhere. Is this a joke? Did the Panthers do this to protest ESPN's horrible draft coverage? I don't know.

221. Stantley Thomas-Oliver, CB, Florida International - B+ Grade
Stantley Thomas-Oliver needs to be developed, but the potential is there. He has nice size (6-2) and he runs a 4.48 40. The Panthers might be able to turn him into a viable NFL player. He certainly has the upside.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.


Season Summary:
The Panthers came into the 2019 campaign with lots of promise, but Cam Newton's foot injury in the preseason completely ruined his season. He played just two games, then gave way to Kyle Allen. The young quarterback led Carolina to a 5-3 start, but the team lost eight consecutive games to close out the year.

Offseason Moves:
  • Panthers sign G Michael Schofield
  • Panthers sign DT Zach Kerr
  • Panthers sign WR Robby Anderson
  • Panthers cut QB Cam Newton
  • Panthers sign OLB Tahir Whitehead
  • Redskins acquire QB Kyle Allen from Panthers
  • Panthers sign QB Phillip Walker
  • Panthers sign TE Seth DeValve
  • Panthers sign WR Pharoh Cooper
  • Panthers sign G John Miller
  • Panthers sign WR Seth Roberts
  • Cowboys sign DT Gerald McCoy
  • Panthers sign QB Teddy Bridgewater
  • Chargers acquire G Trai Turner from Panthers for OT Russell Okung
  • Panthers sign S Juston Burris
  • Panthers sign DE Stephen Weatherly

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: The Panthers might move on from Cam Newton, who can't stay healthy. They should probably give Newton one more chance while bringing in a viable backup, but new owner Bobby Axelrod may want his own guy. Signed Teddy Bridgewater and Phillip Walker

    2. Safety: Carolina's run defense was horrific in 2019. Part of that had to do with Kawann Short's injury, but the safeties' inability to tackle well also played a large part. Tre Boston is an impending free agent, while Eric Reid is coming off an atrocious season, so a new safety is desperately needed. Signed Juston Burris

    3. Guard: Pass protection was a big issue down the stretch, and it coincided with Greg Van Roten's injury. Van Roten is an impending free agent, so he'll need to be replaced if he departs. Signed John Miller and Michael Schofield

    4. Cornerback: James Bradberry is Carolina's top impending free agent, so a new cornerback will be needed if Bradberry isn't retained.

    5. Two Edge Rushers: Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin are two key free agents, so they'll need to be replaced if they leave via the open market. Signed Stephen Weatherly

    6. Defensive Tackle: Kawann Short will return from injury in 2020, but the Panthers will need a long-term solution to eventually replace the aging Gerald McCoy. Signed Zach Kerr

    7. Offensive Tackle Depth: Rookie Greg "Mr. Reliable" Little did well in his first year, but there was a glaring lack of depth when he was injured.

    8. Wide Receiver: Carolina could use a third receiver to go along with D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Signed Pharoh Cooper

    9. Linebacker Depth: The Panthers don't really have anything beyond Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson at linebacker. Signed Tahir Whitehead

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2020 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Robby Anderson, WR, Jets. Age: 27.
      Signed with Panthers (2 years, $20 million)

      Robby Anderson is a dynamic deep threat who couldn't hit his potential because of limitations with the rest of the offense. Anderson has some off-the-field problems.

    2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Saints. Age: 27.
      Signed with Panthers (3 years, $63 million)

      Teddy Bridgewater was excellent in relief of Drew Brees, throwing nine touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. He looked like the pre-injury version of himself, though being coached up by Sean Payton certainly helped.

    3. Phillip Walker, QB, XFL. Age: 26.
      Signed with Panthers

      Phillip Walker was the favorite to win MVP in the XFL before the season was canceled. Walker is a dual-threat quarterback with upside, so some team should give him a chance to play in the NFL.

