Next up in our “Repair My NFL Team” series, are the Carolina Panthers.
The Carolina Panthers are just a season removed from a NFL’s best 15-1 record. Cam Newton, a.k.a, Superman, dabbed the Panthers all the way to the Super Bowl. However, their story-book ending wasn’t one of fairy tales. The Panthers never recovered from their heart-wrenching loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Everyone assumed the Panthers would be in the championship hunt during the 2016 season, picking up where they left off. We soon realized this was definitely a different team after its 1-5 start. The Panthers were average on the offensive side of the ball, scoring 23.1 per game; which ranked 15th in the NFL. They also finished 19th in total yards per game. Cam was the Panthers best weapon this year. However, he wasn’t so super in 2016. He passed for merely 3,509 with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. On the ground, Jonathan Stewart shouldered the load rushing for 824 yards with 9 touchdowns. However, injuries continued to take toll on the big veteran runner. Fan favorite RB/FB Mike Tolbert was released during the offseason. Tight end Greg Olsen led the tan with 1,073 yards as a receiver. Kelvin Benjamin amassed 941 yards with 7 touchdowns receiving, a season removed from a torn ACL. They lacked explosive plays at wide receiver as well as running back. Ted Ginn (New Orleans) and Corey Brown (Buffalo) were both allowed to leave in free agency, while Charles Johnson and Russell Shepard were brought over from Minnesota and Tampa,, respectively. Carolina also struggled tremendously on their offensive line. Tackle Mike Remmers (Minnesota) left in free agency and Michael Oher has yet to be cleared from concussion protocol. Matt Kalil was signed from Minnesota top start at left tackle.
The Carolina defense was in rebuilding mode from the first snap of the season. Carolina surrendered 359.8 yards per game, ranking them 21st in the NFL. The Panthers were also 7th worst in the league for points against; 25.1 per outing. Now, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is the new head coach in Buffalo. But, hope remains. The Cats have two run stopping defensive tackles in newly re-signed Kawann Short, and Starr Lotulelei. When you pair Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly with rising star Shaq Thompson; you have one hell of a core in the front seven. However, they lacked an explosive pass rusher last season. Maybe the ageless Julius Peppers, who returned after 8 years touring the NFC North, is the short term answer. Trading away young pass rusher Kony Ealy to New England was questionable, especially only moving up 8 draft slots in return. The Panthers secondary couldn’t stop a runaway shopping cart in a grocery store in 2016. They must get better at corner and safety. Carolina needs a number one corner along with a rangy free safety. Bringing slot-corner Captain Munnerlyn back from (you guessed it) Minnesota should help. As should Mike Adams at safety.
In a nutshell, the Panthers must add a dynamic back to complement Cam and Benjamin, and to spell Stewart. They also have several needs along the offensive line. Cam Newton must have time to survey the field. We don’t know if Peppers is the answer for their pass rushing woes. And if he is it’s not a long term fix. However, we do know they need capable pass rushers. Lastly, Carolina desperately needs an upgrade or better secondary play at every position.
Possible First Round Targets (8th overall)
Solomon Thomas, EDGE, Stanford
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Derek Barnett, EDGE, Tennessee
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State