2022 NFL Offseason: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers (Last Year: 5-12)

2022 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Baker Mayfield, RB D’Onta Foreman, G Austin Corbett, C Bradley Bozeman, DT Matt Ioannidis, LB Cory Littleton, LB Damien Wilson, CB Chris Westry, S Xavier Woods, P Johnny Hekker.
Early Draft Picks:
OT Ikem Ekwonu, QB Matt Corral, LB Brandon Smith. Panthers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Cam Newton, RB Ameer Abdullah, G John Miller, C Matt Paradis, DT DaQuan Jones, DE/OLB Haason Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB A.J. Bouye.

2022 Carolina Panthers Offense:
The Panthers tried desperately to resolve their quarterback conundrum this offseason. They attempted to acquire all the top options, including Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. They whiffed on all the candidates, leaving Sam Darnold to be the starting quarterback again heading into July. Darnold told the media that he can be one of the top quarterbacks in the league, but we’ve seen no evidence of that yet. He threw more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (9) in 12 games last year, and he failed to complete 60 percent of his passes on a 6.2 YPA. The only positive that can be said about him is that he scrambled well in some contests. Otherwise, Darnold was horrible. The Panthers had to make a move for a quarterback, and they ended up trading a conditional fifth-round choice for Baker Mayfield, who will be an enormous upgrade.

In Darnold’s defense, he had poor blocking and a diminished supporting cast last season. Beginning with the latter, Christian McCaffrey was barely on the field last year. He suffered an injury in Week 3 when the Panthers were about to improve to 3-0. He didn’t see the field again until Week 9, but got hurt again a few weeks later. He missed the rest of the season with an ankle injury. McCaffrey has barely played recently – just 10 games in the past two years – but this may just be a fluke. There’s a chance he could be a full-time player again in 2022, and if so, Carolina could get back to its winning ways. The Panthers were 3-2 in full games McCaffrey played last year, and 2-10 without him.

If McCaffrey plays a full season, he’ll find that he and Mayfield will enjoy much better blocking in front of them. The offensive line was a huge weakness last year, so the Panthers sought to rectify that problem this spring. They began by adding two interior offensive linemen, guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman, both of whom figure to be major upgrades. The largest boost of all will be at left tackle, given that Carolina used the No. 6 overall selection on Ikem Ekwonu. The N.C. State product will fill the largest hole Carolina had on its roster, besides quarterback.

The two returning offensive linemen are guard Brady Christensen and right tackle Taylor Moton. Christensen, a third-round pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, will be the weak link of the front unless he can improve his play. Moton, conversely, is one of the better players at his position.

With much better blocking, the Panther receivers stand to benefit because Mayfield will have plenty of time in the pocket to locate them downfield. D.J. Moore could finally eclipse the 1,200-yard barrier after compiling between 1,157 and 1,193 yards during the past three years. Robby Anderson, meanwhile, saw his reception total drop from 95 in 2020 to 53 in 2021. He could really stand to benefit from the superior blocking, as could second-year Terrace Marshall, a second-round pick from the 2021 NFL Draft.

2022 Carolina Panthers Defense:
While the Panthers struggled to pass last year, their defense at least did well to stop aerial attacks. The primary reason for this was Carolina’s great pass rush, which finished in the top 10 of pressure rate in 2021 despite the team trailing in many games. Brian Burns was the lead catalyst, as he has emerged as one of the top edge rushers in the NFL. There’s also potential across from him; Yetur Gross-Matos was a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Gross-Matos logged 3.5 sacks in 2021 as a part-time player.

Carolina has a player with high potential and a proven commodity in the interior of the defensive line as well. The former is Derrick Brown, who hasn’t quite lived up to his upside as a former top-10 pick – he has tallied five total sacks in two seasons – but he has shown flashes of brilliance at times. He’ll start next to Matt Ioannidis, who was a solid player for the Redskins.

The pass rush is just one part of the equation for Carolina’s aerial defense. The other part is the high level of play at cornerback. The Panthers used a first-round pick on Jaycee Horn last April, and once he suffered an injury, the team traded for Stephon Gilmore. The former Patriot is gone, but Horn will return for his second season. Horn and Donte Jackson will be the top two cornerbacks. Carolina awarded Jackson a $35 million contract for his level of play. Conversely, the Panthers also traded for C.J. Henderson, who has been a huge disappointment.

The safeties, meanwhile, are talented as well. Jeremy Chinn, a second-round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, was one of the most improved players in the NFL last season. He’ll play next to Xavier Woods, who has been a solid defender for the Cowboys and Vikings in recent years.

Carolina isn’t as loaded at linebacker, but there’s some hope. Shaq Thompson is the only proven quality player at the position. He’ll start next to one of Cory Littleton or fourth-round rookie Brandon Smith. Littleton was once a skilled player for the Rams, but he regressed ever since he signed with the Raiders. Perhaps he’ll redeem himself in Carolina. Otherwise, Smith will have a chance to also prove himself; he slid a bit in the 2022 NFL Draft.

