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2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC South: Carolina Panthers – 4th

by Shasky Clarke on Sep. 1, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC South: Carolina Panthers – 4th

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback:

Former first pick Cam Newton has endured a ton of criticism over his winning percentage and supposed lack of great leadership skills. But in his two years, Newton has been one of the most explosive passers in the league, averaging close to eight yards per attempt. He is also a lethal rushing option, amassing over 1400 yards in his two years and leading the team in 2012. He possesses exceptional size and possibly the strongest arm in the league. The key for him is just polishing his game and displaying more consistent ball placement.

 

Running Back:

The Carolina running game has talented pieces, but it failed to produce a 1,000 yard rusher and was generally hamstrung by inconsistent run blocking upfront. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart remain one of the most potent one-two backfield punches in the league. Both are strong, compact runners with very good speed and explosiveness and the ball skills to make plays in the passing game. Williams probably brings a bit more big play potential while Stewart has more size and power between the tackles. If they can stay healthy, they have the talent to spearhead what could be an elite overall running game. Kenjon Barner was also drafted this offseason. Barner is another home run hitting speed guy from Oregon and will be very productive when given touches.

 

Wide Receiver:

While longtime leader Steve Smith is still a terrific player, it is remarkable the way Cam Newton led such a big play passing game with the limited cast of wide receivers he had. This group is slightly better. Smith isn’t a big target, but he has had an excellent career and remains a super explosive, physical and animated receiver with severely underrated ball skills and route running ability. Brandon LaFell has the size that Smith is missing and, although he lacks elite speed and overall athleticism, LaFell has been able to make plays downfield. Gone is Louis Murphy and the Panthers will try to replace his presence with new additions Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon. Ginn has elite speed and open field running ability and could be an impact returnman. Hixon is a smooth, polished receiver.

 

Tight End:

Carolina isn’t deep at tight end but Greg Olsen is one of the premier pass catching tight ends in the NFL. The explosive and polished Olsen again returns as the Panthers’ second leading receiver and has more speed and athleticism than many actual wide receivers. Unfortunately, behind Olsen, the team has a bunch of mostly plodding blockers led by veteran Ben Hartsock.

 

Offensive Line:

The Panthers offensive line largely returns intact and remains a relative weakness. Left tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil are two of the best at their positions. The 33 year-old Gross isn’t necessarily elite, but as long as he’s healthy and playing, the Panthers enjoy above average play at the blindside spot. When Kalil is right, he is one of the elite centers in the league. However, he is returning from a season-ending Lisfranc injury he endured last year. His return alone could significantly improve the effectiveness of the running game. At guard, second-year Amini Silatolu and good, athletic Garry Williams will start at left and right guard, respectively. Silatolu is not very athletic and was roundly abused by interior players in his rookie year. Byron Bell is slated to start at right tackle and his performance continues to be disappointing.

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Best Offensive Rookie – RB Kenjon Barner

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – OG Amini Silatolu

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Offensive Tackle

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – OT Morgan Moses, Virginia

 

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive End:

Carolina enjoyed possibly the most productive end duo in the league, featuring Charles Johnson (12.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (11 sacks). Similar players, they combine excellent size and bulk with power, craftiness and sneaky burst and athleticism. Johnson also turned in seven forced fumbles, cementing himself as one of the elite defensive ends in the NFL. Hardy broke out in 2012 in his third season after only notching four sacks as a full time starter the year before. Long backup Frank Anderson received plenty of playing time, rotating in on sub-packages with a few sacks of his own.

 

Defensive Tackle:

The Panthers struggled to hold up consistently versus the run and focused heavily on improving the talent and depth at the position. But one surprise was the resurgence of veteran Dwan Edwards, who found a way to produce six sacks as a starter. He will be joined by rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Lotulelei is a massive nose tackle type with good athleticism for his size. Short was a dominant college rusher and has the ability to be a disruptive interior presence at the three-technique spot. Big veteran Colin Cole will provide adequate depth at nose tackle.

 

Linebacker:

Carolina possesses one of the deepest linebacker groups. It starts at middle linebacker. Luke Kuechly may be the best non-rushing linebacker in the NFL with top size, speed, coverage skills, physicality and open-field tackling ability. Super athletic but injury-riddled veterans Jon Beason and Thomas Davis should start at outside linebacker. But even if they can’t, the Panthers have starting-caliber talent in Jason Williams, new addition Chase Blackburn and underrated rookie A.J. Klein

 

Cornerback:

Where the Panthers are particularly weak is the cornerback position. It is unclear how this team will matchup against the likes of the Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints. Captain Munnerlyn is a short, fast and scrappy playmaker. Big and long Josh Norman returns with a good amount of starting experience but lacks elite speed and struggled to consistently stick to guys. Josh Thomas has more speed but has failed to make many plays in his two years in Carolina.

 

Safety:

Charles Godfrey enters his sixth straight year as a Panther starter and has proven to be a physical playmaker in the back end, having made nine interceptions in the last three years. Godfrey is fast and is the prototypical free safety with all the skills to be a Pro Bowler. The Panthers had to upgrade the other safety spot and free agent Mike Mitchell enters as an athletic enforcer, even if a bit of a liability in coverage. One of the biggest, nastiest open-field hitters in the game, Mitchell is capable of providing a Bernard Pollard-like presence to the Panthers secondary and defense overall.

 

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Best Defensive Rookie – LB A.J. Klein

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – MLB Luke Kuechly

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Cornerback

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma