After finishing 11-5 in 2017, with a wild card loss to divisional foe New Orleans, the Panthers see that they have work to do for them to make a run in the postseason. Offensively, they finished the season 28th in passing yards (3077), tied for 11th with 22 passing touchdowns, 4th in rushing yards (2102), tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (15), 16 interceptions which is sixth most in the league, 16 drops by receivers tying them for fifth least, and tied for 13th in most sacks given up (35). Defensively, they sacked the quarterback the third most times (50), were tied for fifth fewest interceptions (10), allowed the 15th most passing yards and third fewest rushing yards (3665, 1409).
Before we continue, this is what the 2018 free agency period was like for Carolina:
Free Agent Acquisitions:
Julius Peppers DE
Dontari Poe DT
Torrey Smith WR – Trade with Eagles
Jarius Wright WR
Da’Norris Searcy S
Zach Banner OT
LaDarius Gunter CB
Amini Silatolu OG
Graham Gano K
Jeremiah Sirles OG
Ross Cockrell CB
Free Agent Losses:
Star Lotulelei DT
Charles Johnson DE
Jonathan Stewart RB
Ed Dickson TE
Andrew Norwell OG
Daryl Worley CB – Trade with Eagles
Kurt Coleman FS
Charles Johnson WR
Teddy Williams CB
Kaelin Clay WR
Picks the Panthers Have in the 2018 NFL Draft:
Round 1 (Pick 24, 24 overall)
Round 2 (Pick 23, 55 overall)
Round 3 (Pick 21, 85 overall) Trade From Buffalo
Round 3 (Pick 24, 88 overall)
Round 5 (Pick 24, 161 overall)
Round 6 (Pick 23, 197 overall)
Round 7 (Pick 16, 234 overall) Trade with Buffalo from Chargers
Round 7 (Pick 24, 242 overall)
Early in 2018, the Panthers brought in Norv Turner, after a year hiatus, to be the offensive coordinator. Turner comes from the Air Coryell philosophy, but he is known to be open-minded. It still remains unknown on how he will use Cam Newton in the run game. What is for certain is that Turner would want to go deep a lot, have a power run game to set the tone and loosen the defense, and a tight end who can stretch the field.
Defensively, another new face would be commanding the defense from the sidelines as Steve Wilks, 2017 defensive coordinator, left to fill Arizona’s head coaching position. In his place is Eric Washington, who has been with the team since Ron Rivera was hired in 2011. I would imagine he would continue to run the same system the Panthers have been running since he got there, with just a bit of his own flavor. He would like for the defense to not only win, but also to score. 2017 was the first time since 2011 that the Carolina defense didn’t have multiple defensive touchdowns.
With this being said, let’s take a look at some areas that would need to be addressed with the new changes.
Working our way from the middle, backup center Tyler Larsen will be a free agent in 2019. In addition to that fact, longtime Panther great Ryan Kalil is 33 years old and has already stated that 2018 will be his last year. Three-year starter at guard, Andrew Norwell, has left to Jacksonville and Jeremiah Sirles and Amini Silatolu were only 1 year signees in free agency. Dorian Johnson and Greg Van Roten will both have their deals expire in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Daryl Williams will leave a hole at right tackle next offseason, if he isn’t re-signed. On the other side, it is unlikely Matt Kalil will finish the duration of his contract, considering its cost. Protection for Cam Newton on those three- and five-step drops will be paramount, in addition to helping out in the run game. Finding a strong offensive line up front is a key to the Panthers success.
Potential Day 1 Candidates: Mike McGlinchey OT Notre Dame, Will Hernandez OG UTEP, Isaiah Wynn OT/OG Georgia, Connor Williams OT/OG Texas, James Daniels C Iowa
Potential Day 2 Candidates: Frank Ragnow C Arkansas, Austin Corbett OG Nevada, Martinas Rankin OT Mississippi State, Billy Price C Ohio State, Kolton Miller OT UCLA, Cole Madison OG Washington State
Potential Day 3 Candidates: Braden Smith OG Auburn, Alex Cappa OG Humboldt State, Brandon Parker OT North Carolina A&T, Will Richardson OT North Carolina State, Chukwuma Okorafor OG, Western Michigan, Toby Weathersby OT LSU, Mason Cole C Michigan
Ed Dickson left to Seattle and three of the four tight ends on the roster will be due for new contracts in 2019. The tremendous Greg Olsen isn’t getting any younger, so the
Panthers need to think of a hopeful replacement for him. Someone who can absorb the wealth of knowledge that Olsen has in his arsenal, while stretching the field vertically and keeping the chains moving would be ideal.
