2020 NFL Team Previews: Carolina Panthers

2020 NFL Team Previews

By Professor MJ

Carolina Panthers



1. Introduction

The Panthers are turning a big page in their history, as they are moving on from nine-year starter Cam Newton. He was one of the best players in franchise history.

The team started with a 5-3 record last year, only to drop the remaining eight games. Ouch.

They are one of the teams that had the largest player turnover this offseason.

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

The Cam Newton era is over. The Kyle Allen experiment is also over. The team decided to move on from both of them in the offseason.

The new sheriff in town is now Teddy Bridgewater. Let’s revisit his journey in the NFL.

The Vikings took him in the 2014 draft as the number 32 selection overall. Over his first two years, he threw 28 TD passes versus 21 interceptions, while displaying a nice ability to run. Those are actually not bad numbers for a QB’s first couple of seasons.

Then, injuries forced him to attempt just two passes over the next two years. He then joined the Saints, where he has appeared in 14 games where he got 10 TDs and 3 INTs.

Now 27 years old and having learned behind such a role-model like Drew Brees, it doesn’t seem impossible that he becomes an above-average quarterback in this league. He has one of the top running backs in the backfield and a receiving corps with quite some depth.

Last year, Kyle Allen had 17 TDs versus 16 picks. To me, Bridgewater is clearly an upgrade over him in 2020, and also provides a higher chance of being the long-term answer.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

How can you not like watching Christian McCaffrey? He is simply amazing!

The numbers are mind-boggling: 2,392 rushing+receiving yards with 19 total TDs last year. In 2018: 1,965 rushing+receiving yards with 13 total TDs. Unreal.

Reggie Bonnafon was the number two back last year, which amounted to pretty much nothing since McCaffrey was so good. The team may bring competition, so Bonnafon isn’t a lock to be handed the #2 duties for the upcoming season (especially since he’s an undrafted player).

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

D.J. Moore had a nice rookie season in 2017 by compiling a 55-788-2 stat line. His sophomore season was even better: 87 receptions for 1175 yards and 4 TDs. Those numbers are even more impressive considering he played the vast majority of the time with backup QBs like Kyle Allen and Will Grier. He ranked as the 11th-best WR in the league out of 122 qualified players based on PFF.

Meanwhile, the same nice comments cannot be made about Curtis Samuel. His progression wasn’t great. He has caught 15, 39 and 54 passes during his first three years as a prof. He was hyped as a big-play guy, but that has yet to show thus far in his career. An 11.6 yards per catch average doesn’t stand out at all, and he caught just one pass above 40 yards last year. With a game-managing signal caller like Bridgewater under center, I’m not sure his numbers are going to increase very much…

The Panthers got rid of their #3 guy, Jarius Wright. He won’t be missed since he ranked as the 121st-best WR out of 122 according to PFF, and he finished with the 6th highest number of drops last year.

The team made a couple of interesting additions that will give more weapons to Bridgewater: Robby Anderson (formerly of the Jets) and Seth Roberts (formerly of the Ravens). These guys obtained the #61 and #83 spots in PFF rankings. The acquisition of Anderson is very interesting; he can stretch the field and also get open on short routes.

This group as a whole is cleary a notch better as 2019.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

The team moved on from another long-time Panther: Greg Olsen. He played nine years in Carolina, after beginning his career with the Bears. He has provided a steady production from the tight end position for a long time.

Olsen’s numbers have taken a hit over the past three years. Now 35 years old, the team decided to cut ties.

The first man up is Ian Thomas. He was selected in the 4th round of the 2018 draft. Don’t discard him too soon. He did a respectable job when Olsen missed games with injuries. In nine games, he averaged 3.9 catches for 39 yards, while getting a total of 3 TDs. If you convert those numbers over a 16-game season, that would translate into 62 receptions for 624 yards and 5 TDs. Not bad.

The Panthers also signed Seth DeValve, who played three years in Cleveland before joining the Jags last season. He will probably be the #2 guy, as he offers a smaller likelihood of becoming a good tight end in this league.

