The Panthers fell to last place in the NFC South last year with a 5-11 record. The team will look a lot different this season as new head coach, Matt Rhule, takes over after leading the Baylor Bears to an 11-3 record.
There is also a huge roster turnover as the Panthers saw some big name players leave, but some new additions will fill the voids.
Key Additions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, QB P.J. Walker, WR Robby Anderson, WR Seth Roberts, WR Pharoh Cooper, OT Russell Okung, G John Miller, G Michael Schofield, DE Stephen Weatherly, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Eli Apple, S Juston Burris, DT Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Jeremy Chinn.
Key Departures: LB Luke Kuechly, QB Cam Newton, TE Greg Olsen, CB James Bradberry, OT Daryl Williams, DE Mario Addison, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Dontari Poe, DT Vernon Butler, G Greg Van Roten, CB Ross Cockrell, and S Eric Reid.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the new-look Panthers roster going into 2020.
Starter: Teddy Bridgewater
Backups: P.J. Walker and Will Grier
After releasing franchise QB, Cam Newton, the Panthers signed former Saints backup, Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year deal. Bridgewater shined last year during Brees’ injury, winning all five starts. Over those five starts, he threw for 1,205 yards and nine touchdowns. He moves onto Carolina as the starter, where he looks to continue his success from last year.
The Panthers also brought in stand out XFL quarterback, P.J. Walker from the Houston Roughnecks. Over his five games in the XFL, Walker led the Roughnecks to 5-0 record, throwing for 1,338 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the XFL in both yards and touchdowns. Walker has also played for Matt Rhule as he was the starting QB for Temple in 2015 and 2016, leading the Owls to a combined 20-7 record of the two seasons.
Starter: Christian McCaffrey
Backups: Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Mike Davis, and Rodney Smith
The Panthers’ top strength is at the RB position. McCaffrey is coming off the third 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000-yard receiving season in NFL history, and is one the league’s best offensive weapons. McCaffrey is dominant in both the run game and through the air but is also a workhorse back that does not come off the field. In his first three seasons in the NFL, he has totaled 5,443 scrimmage yards and 39 touchdowns, on only 926 touches. McCaffrey will continue to lead and drive the Panthers offense in 2020.
Starters: Robby Anderson, DJ Moore, and Curtis Samuel
Backups: Pharaoh Cooper, Seth Roberts, DeAndrew White, Brandon Zylstra, and Ishmael Hyman
The Panthers WR core got a huge boost this offseason with the signing of former Jets WR, Robby Anderson. Over his first four NFL season, Anderson has 3,059 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. He reunites with his college coach, Matt Rhule in Carolina and is the new top option for Bridgewater.
DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel complete the trio of starting WRs. the top two options for the Panthers last year, combined for over 1,900 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Moore will look for his second straight 1,000 receiving season as Curtis Samuel moves to the slot position.
Pharaoh Cooper and Seth Roberts bring flashy speed and depth to the WR position, which the Panthers lacked in 2019.
Starter: Ian Thomas
Backups: Chris Manhertz, Temarrick Hemingway, Colin Thompson, Giovanni Ricci, and Cam Sutton
The Panthers released long-time TE and franchise star, Greg Olsen early this offseason. Ian Thomas now take over the starting role permanently with the departure of the threes-time Pro Bowler.
Thomas enters his third season out of Indiana and took a step back last year, after solid rookie campaign in 2018. He had less receptions, yards, and touchdowns compared to his rookie year, which is in part due to Greg Olsen returning from injury.
Thomas is now the answer at tight end for the Panthers and looks to have a bounce back season following a drop off year in 2019. With a new QB, Thomas can see an increase in production with Bridgewater at the helm.
Starters: Russell Okung (LT), Dennis Daley (LG), Matt Paradis (C), Michael Schofield (RG), and Taylor Moton (RT)
Backups: Greg Little (T), Matt Kaskey (T), Brandon Bowen (G), Jon Miller (G), and Tyler Larsen (C)
The offensive line is one of the biggest questions for the Panthers, who are in the middle of roster turnover. They made a big trade at the beginning of the offseason, acquiring OT Russell Okung from the Chargers for Pro Bowler OG Trai Turner. Matt Paradis is coming off a season full of struggles in year one with the Panthers.
Okung, a former Pro Bowler, will likely lock-in as the starting LT and barring any injuries can finally provide stability to the position. The Panthers have had a different starter at LT each year since their 2015 Super Bowl run.
