The first year of head coach Matt Rhule with the Carolina Panthers did not account for the best results, but there are positive signs. The Panthers finished the 2020 NFL season accumulating an overall record of 5-11. Of the 11 losses last season, eight of them were lost by eight points or so. This 2021 NFL season, the Carolina Panthers expect a better season of production. They feel they can accomplish this with the stellar off-season additions through free agency, trades, and the 2021 NFL Draft. There will be pressure on the Panthers and coach Rhule, but there will be more pressure on several players playing in contract years. These are players who need to create a productive season this season for the Panthers. Here are four Panthers with the most pressure in the 2021 NFL season.
Under Pressure to Perform in 2021: Carolina Panthers Players in Contract Years
Robby Anderson – Wide Receiver
Last season was Robby Anderson’s best season in his five years in the league. Anderson caught 95 passes (most on the team) for 1,096 yards (second-most) and three touchdowns (tied for second-most). Anderson is in the last year of his two-year, $20 million deal with the Panthers after arriving from the New York Jets via free agency. He will reunite with former Jets quarterback and teammate Sam Darnold, whom the Panthers acquired in a trade this past March.
Both Anderson and Darnold are feeling positive about their NFL careers now they are both gone from the Jets. The receiver corps will have fellow star D.J. Moore and rookie Terrace Marshall, Jr.. His consistent ability to run dynamic plays and get open through great route running will give the Panthers passing offense new life under the direction of Darnold. Anderson could earn a new high-value contract following this 2021 season with the Panthers.
Taylor Moton – Offensive Tackle
Playing under a franchise tag is a difficult step for any player. Panthers star tackle Taylor Moton was one of the top offensive players—regardless of position—for the past three seasons. After a rookie season of 16 games but no starts, Moton has since started every game for the Panthers. Last season, Moton received an overall grade of 81.6 by Pro Football Focus.
He was set to become a free agent after the 2020 campaign but instead received the franchise tag for 2021. This season, Carolina will ask Moton to lead an offensive line regarded as one of the worst units in the league. The Panthers will assess Moton’s leadership and high-efficiency blocking for a potentially hefty, long-term contract.
Haason Reddick – Outside Linebacker
Before last season, no player for the Arizona Cardinals faced more pressure than linebacker Haason Reddick. From 2017 to 2019, Reddick played in all 48 games but only earned 20 starts. He accumulated 7.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss during that span.
This past season, Reddick accounted for 16 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits, and 12.5 sacks. He signed a one-year, $6 million deal with Carolina in hopes of replicating the same results in 2021. The Panthers will ask Reddick to help lead a defense ranked 18th in the league in points allowed per game (25.1) last season. He is among the countless veterans signing a one-year deal right before the salary cap rises in the 2022 off-season. The Panthers could have Reddick back in the 2022 season and beyond if he produces in a stellar 2021 for the defense.
Donte Jackson – Cornerback
The Panthers upgraded their secondary by selecting Jaycee Horn with the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Carolina expects Horn to fill the role of their highly efficient man-coverage cornerback but this won’t stop Donte Jackson from earning a better contract for himself. Jackson is in the last year of a four-year, $4.8 million rookie contract with the Panthers.
He will have to compete with veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye for the second cornerback spot. The Panthers signed Bouye in the off-season on a two-year, $7 million deal, but Bouye will miss the beginning of the season due to suspension for performance-enhancing substances. Last season was Jackson’s best statistical season as he accounted for four pass breakups and three interceptions on 65 targets. If Jackson has another impressive season in 2021, he and Horn could wind up starting at cornerback for many seasons.
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