NFL Power Rankings | 29. Carolina Panthers
Updated: May 12, 2020
Prediction: 3-13, 4th in NFC South.
DEFENSE was the operative word in the 2020 NFL Draft for the Carolina Panthers. GM Marty Hurney and first year head coach, Matt Rhule became the first team in league history to spend all seven of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball.
It was needed.
The Panthers lost a swathe of key contributors during the off season in what will merely lead a rebuilding first season in Charlotte for Rhule. 37 sacks need to be accounted for after seeing Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin, Vernon Butler, Gerald McCoy, Eric Reid and Dontari Poe all move on to pastures new. The loss of Reid, alongside franchise legend and future Hall of Famer, Luke Kuechly sees 178 solo tackles from last year walk out of the door.
The draft addressed these needs to a certain extent and the Panthers will hope that Yetur Gross-Matos can contribute sacks early in his career. He may only be a rotational piece in year 1 however, with sophomore Brian Burns expected to kick on and improve on a 7.5 sack rookie season as he looks to lead a youthful D-line.
The Panthers did make a pick at number 7 overall in Derrick Brown who should be the anchor of that line for years to come and could make a genuine push for defensive rookie of the year. This level of contribution will be desperately needed to help what was one of the worst run defenses in the league last year. Third round safety Jeremy Chinn will be a physical presence in the box for Carolina and could make up some of the tackles lost through Reid, but Chinn may take some time to settle and find his true position as he enters the league as a raw prospect.
Unfortunately, the roster assessment only becomes less clear and weaker in the secondary unit. Leading cornerback, the perennially underrated James Bradberry, has left for the New York Giants which leaves Donte Jackson as the senior corner. Jackson needs a bounce back season this year in order to assure his future in Carolina. He undoubtedly has ball-skills, but a multitude of missed tackles, blown coverage assignments and arguing with his coaches does not bode well. Jackson must recreate his rookie form as newly drafted Troy Pride Jr projects to start on the opposite side and will inevitably experience growing pains in season one.
XFL-alum Kenny Robinson could hit the ground running and keep an eye on lengthy former Seahawks UDFA Derrick Thomas. Matt Rhule worked with Thomas Baylor, so knows his game well. Thomas has the potential to be a surprise find at the position and could make an impact in an unforgiving NFC South.
The offense will be led by a resurgent Teddy Bridgewater and has more room for optimism. DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson form a trio of experienced and exciting weapons and Christian McCaffrey remains as one of the best backs in the league. Will Bridgewater fulfil his first round potential after a serious knee injury almost derailed his career, or is he simply a placeholder for Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Jamie Newman in the 2021 NFL Draft? The explosive nature of the receiver room makes us question the fit, but time will tell.
Tight End is a major question mark. Ian Thomas has massive Greg Olsen-shaped boots to fill and Seth DeValve will be utilised many as an extra blocker as he has not really shown true receiving chops during his 4 years in the league.
A new era dawns in Carolina.
Legends Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly have both departed and this Panthers roster looks a far cry from any previous All-Pro squads that contained such luminaries like Julius Peppers, Steve Smith Sr., Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil or Jon Beason. This is only the beginning of a long rebuild but the focus on D in the draft proves that Hurney and Rhule have a direction and are beginning to lay the foundations of a long-term plan in Carolina.