Potential Day 1 Candidates: Dallas Goedert South Dakota State, Hayden Hurst South Carolina
Potential Day 2 Candidates: Ian Thomas Indiana, Mike Gesicki Penn State, Mark Andrews Oklahoma
Potential Day 3 Candidates: Deon Yelder Western Kentucky, Chris Herndon IV Miami, Tyler Conklin Central Michigan, Durham Smythe Notre Dame, Troy Fumagalli Wisconsin, Ryan Izzo Florida State
With Newton’s big arm, there is no doubt that the Panthers offense will see more downfield throws under Turner for 2018. That means someone who can get open and separate from either coverage as quickly as possible when the time comes, regardless of the distance of the pass. The accuracy has been somewhat of an issue for Newton and the Panthers lack someone who can adjust to slightly inaccurate throws. Despite the additions of Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright, Carolina could use another receiver. It would behoove the Panthers to let him walk, but Devin Funchess will enter 2018 on the last year of his rookie contract.
Potential Day 1 Candidates: D.J. Moore Maryland, Courtland Sutton SMU, Calvin Ridley Alabama, Anthony Miller Memphis
Potential Day 2 Candidates: Equanimeous St. Brown Notre Dame, D.J. Chark LSU, James Washington Oklahoma State, Christian Kirk Texas A&M, Byron Pringle Kansas State, Deon Cain Clemson, DaeSean Hamilton Penn State,
Potential Day 3 Candidates: Simmie Cobbs Indiana, J’Mon Moore Missouri, Deontay Burnett USC, Richie James Middle Tennessee State, Steven Dunbar Houston, Keke Coutee Texas Tech, Antonio Callaway Florida
Newly annointed defensive coordinator, Eric Washington wants defensive touchdowns. The Panthers are currently slated to start Mike Adams and Colin Jones on the backend and it would be a prudent move for Carolina to invest in the safety position. They could do this by finding an interchangeable chess piece that can drop into the slot or a pure single high safety, which would give the secondary an added layer of versatility. There is also a significant need for depth behind James Bradberry, a player they hope can take the next step. The Panthers need some playmakers, their secondary has struggled the past couple of seasons and they need as much help/depth as they can get.
Potential Day 1 Candidates: Jaire Alexander CB Louisville, Justin Reid S Stanford, Mike Hughes CB UCF, Josh Jackson Iowa
Potential Day 2 Candidates: Isaiah Oliver CB Colorado, Jessie Bates III S Wake Forest, Donte Jackson CB LSU, Carlton Davis CB Auburn, J.C. Jackson CB Maryland, DeShon Elliott S Texas, Ronnie Harrison S Alabama, Rashaan Gaulden S Tennessee, Davontae Harris CB Illinois State
Potential Day 3 Candidates: Kevin Toliver CB LSU, M.J. Stewart CB North Carolina, Nick Nelson CB Wisconsin, Darius Phillips CB Western Michigan, Arrion Springs CB Oregon, Parry Nickerson CB Tulane, Damon Webb S Ohio State
Since 2011, the Panthers defense finished in the top 10 five times in quarterback sacks. The defensive line has been the strength of this defense for the past 3 seasons. A 38-year old Julius Peppers was retained in free agency while also luring away defensive tackle Dontari Poe from Atlanta. Defensive end Charles Johnson was released in February while the high-priced Mario Addison is set to hit free agency in 2020, where he’ll be 32 years of age. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis has played like he just got drafted, but he’s currently dealing with a suspension and he could be looking to leave the game soon. Talent and youth would be needed as they wait behind the three franchise sack leaders.
Potential Day 1 Candidates: Lorenzo Carter DE Georgia, Marcus Davenport DE Texas-San Antonio, Leighton Vander Esch OLB Boise State, Sam Hubbard DE Ohio State
Potential Day 2 Candidates: Josh Sweat DE Florida State, Tyquan Lewis DE Ohio State, Rasheem Green DE USC, Jalyn Holmes DE Ohio State, Da’Shawn Hand DE Alabama
Potential Day 3 Candidates: Breeland Speaks DE Ole Miss, Skai Moore OLB South Carolina, Jack Cichy OLB Wisconsin, Chad Thomas DE Miami, Micah Kiser OLB Virginia, Dorian O’Daniel OLB Clemson, Duke Ejiofor DE Wake Forest, Jerome Baker OLB Ohio State, Joel Iyiegbuniwe OLB Western Kentucky
We know about Christian McCaffrey; the swiss-army knife of an offensive weapon should thrive under Norv Turner, much like how Darren Sproles was used with the Chargers. Jonathan Stewart’s departure to New York has left a bit of a gap on the roster. To help out along the offensive line on those deep throws, a running back who can process pressure and have the strength to hold his own on pass protection would be necessary.
Potential Day 1 Candidates: Derrius Guice LSU
Potential Day 2 Candidates: Kerryon Johnson Auburn, Nick Chubb Georgia, Royce Freeman Oregon, Rashaad Penny San Diego State, John Kelly Tennessee, Kalen Ballage Arizona State
Potential Day 3 Candidates: Josh Adams Notre Dame, Jordan Chunn Troy, Mark Walton Miami, Darrel Williams LSU, Justin Jackson Northwestern