Overall, the loss of Greg Olsen equates to a downgrade here.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

The Panthers allowed a league-high 58 sacks (tied with the Dolphins) last season. Still, some of their offensive linemen received respectable grades from PFF.

The two guys that played the most snaps will be back: Taylor Moton (17th out of 81 tackles) and Matt Paradis (24th out of 37 centers).

However, the next three guys are all gone: Trai Turner (31st out of 81 guards - now with the Chargers), Daryl Williams (57th out of 81 guards – now with the Bills) and Greg Van Roten (23rd out of 81 guards – now with the Jets).

In order to fill these holes, the team acquired Russell Okung (L.A. Chargers) and John Miller (Cincinnati). Okung’s quality of play crashed last year and he is now 31 years old. As for Miller, he’s backup material.

In summary, the Panthers are not in good shape regarding the outlook of the OL play in 2020. The unit wasn’t great last year, they lost some decent guys and replaced them with lesser players. On top of that, you never like to see too much shuffling on the offensive line. With 2-3 new guys on the line, it does not bode well.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

The team clearly improved at the QB and WR positions by adding Teddy Bridgewater and Robby Anderson.

The team is set at RB, but can hardly expect more production than last year after such an unbelievable season by McCaffrey.

Then, the tight end position is a question mark following the loss of veteran Greg Olsen.

We often hear about how an offense will go as far as its offensive line takes them. If that’s true, the Panthers’ offense will be limited by its OL. The number of new faces and the questionable quality of the new starters is a big source of concern.

I hesitated betwee “Small downgrade” or “Stable.” Upon reflexion, I decided to go with the latter. As much as I like Bridgewater, McCaffrey, Moore and Anderson, having a new QB, a new #2 (or #3) WR, a new starting TE and 2-3 new guys on the line with a possibly shortened preseason, I am wary of how this group will adjust with fewer time to play together.

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

Wow, this group took a huge blow during the offseason!

The four guys with the most playing time are all gone: Gerald McCoy, Vernon Butler, Kyle Love and Dontari Poe. The losses of McCoy and Poe particularly hurt.

The team filled a big need by taking Derrick Brown with the seventh overall selection in this year’s draft. He’s a very disruptive defender; even against quality opponents, he would often wreck plays in the backfield. A great pick by the Panthers.

Even though it’s not football-related, I like how he seems like a genuinely good guy. People around him say he has a big heart, he is already giving back to his community. He’s a mature guy who has a son and expects a daughter in 2020.

Carolina will get Kawann Short back after he missed all but two games last year. He’s been great in each of his seven seasons, both against the run and as a pass rusher. His presence was sorely missed last year. He and Brown should be dominant inside the defensive line.

As of now, the only free agent acquisition worth of note is Zach Kerr, who played 12 games with the Cards last year. Under normal circumstances, he would be viewed as good depth. Considering the situation, he is likely to get a heavy workload.

For a team that finished 29th in terms of rushing yards allowed per game last season, they are in big trouble.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin and rookie Brian Burns all ranked between 69th and 73rd out of 107 edge defenders, according to PFF. They were all fairly good to rush the quarterback, but were a liability in run defense. Each of them recorded between 7.5 and 9.5 sacks during the 2019 campaign, which was great!

The bad news is the Panthers once again were hit hard by the free agency period; Addison left for Buffalo, while Irvin signed with the Seahawks.

Sure, Carolina signed Stephen Weatherly. The former Viking has not posted more than three sacks in a season ever. He also received poor marks from PFF.

In order to alleviate the losses of Addison and Irvin, the Panthers selected Yetur Gross-Matos last April early in the second round. He has an imposing frame and he was very productive in college, racking up 8 and 9.5 sacks in his final years with the Nittany Lions.

Gross-Matos has an unbelievable and sad story. His dad saved him from drowning when he was a toddler during a boating trip, but his dad lost his own life in the event. Then, when Yetur was 10 years old, his older brother got struck by lightning on a baseball field and passed away. Making it to the NFL despite such tragic events is inspiring.