2022 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 temporarily solved: They’ve been 25-9 as hosts between 2015 and 2018, but reverted to 2-6 in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Carolina found some kicking stability last year with Lil’Zane Gonzalez, who missed on just two of his 22 attempts last year. He was 3-of-5 from 50-plus.

The Panthers obtained a new punter in Johnny Hekker. He’s a quality punter, and he’s also the king of the fake punt.

Carolina neither scored nor allowed a touchdown on special teams last year.

The Panthers have a tough schedule. Non-divisional opponents include the Rams, 49ers, Bengals, Ravens, Broncos and Browns, though the Cleveland game could occur when Deshaun Watson is suspended.

2022 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.

2022 Carolina Panthers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2022 Carolina Panthers Analysis: The Panthers were a quarterback and one healthy season from Christian McCaffrey away from being a contender. They’ve improved their offensive line greatly, and they have some serious talent on the defensive side of the ball. The issue was Sam Darnold, but that’s not a factor anymore in the wake of the Baker Mayfield trade. With Mayfield, the Panthers are now one of the better teams in the NFC.

Projection: 10-7 (2nd in NFC South)

2021 Projection: 9-8. 2021 Actual Result: 5-12.
2020 Projection: 2-14. 2020 Actual Result: 5-11.
2019 Projection: 10-6. 2019 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 2022 NFL Draft: The Panthers have only one pick in the top 136 selections. They can’t accomplish much in the 2022 NFL Draft as a result. The only thing they must do is decide whether or not they want to draft a franchise quarterback with the sixth-overall pick.

2022 NFL Draft Accomplishments: To quote a former NFL running back, the Panthers “ate their cake and ate it, too.” Carolina had to decide on whether it wanted to select a quarterback or a left tackle at No. 6 overall. As it turns out, the front office was able to acquire both.

Based on what happened, the Panthers made the right choice by selecting Ikem Ekwonu. All the quarterbacks, aside from Kenny Pickett, plummeted in the 2022 NFL Draft. I’m sure the Panthers didn’t expect to land Matt Corral toward the end of the third round, but they were able to do so by trading next year’s third for the Ole Miss product. Corral has some personality question marks, but his talent level was worthy of at least a second-round pick. He’ll be able to compete with Sam Darnold right away for the starting job, and if he wins it, he’ll have some nice protection from Ekwonu.

Carolina had four picks on Day 3, and all scored B+ or better. The two best selections were Amare Barno and Kalon Barnes, two defenders who should have been chosen earlier in the draft. Brandon Smith and Cade Mays were good picks as well.

I love what the Panthers did overall. They had a dilemma, and they found a way to choose both solutions by being patient. In the end, they came away with an excellent haul.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

6. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, N.C. State – A- Grade
The Panthers are getting some value with this pick, as many believed that Ickey Ekwonu could have been the third-overall pick. More importantly, Carolina is taking Ekwonu over a mediocre quarterback prospect, which is the correct decision. The Panthers are better off either trading for Baker Mayfield (assuming the Browns take on some of his salary) or waiting until 2023 to land a quarterback. Either way, this quarterback will have quality protection because of Ekwonu.

94. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss – A+ Grade
I thought the Panthers would trade future picks for Matt Corral, but would do so in the second round! Getting Corral toward the end of the third frame is amazing value. I don’t know why Corral slipped outside of possible injury concerns. He’s a legitimate second-round quarterback who might be able to beat out Sam Darnold sooner rather than later.

120. Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State – B+ Grade
Brandon Smith has great athleticism and upside, so I like the Panthers taking a shot on him in the fourth round. He’s also a versatile player who will be able to help the Panthers’ defense in a number of ways, provided he lives up to his potential.

189. Amare Barno, DE, Virignia Tech – A Grade
I was told that the Panthers wanted to address their edge-rushing depth with one of their “earlier” picks in this draft. They finally addressed the situation with this pick, and they did so with an incredible value. I had Amare Barno in the third round of my mock in some updates!

199. Cade Mays, OT, Tennessee – B+ Grade
Cade Mays has great physical talent, but he has some injury concerns. If he can get over those, he’ll be a potential starter down the road for the Panthers, though that may not be so difficult, given the team’s major blocking issues. It’s nice that Mays can play every position.

242. Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor – A+ Grade
Wow, what a steal! I had Kalon Barnes in the fourth round. Leave it to a former Seahawks executive to obtain a high-upside cornerback in the late rounds. Kalon Barnes is extremely fast, so at the very worst, he’ll contribute on special teams.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
Year two of Matt Rhule’s seven-year plan finished with a long losing streak. The Panthers began the season 3-0, but the injury to Christian McCaffrey derailed Carolina’s chances of competing for a playoff spot.

