The Carolina Panthers knew this year would be a rebuilding year, they just didn’t know how tough it would be find success. The team knew wins were going to be tough to come by, especially with a new coach, and a new identity after the team parted ways with Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Trai Turner, James Bradberry, and Greg Olsen. After using all of their picks on defensive players in the 2020 draft, it was obvious this team was serious about allowing their young players to gain experience early on.
In Week 1, the Panthers lost a shootout against the Raiders. Led by rookie QB Tyree Jackson, the offense was able to move the ball at will, however the defense showed it’s age, with missed tackles and blown coverages. This pattern continued throw most of the season as the defense had growing pains. In Week 2, franchise QB hopeful Tyree Jackson was injured and replaced by fellow rookie QB Tommy Stevens. The Panthers relied on an attack that focused on getting the ball to their playmakers quickly, utilizing jet sweeps and RPOs to get the ball in the hands of their weapons such as Curtis Samuel, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and not to be forgotten – Christian McCaffrey.
After a few more losses and high scoring games, the defense showed signs of learning to stand up after crawling the first few weeks. However, being led by inexperienced QBs, the offense started to turn the ball over more and more as the season went on, putting the defense against the wall and fighting high powered offenses on a short field more often than not.
What Went Right
Christian McCaffrey carried on with his habit of amassing 1000 rushing yards and 1000 receiving yards totaling 13 touchdowns and only fumbled once the entire season. McCaffrey is still considered one of the best players in the league.
Curtis Samuel became a #1 WR. Samuel matched McCaffrey with 97 receptions and almost 1500 yards while scoring 12 times through the air. Samuel accumulated most of his yards after the catch while being featured in the Panthers “weapon focused” RPO offense. Between Samuel and McCaffrey, the duo total over 1500 yards after the catch.
Jeremy Chinn became the leader of the defense. Chinn had 94 total tackle, 9 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and 4 INTs. Everyone was stunned when the Panthers passed on Isaiah Simmons in the first round of the 2020 draft, instead, drafted defensive tackle Derrick Brown. Looking back at the decision, it looks like the Panthers made a great decision to grab Brown in the first round and Chinn later in the draft.
The defensive line improved significantly. Brian Burns lead all defensive lineman in the NFC with 55 tackles, 9 of those being a tackle for a loss and 10 being a sack. Derrick Brown was 2nd in the NFC among defensive tackles with 46 tackles, 14 for a loss, and 3 sacks. Yetur Gross-Matos showed potential with 4 sacks, and 32 total tackles and looks to be a long term starter opposite Brian Burns on the defensive line.
What Went Wrong
While Tyree Jackson was 5th in the NFC when it came to yards per game, he seemed to have a knack for finding ways to turn the ball over, throwing more than 40 INTs and only scoring 21 times. Although Jackson may have a unique combo of size, speed, and arm strength, he may not be the long term answer at quarterback. The Panthers were committed to the youngster throughout the season, keeping him in games where he was continuously turning the ball over in close games. We shall see if the Panthers stay dedicated over the offseason as they will have the opportunity to add a franchise quarterback to the team in the upcoming 2021 draft.
The offensive line allowed Tyree Jackson and Tommy Stevens to be one of the top ten teams to be sacked the most, giving up 33 sacks, and in the bottom 5 of the league in rushing yards gained. The Panthers will definitely need to focus on improving the offensive line this upcoming off-season as it is tragic to have one of the best running backs to come into the league in the past decade and being considered one of the worst teams on the ground.
Although the defensive line was one of the best parts of the Panthers season, the defense as a whole was disaster. The back seven of the defense allowed the Panthers to be on the of most passed on teams in the league and allowed the most points scored. This will need to change as the Panthers are expected to have one of the tougher schedules next season in recent memory.
The Panthers will have almost $60 million in cap space. In terms of need, the Panthers have a few. Quarterback, offensive line, and linebacker. The Panthers typically fill holes in free agency so they can draft the best players available. If they are successful at filling needs in free agency, then they will be more likely to trade back in the draft often to accumulate more young players.
Projecting the Draft
Round 1, Pick 1: Trevor Lawrence, QB Clemson – The Panthers will not be able to pass up a franchise quarterback. This is a no-brainer.
Round 2, Pick 1: Alex Leatherwood, OL Alabama – Leatherwood will be a day 1 starter on this offensive line.
Round 3, Pick 1: Linebacker – If the Panthers are unable to find a suitable linebacker in free agency, LB will definitely be one of their top 3 picks.
Being a fairly young team, and having a tough schedule ahead, the team is in a tough spot. The Panthers will almost certainly have a new starting quarterback. The offense has a ton of playmakers, but the offensive line needs to step up. It would be a surprise to many if the Panthers were able to make the playoffs in 2021. If the defense and offensive line play can improve, the Panthers may be able to infuse some confidence into a young signal caller.