Matt Rhule enters his third year as the head coach of the Panthers. He has had two consecutive five-win seasons. Progress has to be made going into year three. The Panthers just made a huge trade to acquire Bake Mayfield from the Browns. A lot is going to be riding on Mayfield and the staff to prove they have what it takes to be with the Panthers. The offensive line has been massively upgraded and there are pieces on this team for success. McCaffrey’s health is going to be of major importance to have the best chance of success. This is a major “prove it” year for many figures in Charlotte and only time will tell if they are deserving.
QB: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Matt Corral, Davis Cheek, Phillip Walker
Explanation: In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, the Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield. Mayfield was the subject of numerous trade rumors after the Browns shocked the NFL by trading numerous first round picks for Deshaun Watson. Mayfield has had an up and down career so far. He had a breakout his season his rookie year and then a 2020 season in which he led the Browns to win their first playoff game since the 1994-1995 season. In 2020 he threw for 3,500 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. 2021 was a different story. He tore his rotator cuff completely in week 2 and had 3,000 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He received a lot of scrutiny last season leading many to wonder if he really was going to be the quarterback of the future. Now, Mayfield is given a fresh start to gain back the respect he had in 2020 with a new franchise. He will have a lot of pressure to perform though as this is a contract year for him. Only time will tell if he can rekindle the magic from 2020 and prove he is a franchise quarterback in the NFL.
RB: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, D’Onta Foreman, Spencer Brown, John Lovett, Darius Bradwell
Explanation: McCaffrey is one of the most dynamic players in the game. The only reason this grade is not higher is because of his health the past two seasons. He only played 3 games in 2020 and 7 in 2021. Running backs take a lot of hits and there’s a lot of reason to caution veteran running backs with injury history. However, when McCaffrey plays it is electric. In 2021, he had 442 yards rushing on 4.5 yards per carry and 37 receptions for 343 yards. He brings a lot to both the rushing and passing game. His health will be a major reason for this offense’s success in 2022. Chuba Hubbard had a decent rookie season with 612 yards rushing and 25 receptions for 174 yards. His production is nowhere near McCaffrey, but he is a quality backup. Foreman was also signed this off-season and had a very solid year in Tennessee in 2021. He will battle Hubbard for RB2 after having 566 yards in only 9 games last season.
WR: Robbie Anderson, Terrance Marshall Jr, DJ Moore, Rashard Higgins, Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith, Andre Roberts, CJ Saunders, Charleston Rambo, Ra’Shaun Henry, Andrew Parchment, Derek Wright, Keith Kirkwood
Explanation: Moore and Anderson highlight this group. Moore has had three straight 1,000-yard seasons and will look to make that four in 2022. Anderson had 1,000 yards in 2020 but struggled last year only having 519 yards on 53 receptions and 110 targets. Rashard Higgins comes over from Cleveland where he had a solid year and should be a solid depth piece in this position group. The Panthers will hope to get more from Terrance Marshall Jr going into year two. If Baker’s play can improve from 2021 then expect this group to improve from better overall QB play.
TE: Tommy Tremble, Ian Thomas, Stephen Sullivan, Colin Thompson, Jared Scott, Josh Babicz
Explanation: Carolina will need to drastically improve at the tight end position in 2021. In 2021, rookie Tremble only had 20 catches for 180 yards and 1 touchdown. Thomas had 188 yards receiving last year. Someone will need to step up at this position in 2022 to formulate a well-balanced attack.
OL: Ikem Ekwonu, Pat Elflein, Bradley Bozeman, Austin Corbett, Taylor Moton, Cameron Erving, Cade Mays, Deonte Brown, Austen Pleasants, Brady Christensen, Michael Jordan, Sam Tecklenburg, Mike Horton, Wyatt Miller, