2023 NFL Offseason: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers (Last Year: 7-10)

2023 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Andy Dalton, RB Miles Sanders, WR D.J. Chark, WR Adam Thielen, TE Hayden Hurst, DT Shy Tuttle, DT DeShawn Williams, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, S Vonn Bell, S Eric Rowe.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Bryce Young, WR Jonathan Mingo, DE D.J. Johnson, G Chandler Zavala, S Jammie Robinson. Panthers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Sam Darnold, RB D’Onta Foreman, WR D.J. Moore, DT Matt Ioannidis, LB Cory Littleton, LB Damien Wilson, S Juston Burris.

2023 Carolina Panthers Offense:
The Panthers held the No. 9 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but they knew they had to trade up in order to acquire one of the top two quarterbacks in the class. They didn’t waste much time, opting to move up all the way to No. 1 about two months ahead of the draft. The only question was whether they would select Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. While the coaches liked Stroud more, the ownership and front office preferred Young, and thus, he became the pick.

Young is an extremely talented quarterback, and if he had even slightly below average size, he would have been the unquestioned No. 1 prospect in the class. However, Young is about as big as Kyler Murray, so he automatically comes with durability concerns. Murray has yet to play a full NFL season, so it’s possible that Young could share the same fate. However, Russell Wilson isn’t much bigger than both Murray and Young, and yet he has been injury-free for most of his career.

Of course, the offensive line will play an enormous role in keeping Young on the field. There are some questions here, as the blocking unit did a horrible job of shielding Baker Mayfield last year. Part of the reason for that was the extremely slow start for rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu. However, Ekwonu improved as the season progressed, so he could have a strong sophomore campaign. If so, he and Taylor Moton will form a terrific tackle tandem.

The interior looks like it could be decent, as center Bradley Bozeman and right guard Austin Corbett project well for 2023. Bozeman struggled early last year with an ankle injury, but like Ekwonu, he improved as the season progressed. With that in mind, the lone liability is left guard Brady Christensen. There’s a chance that fourth-round rookie Chandler Zavala challenges Christensen for the job.

It seems as though Young should be protected fairly well, which seems very necessary when looking at the receiving corps. Carolina lost D.J. Moore in the trade for Young, so its new No. 1 receiver is Adam Thielen, who can no longer get open at his age. D.J. Chark is the other projected starter, but he has some major durability issues, having missed 19 games in the past two seasons. The Panthers also used a second-round pick on Jonathan Mingo, a 6-2, 220-pound receiver who should be a force in the end zone. Lastly, newly acquired Hayden Hurst figures to be a dependable, but unspectacular intermediate target for the rookie signal-caller.

Young will want to lean on the running game in his early starts, so it’s unfortunate for him that Christian McCaffrey is no longer around. However, the Panthers signed Miles Sanders, who is capable of going the distance any time he touches the ball. Sanders is no McCaffrey, but he’s a dynamic threat as both a rusher and a receiver out of the backfield.

2023 Carolina Panthers Defense:
The Panthers had one of the best pass defenses in the NFL during the 2021 season. That changed last year, as Carolina ranked 29th versus aerial attacks. The biggest difference was the pressure rate, as Carolina was ranked in the top five in that regard in 2021. That figure dropped to 21st this past season.

Carolina lost a key player to worsen its pass rush last offseason, and that was Haason Reddick, who signed with the Panthers. Reddick is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, so he was sorely missed. Carolina still has the dynamic Brian Burns to get after the quarterback – he had 12.5 sacks in 2022 – but he’s the only edge rusher who was effective in that regard. More was expected out of former second-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos, who registered only 2.5 sacks this past season. Third-round rookie D.J. Johnson could see some playing time right away.

Derrick Brown is another player who can generate consistent pressure, doing so from the interior. Brown had just one sack last year, but that’s not indicative of how much disruption he caused. The Panthers have a rotation of interior defensive linemen otherwise at the position, with Henry Anderson, DeShawn Williams, and Shy Tuttle playing plenty of snaps. Anderson used to be a solid player, but he’s past his prime at 32. Tuttle is best when it comes to stopping the run.

With the Panthers’ pass rush likely to be below average once again, the secondary will have to step up to help the team improve against the pass. Jaycee Horn is a terrific cornerback who has lived to up the hype as the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, the Panthers’ other highly regarded cornerbacks have struggled. The front office traded for 2020 first-rounder C.J. Henderson, but he has struggled. Donte Jackson, who signed a $35 million contract recently, did not perform well during the first half of the 2022 campaign, and he then tore his Achilles, so he may not be 100 percent heading into this year.