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

The Panthers franchise got dealt a huge blow last January 14, when Luke Kuechly announced his retirement at age 28. Their fans must have been devastated from the news, which was totally unexpected.

Last year, he ranked as the 5th-best LB with an 85.3 grade. In each of the previous 5 seasons, he received a grade above 90. That’s truly remarkable.

He had the third most tackles in NFL history for all players aged 28 or less. He had it all: the athleticism and the brains. He will be greatly missed by his teammates.

There is absolutely no way you can replace a guy like Kuechly. Still, the team tried to lessen the blow by getting Tahir Whitehead, who played 90% of the defensive snaps with the Raiders. He racked up over 100 tackles in each of its last four seasons, but he is terrible in coverage. He’s been very bad in that aspect of the game from 2016 to 2019 (receiving horrible grades varying between 42.2 and 51.6).

One of the few good news is 26-year old Shaq Thompson is returning after a good season. He finished at the 25th spot out of 87 LBs. Hopefully, he can keep growing with Kuechly’s absence.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Will the bad news ever stop with this defense?

The Panthers’ main cornerback, James Bradberry left for the Giants. He was a fairly good corner for Carolina.

Ross Cockrell got a fair bit of playing time, along with second-year pro Donte Jackson. Cockrell has yet to sign with any team. That makes Jackson a clear-cut starter now. He was chosen in the second round of the 2018 draft and has had an “okay” start to his career.

If Cockrell doesn’t come back, who takes over at CB? Will it be unproven Javien Elliott? Or fourth round rookie Troy Pride?

Again, many questions marks...

3.5 Safeties (S)

Eric Reid and Tre Boston were entrenched as the clear-cut starters at safety.

Reid was released by the team last March. He had a difficult year, as evidence by his 46.6 grade (84th / 87 safeties). His coverage skills weren’t acceptable.

Boston has been in the league for six years. He is coming off a pretty solid season. Indeed, PFF ranked him as the 14th-best safety out of 87 qualifiers. He received a 90.6 grade in coverage, but an abysmal 36.8 in run defense…

Boston will likely team up with newly acquired Juston Burris from Cleveland. He has been a backup for most of his career, but he showed a nice improvement towards the end of last season. Can he carry this success into next season?

The team thought it would be wise to add a third alternative at the safety position. Accordingly, they took Jeremy Chinn late in the second round of this year’s draft. He’s a slot corner turned safety with elite speed and burst. He also hits very hard, but his instincts and football IQ are below average.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

Let’s face the reality: the 2020 outlook looks miserable for this defense.

You cannot expect things to go well when losing Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Bruce Irvin, Mario Addison, Luke Kuechly and James Bradberry (omitting a few more players that are now off the team).

Adding mediocre guys like Zach Kerr, Stephen Weatherly, Tahir Whitehead and Juston Burris just won’t cut it.

At least the team did its best to improve the defensive side of the ball through the draft. As a matter of fact, the Panthers became the first team to pick only defensive players in a complete draft! Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jeremy Chinn are likely to contribute right away.

The team finished 31st in terms of points allowed last season. While it will be difficult to go lower than this, I just can’t find any reasons to get excited over this group, except for the young rookies who might still need time to adjust to NFL speed.

When talking about the offense, one of my worries was the number of new faces; it might take time to gel together, considering the shorter-than-usual offseason. The situation is even worse for the defense.

This unit is headed for a tough ride in 2020.

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Carolina Panthers are expected to win 5.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

  • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
  • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
  • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
  • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
  • Count the proportion of seasons where the Panthers won more or less than 5.5 games.

The results of this thorough statistical investigation generate the 10th-highest ROI (Return On Investment) among the league's 32 teams.

As you can see on my website, the Over/Under pick is provided for free for the NFL teams producing the ROIs ranked 11-32.

The top 10 picks, which includes the Panthers, all have a ROI above 24% and they are available in my special NFL Gold Package. This is the best product I have ever sold. Take advantage of it!

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