Offseason Moves:
  • Panthers sign KR Andre Roberts
  • Panthers sign CB Chris Westry
  • Panthers sign LB Cory Littleton
  • Panthers sign P Johnny Hekker
  • Panthers sign C Bradley Bozeman
  • Panthers sign DT Matt Ioannidis
  • Panthers sign LB Damien Wilson
  • Panthers sign RB D’Onta Foreman
  • Panthers sign G Austin Corbett
  • Panthers sign S Xavier Woods

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Matt Rhule sees himself as the Jay-Z of NFL coaches. A coach without a quarterback is like a rapper without a beat. Sam Darnold has proven himself not to be the answer.

    2. Left Tackle: Even if the Panthers find a quarterback, it won’t matter much because they won’t be able to protect him at all. Left tackle is a huge weakness.

    3. Three Interior Offensive Linemen: Save for Taylor Moton, the Panthers sport a dreadful offensive line. Two new guards were already needed, and now center Matt Paradis is due to hit free agency. Signed Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman

    4. Linebacker: Carolina’s run defense must improve. Help is needed at linebacker next to Shaq Thompson. Signed Cory Littleton

    5. Defensive Tackle: DaQuan Jones is someone who will have to be re-signed or replaced. Signed Matt Ioannidis

    6. Wide Receiver: Carolina could stand to find a better No. 2 receiver than Robby Anderson, who dropped countless passes in 2021. Signed Rashad Higgins

    7. Punter: Lachlan Edwards was one of the worst punters in the NFL last year. Signed Johnny Hekker

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2022 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Bradley Bozeman, C, Ravens. Age: 27.
      Signed with Panthers

      Bradley Bozeman has made great strides throughout his young career thus far. He was an excellent center in 2021 in both pass protection and run blocking.

    2. Austin Corbett, G, Rams. Age: 26.
      Signed with Panthers

      Austin Corbett was chosen by the Browns atop the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He struggled in Cleveland, but has made some huge improvements with the Rams.

    3. Johnny Hekker, P, Rams. Age: 32.
      Signed with Panthers (3 years)

      Master of the fake punt, Johnny Hekker is pretty mediocre when it comes to net punting average.

    4. Xavier Woods, S, Vikings. Age: 27.
      Signed with Panthers (3 years, $15.75 million)

      Xavier Woods isn’t great in coverage, but he’s a great tackler and run-supporting safety.

    5. Matt Ioannidis, DE/DT, Redskins. Age: 28.
      Signed with Panthers

      Matt Ioannidis is a solid, well-rounded defensive lineman, but was cut because of financial reasons.

    6. Rashard Higgins, WR, Browns. Age: 27. — Signed with Panthers
    7. Cory Littleton, LB, Raiders. Age: 28. — Signed with Panthers
    8. Damien Wilson, LB, Jaguars. Age: 29. — Signed with Panthers (2 years)
    9. Andre Roberts, WR, Chargers. Age: 34. — Signed with Panthers

    Carolina Panthers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Haason Reddick, DE/OLB, Panthers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Eagles (3 years, $45 million)

      Haason Reddick has notched 23.5 sacks over the past couple of seasons (11 in 2021). He’s also a plus run defender.

    2. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Panthers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Colts (2 years, $23 million)

      Stephon Gilmore is no longer the best cornerback in the NFL, but he’s still a shutdown cornerback. He has slowed down a bit now that he’s in his 30s.

    3. Donte Jackson, CB, Panthers. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Panthers (3 years, $35 million)

      Donte Jackson has been a fairly mediocre starting cornerback despite his 5-10, 180-pound frame.

    4. A.J. Bouye, CB, Panthers. Age: 31.
      A.J. Bouye is a talented cornerback, but has had issues staying healthy recently; he has missed 16 games in the past two seasons. He also turns 31 in August.

    5. Matt Paradis, C, Panthers. Age: 32.
      Matt Paradis used to be a quality starting center, but he’s now a 32-year-old coming off a torn ACL.

    6. DaQuan Jones, DT, Panthers. Age: 30.
      Signed with Bills

      DaQuan Jones is a solid run stuffer who can generate some pressure on the quarterback.

    7. Juston Burris, S, Panthers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Panthers (1 year)
    8. John Miller, G, Panthers. Age: 29.
    9. Marquis Haynes, DE/OLB, Panthers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Panthers (2 years, $5.5 million)
    10. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Panthers. Age: 29. — Signed with Raiders
    11. Brandon Zylstra, WR, Panthers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Panthers
    12. Morgan Fox, DE, Panthers. Age: 28. — Signed with Chargers
    13. Laclan Edwards, P, Panthers. Age: 30.
    14. Ian Thomas, TE, Panthers. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Panthers (3 years)
    15. Jermaine Carter, LB, Panthers. Age: 27. — Signed with Chiefs
    16. Rashaan Melvin, CB, Panthers. Age: 32. — Announced retirement
    17. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers. Age: 33.
    18. Alex Erickson, WR, Panthers. Age: 29. — Signed with Redskins
    19. Trent Scott, G, Panthers. Age: 28.

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

    2024 NFL Mock Draft - April 16

    NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

    Fantasy Football Rankings - Feb. 19

    NFL Picks - Feb. 12