The Panthers brought in a new player into the secondary to help. That would be Vonn Bell, who was a solid performer for the Bengals. He’ll replace Jeremy Chinn, who just endured a woeful year. Bell will start next to Xavier Woods, who is coming off a decent season.

The rest of the middle of Carolina’s defense looks promising. It was no surprise that the talented Shaq Thompson enjoyed a great year, but Frankie Luvu was a surprise. A former undrafted free agent, Luvu played all three downs for the Panthers last year and thrived doing so.

2023 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 were 25-9 as hosts between 2015 and 2018, but reverted to 2-6 in 2019, 2020 and 2021. They rebounded to 5-4 last year.

Eddy Pineiro was one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL last year, hitting 33-of-35 attempts, including both tries from 50-plus.

Johnn Hekker was the league’s best punter last year when it came to pinning the opposition inside the 20. He was also third in net average.

The Panthers have a very easy schedule. Outside of the Lions, Cowboys and Jaguars, they don’t really have any tough games.

2023 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.

2023 Carolina Panthers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2023 Carolina Panthers Analysis: The Panthers nearly won the division last year despite starting Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. They were ultimately beaten out of the divisional crown by Tom Brady. That won’t happen again with Brady gone, so the Panthers have a legitimate chance to win the NFC South with their new franchise quarterback.

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

2022 Projection: 10-7. 2022 Actual Result: 7-10.
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: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2023 NFL Draft: The Panthers traded up to No. 1 overall to select a quarterback the coaches didn’t want. In doing so, the Panthers relinquished much of their draft capital. They still have some relevant picks, however, and they’ll have to use those to surround Bryce Young with talented receivers and blockers.

2023 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Two of the three picks used after Young were meant to help him in some way. Jonathan Mingo, the fifth receiver off the board, could end up Young’s No. 1 wideout, though it’s more likely that he’ll be the secondary option down the road. Chandler Zavala, taken in the fourth round, figures to provide an upgrade in the interior of the offensive line.

The Panthers also found some help defensively. Their pass rush regressed with Haason Reddick joining the Eagles, so that prompted the D.J. Johnson pick. Johnson is raw, however, so it’s unlikely that he’ll make a big impact this year. That’s not the end of the world, given that the Panthers are just beginning their rebuilding process.

Overall, Carolina had a fine draft. There was nothing exciting aside from the Young pick, but the Panthers did a solid job of addressing needs and adding quality prospects.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

1. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama – B+ Grade
This can’t be graded poorly because the Panthers finally have a franchise quarterback for the first time since Cam Newton’s first stint with the team. However, it worries me that Carolina selected Bryce Young when the coaches preferred C.J. Stroud instead. Young is a terrific quarterback prospect, but he has some major injury concerns because of his Kyler Murray-type build.

39. Jonathan Mingo, WR, Ole Miss – B+ Grade
The Panthers overpaid Adam Thielen and also signed D.J. Chark, but they still needed a No. 1 receiver. Jonathan Mingo could qualify as such. He’s a huge receiver and a great route runner. I would have preferred Jalin Hyatt, but I still like this pick.

80. D.J. Johnson, DE, Oregon – C+ Grade
Carolina’s pass rush was weaker last year because it lost Haason Reddick. D.J. Johnson could help in that regard. He’s a raw player, but has very explosive ability. I love the upside, but I don’t see why the Panthers needed to trade up for him. He easily could have been available in 13 selections.

114. Chandler Zavala, G, N.C. State – B Grade
Protecting Bryce Young is obviously incredibly important, and the Panthers needed to improve their blocking. Chandler Zavala fits the range as a Round 4-5 prospect, so this is fine selection.

145. Jammie Robinson, S, Florida State – B Grade
Jammie Robinson is great in run support, but can be lost in coverage. The Panthers have struggled to stop the run in recent years, so this pick makes sense.

Season Summary:
The Panthers’ season looked like a lost cause when they struggled early and then traded Christian McCaffrey. However, they caught fire during the middle of the season and put themselves in position to win the division, but came up a bit short against the Buccaneers in Week 17.

Offseason Moves:
  • Panthers sign WR Damiere Byrd
  • Panthers sign LB Kamu Grugier-Hill
  • Panthers sign WR D.J. Chark
  • Panthers sign WR Adam Thielen
  • Panthers sign RB Miles Sanders
  • Panthers sign DT DeShawn Williams
  • Panthers sign TE Hayden Hurst
  • Panthers sign QB Andy Dalton
  • Panthers sign S Vonn Bell
  • Panthers sign DT Shy Shuttle
  • Bears acquire WR D.J. Moore from Panthers for draft picks

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: The Panthers went through three pedestrian quarterbacks last year. They’re desperate to find a franchise quarterback. Signed Andy Dalton

    2. Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore was traded, so the Panthers will need to replace him. Signed Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark

    3. Guard: Baker Mayfield was horrendous, but he didn’t have a fair chance because of poor blocking. The interior front needs to be addressed.