Moton will start at RT this year as he is one of the top offensive linemen on the roster. Paradis will look to bounce back after a rough first season as the starting center.
Schofield will take over the RG position this year, leaving Dennis Daley, Jon Miller, and Greg Little in a competition for the starting spot at RG. Little is a natural tackle and he will need to adjust to playing the guard position throughout the competition. However, Daley, who was the Panthers 2019 sixth round draft pick, has experience at every position on the offensive line, displaying his versatility. Ultimately, I have Little winning the competition and securing the starting RG spot.
Starters: Brian Burns (DE), Derrick Brown (DT), Kawann Short (DT), and Stephen Weatherly (DE)
Backups: Yetur Gross-Matos, Woodrow Hamilton, Chris Smith, and Zach Kerr
The Panthers are making a defensive scheme adjustment, moving to the 4-3 scheme with Matt Rhule taking over as head coach. The defensive line possesses a string of youth and potential.
Brian Burns had flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign, recording 7.5 sacks and 16 QB Hits to pair with his one fumbles recovery and touchdown. He started five games last year, but will take a starting spot this year with the switch to the 4-3 scheme.
Rookie Derrick Brown is a beast on the defensive line. He went up against some of the top competition in college football and recorded 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He is a franchise caliber DT and is going to be a key piece of this defense.
Kawann Short returns from injury after only playing in two games last year. Over his career, Short has five seasons with at least 10 QB Hits and three seasons with at least 10 tackles for loss.
Stephen Weatherly joins the Panthers after playing his four season with the Minnesota Vikings. The past two seasons, he had developed, recording 17 total QB hits and 11 tackles for loss. Weatherly looks to continue to develop and improve this year with a fresh start in Carolina.
Second-round draft pick, Yetur Gross-Matos will get a significant number of snaps this season as he looks to make an instant impact on the defense during his rookiee season. Over his collegiate career with Penn State, he recorded 36.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks.
Starters: Shaq Thompson (SLB), Tahir Whitehead (MLB), and Marquis Haynes (WLB)
Backups: Jermaine Carter Jr., Andre Smith, Christian Miller, Mack Jordan, and Jason Ferris
The deepest and biggest loss for the Panthers this offseason was star LB and franchise cornerstone, Luke Keuchly. Keuchly has been one of the league’s best LBs for years and the loss is going to hurt the Carolina defense.
Shaq Thompson and Tahir Whitehead are going to lead the LB unit as Whitehead brings veteran leadership and experience, while Thompson has continued to develop and improve in each of his first five seasons, setting a career-high 101 tackles last year.
Marquis Haynes takes over a starting role for the Panthers defense after only playing in 15 games over his first two seasons.
The loss of All-Pro and franchise cornerstone, Luke Keuchly, will definitely have an impact on the LB play from the Panthers, but the next man up mentality is going to fuel the core throughout the season.
Starters: Donte Jackson and Eli Apple
Backups: Troy Pride Jr., Cole Luke, Stanley Thomas-Oliver III, and Derrek Thomas
The CB position also suffered a major blow this offseason with the loss of James Bradberry in free agency. The team did bring in Eli Apple to fill the void left with the departure of Bradberry.
Apple has struggled so far throughout his career, but looks to start over and live up to the hype and full potential in Carolina.
Donte Jackson took a step back last season, partly due to injury and when he was on the field, he was a slid contributor with eight passes defensed and three interceptions.
The cornerbackCB position is young and full of potential, and this season is going to have growing pains, but the development and growth will aid the defense in the future.
Starters: Jeremy Chinn and Tre Boston
Backups: Kenny Robinson, Juston Burris, Quin Blanding, and TJ Green
Tre Boston returns to the Panthers after a solid 2019 campaign. In his 16 starts, Boston recorded 11 passes defense and three interceptions to pair with his 68 tackles.
Jeremy Chinn takes over for the loss of Eric Reid, who left in free agency. Chinn, one of the Panthers second round picks in April’s draft, set school records for interceptions in a season, interception return yards in a season and interceptions in a career at Southern Illinois.
Starters: Graham Gano (K), Michael Palardy (P), and JJ Jansen (LS)
Graham Gano returns for his eighth season with the Panthers, carrying an 85.5% success rate on field goals over his first seven season in Carolina.
Michael Palardy looks to continue his strong play as the punter for the Panthers, after tying a career high in net average yard per punt at 46 yards last year. Over his four year career, his net average is 45.3 yards.