The Carolina Panthers had plenty of turnover in the NFL Draft and free agency, which means it’s time for a roster projection. While the bottom of the roster will see some turnover between now and the start of the season, all of the major offseason moves have already been made. Without further ado, let’s see what this team could look like in Week 1.
Carolina Panthers 53-Man Roster Projection: Building Around Sam Darnold
In: Sam Darnold, PJ Walker, Will Grier
After one year of the Teddy Bridgewater experiment, Sam Darnold now gets his shot to take over as Carolina’s next franchise quarterback. The former first-round pick left a lot to be desired in New York, but he was also in arguably the worst situation in the league. Hopefully, a change of scenery can bring out the best in the USC product.
PJ Walker ended the 2020 season on the lowest of low notes, but he looked like an adequate backup during his start against Detroit. He won’t threaten Darnold for the starting job, but he should be able to keep the ship afloat should something happen to the former first-rounder. Will Grier gets one last shot to prove his worth as an NFL-caliber quarterback, but he could easily lose his job to do-everything backup Tommy Stevens if he doesn’t show some dramatic improvement in camp.
Running Back (4)
In: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Rodney Smith, Trenton Cannon
After missing the vast majority of the 2020 NFL season, Christian McCaffrey is back. The former First-Team All-Pro will immediately reclaim the starting job, while Chuba Hubbard will take over the Mike Davis role of emergency starter. Trenton Cannon will primarily serve on special teams while Rodney Smith and Reggie Bonnafon battle it out for the final spot on the depth chart. Smith wins the job in this Panthers roster projection, but this could easily go either way.
Wide Receiver (6)
In: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall, David Moore, Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith
Wide receiver is arguably the strongest part of the Carolina Panther roster, both from a depth and top-end talent perspective. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson are a fantastic starting duo, while Terrace Marshall was a first-round talent that Carolina somehow snagged in the middle of the second. David Moore should be a valuable depth piece that can contribute if Marshall isn’t immediately ready for NFL life, while Shi Smith has some potential as a slot receiver. Brandon Zylstra takes the last spot as one of the core special teamers on the roster
Tight End (3)
In: Dan Arnold, Tommy Tremble, Ian Thomas
Dan Arnold and Tommy Tremble are locks, as their free-agent contract and draft capital, respectively, show that the front office believes these guys can help the Panthers win football games. Incumbent Ian Thomas holds onto the job in this Panthers roster projection, but don’t be surprised if Colin Thompson wins the job by Week 1. Thomas left a lot to be desired during his first year with Matt Rhule and could be out of a job if Thompson shows any potential throughout the offseason.
Offensive Line (9)
In: Taylor Morton, Cameron Erving, Brady Christensen, Trent Scott, Matt Paradis, Pat Elfein, John Miller, Deonte Brown, David Moore, Dennis Daley
The 2021 Carolina Panthers should have a better offensive line than they did in 2020, but that just speaks to how bad they were last year. Trying to project a starting five is a futile exercise, as just about every spot is an open competition. Fortunately, the talent here is ok and will probably produce the best offensive line of Sam Darnold’s career.
Defensive Line (10)
In: Brian Burns, Haason Reddick, Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes, Morgan Fox, Derrick Brown, DaQuon Jones, Daviyon Nixon, Bravvion Roy, Phil Hoskins
If Carolina’s defense is going to get better, it’s going to start in the trenches. Over the past few years, Carolina has invested heavy draft capital into the defensive line, and that expenditure should pay off in 2021. Brian Burns is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the NFL’s top pass rushers, and the rest of the starting lineup features guys that are more than capable of blowing past their opponents.
Dude, Brian Burns was unblockable today. pic.twitter.com/qzir8m080O
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) September 23, 2019
In: Shaq Thompson, Denzel Perryman, Christian Miller, Jermaine Carter Jr., Chris Orr, Frankie Luvu
Shaq Thompson showed some signs of slowing down last year, but he and first-year Panther Denzel Perryman should be a solid starting duo at linebacker. However, the rest of the depth chart is either unproven or underwhelming. Christian Miller offers the most upside, as he was reportedly working on switching over to the SAM linebacker spot prior to opting out in 2020.
In: Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, A.J. Bouye, Keith Taylor, Troy Pride Jr.
Carolina’s secondary was one of the worst in the league last year, but it should be a lot better heading into 2021. Jaycee Horn is an athletic freak that knows how to use his talent. This combination gives him lockdown potential, and he should immediately start right out of the gate. A.J. Bouye used to be one of the NFL’s better corners, so hopefully the Panthers can find some lightning in a bottle there. If not, Donte Jackson can do a serviceable job as the other starting cornerback. Keith Taylor and Troy Pride, meanwhile, should only see the field in subpackages and will probably spend most of the year on special teams.
In: Jeremy Chinn, Juston Burris, Sam Franklin Jr., Myles Hartsfield
Jeremy Chinn looked like the real deal as a rookie, but everyone else could use an upgrade. Burris showed some promise when healthy, so let’s give him the first shot at winning the other starting job. However, I don’t see him being good enough to keep Sam Franklin and Myles Hartsfield consistently off the field. This will probably be a safety-by-committee position, with all three rotating opposite Chinn.
In: Joey Slye, Joe Charlton, Thomas Fletcher
No real surprises here, as the kicker and punter from 2020 return. Thomas Fletcher will take over as the long snapper, as you don’t draft a long snapper if you don’t plan on him winning the job.
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