    4. Center: Here’s another spot on the offensive line that has to be upgraded. Re-signed Bradley Bozeman

    5. Running Back: Christian McCaffrey was traded. D’Onta Foreman was a solid replacement, but he’s entering free agency. Signed Miles Sanders

    6. Edge Rusher: Carolina had a decent pass rush last year, but it wasn’t the dominant unit from 2021. Haason Reddick was missed.

    7. Defensive Tackle: Matt Ioannidis is an impending free agent, so he’ll need to be replaced or re-signed. Signed Shy Tuttle and Deshawn Williams

    8. Tight End: It’s been a long time since the Panthers have gotten production out of their tight ends. Signed Hayden Hurst

    9. Kicker: Eddy Pineiro will be entering free agency as well. Signed Eddy Pineiro

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2023 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Vonn Bell, S, Bengals. Age: 28.
      Signed with Panthers

      A short, but talented and well-rounded safety, Vonn Bell doesn’t have any weaknesses in his game.

    2. Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles. Age: 26.
      Signed with Panthers (4 years, $25 million)

      Miles Sanders is capable of going the distance whenever he touches the ball, though he didn’t offer the Eagles much as a receiver this past season.

    3. D.J. Chark, WR, Lions. Age: 26.
      Signed with Panthers

      D.J. Chark caught only 30 passes last year, but played in only 11 games. Chark has proven in the past that he can be a viable No. 1, though he’s much better as a No. 2.

    4. Hayden Hurst, TE, Bengals. Age: 30.
      Signed with Panthers (3 years)

      Hayden Hurst turns 30 this offseason, but he can be a solid receiving threat at tight end. He missed a chunk of action during the regular season, but had a great performance against the Bills in the playoffs.

    5. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings. Age: 33.
      Signed with Panthers

      Adam Thielen has been a shell of his former self, so it’s not a surprise if the Vikings cut him.

    6. Andy Dalton, QB, Saints. Age: 35.
      Signed with Panthers (2 years, $10 million)

      Andy Dalton did a solid job in place of Jameis Winston last year, but he’s now 35, so he doesn’t have much time remaining in the NFL.

    7. Shy Tuttle, DT, Saints. Age: 27. — Signed with Panthers
    8. Eric Rowe, S, Dolphins. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers
    9. DeShawn Williams, DT, Broncos. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers
    10. Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB, Cardinals. Age: 29. — Signed with Panthers
    11. Damiere Byrd, WR, Falcons. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers

    Carolina Panthers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Eddy Pineiro, K, Panthers. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Panthers (2 years)

      Eddy Pineiro came out of nowhere to go 33-of-35 last year, though he only attempted two kicks from 50-plus.

    2. Matt Ioannidis, DT, Panthers. Age: 29.
      Matt Ioannidis is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle with no weaknesses.

    3. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Panthers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bears

      D’Onta Foreman took over for the traded Christian McCaffrey, and he ran very well. The downside is that he doesn’t do anything as a receiver out of the backfield.

    4. Sam Darnold, QB, Panthers. Age: 26.
      Signed with 49ers (1 year)

      Sam Darnold has not played like a two-star free agent, but he has upside as a former top-three pick in the draft. Perhaps someone will get the most out of him, much like the Seahawks did with another former Jets quarterback bust.

    5. Bradley Bozeman, C, Panthers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Panthers
    6. Cory Littleton, LB, Panthers. Age: 29. — Signed with Texans (1 year)
    7. Damien Wilson, LB, Panthers. Age: 30.
    8. Juston Burris, S, Panthers. Age: 30.
    9. Henry Anderson, DT, Panthers. Age: 32. — Re-signed with Panthers (1 year)
    10. Pat Elflein, C, Panthers. Age: 29.
    11. Cameron Erving, OT, Panthers. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Panthers
    12. Rashard Higgins, WR, Panthers. Age: 28.
    13. Sean Chandler, S, Panthers. Age: 27.
    14. Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Panthers. Age: 27.
    15. Michael Jordan, G, Panthers. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Panthers
    16. T.J. Carrie, CB, Panthers. Age: 33.
    17. Andre Roberts, WR, Panthers. Age: 35.

    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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