    4. Juston Burris, S, Browns. Age: 27.
      Signed with Panthers (2 years, $8 million)

      Juston Burris stepped up in the wake of Morgan Burnett's injury. He played well to close out the year, so he deserves a shot to compete as a starter somewhere.

    5. Stephen Weatherly, DE, Vikings. Age: 26. -- Signed with Panthers (2 years, $12 million)
    6. Seth Roberts, WR, Ravens. Age: 29. -- Signed with Panthers
    7. Michael Schofield, G, Chargers. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bears
    8. John Miller, G, Bengals. Age: 27. -- Signed with Panthers (1 year)
    9. Tahir Whitehead, OLB, Raiders. Age: 30. -- Signed with Panthers
    10. Pharoh Cooper, WR, Cardinals. Age: 25. -- Signed with Panthers (1 year)
    11. Seth DeValve, TE, Jaguars. Age: 27. -- Signed with Panthers

    Carolina Panthers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Patriots

      It's hard to believe the Cam Newton era is over in Carolina. Newton was the MVP just five years ago, but his career has been derailed by numerous injuries. He hurt his shoulder in 2018 and then played two games last year and wasn't healthy for either one of them because of a foot injury. Newton can still perform on an All-Pro level when healthy, but it's fair to wonder if he'll ever be 100 percent again. Still, he's well worth taking a shot on because of his enormous upside and leadership.

    2. James Bradberry, CB, Panthers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Giants (3 years, $45 million)

      James Bradberry struggles to tackle, but he covered No. 1 receivers this past season and did a great job in that regard. He's only 27 (as of August), and will be due a big contract, or the franchise tag.

    3. Daryl Williams, OT, Panthers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Bills (1 year)

      Daryl Williams is coming off a disappointing year, but I suppose that should've been expected, given that he was coming off a knee injury. Williams should be able to bounce back in 2020, but he comes with lots of risk because of his dubious injury history.

    4. Tre Boston, S, Panthers. Age: 28.
      Tre Boston played well in his second stint with the Panthers. He gets abused in run support because he struggles to tackle, but he's excellent in coverage.

    5. Mario Addison, DE, Panthers. Age: 32.
      Signed with Bills (3 years)

      Mario Addison hasn't recorded fewer than nine sacks in each of the past four years. However, he turns 33 in early September, so he might be due for some regression.

    6. Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Panthers. Age: 32.
      Signed with Seahawks

      Bruce Irvin played exclusively as a pass rusher for the first time in his pro career, and he managed to accumulate a career-best 8.5 sacks. Unfortunately, he turns 33 in November, so he'll decline soon.

    7. Greg Van Roten, G, Panthers. Age: 30.
      Signed with Jets

      Greg Van Roten played well this past season until he suffered a season-ending toe injury in November. His absence was one of the several reasons for Carolina's downfall at the end of the year.

    8. Ross Cockrell, CB, Panthers. Age: 29.
      Ross Cockrell isn't a very good tackler, but he tends to cover very well. He struggled through a quad injury in the middle of 2019, but did well otherwise.

    9. Javien Elliott, CB, Panthers. Age: 27.
      Javien Elliott didn't play much to start the year, but he was a bigger part of the defense as the season progressed. He performed rather well.

    10. Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers. Age: 35.
      Signed with Seahawks (1 year, $7 million)

      Greg Olsen is a shell of his former self at 35 (as of March), but he can still serve as a reliable receiving tight end for one more year.

    11. Kyle Love, DT, Panthers. Age: 33.
    12. Colin Jones, S/ST, Panthers. Age: 32.
    13. Eric Reid, S, Panthers. Age: 28.
    14. Chris Hogan, WR, Panthers. Age: 32.

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

    NFL Picks - Nov. 25

    2021 NFL Mock Draft - Nov. 25

    2022 NFL Mock Draft - Nov. 15

    NFL Power Rankings - Nov. 14

    Fantasy Football Rankings - Sept. 9

    2020 College Football Recruiting Rankings - April 14

    2020 NBA Mock Draft - Sept. 27



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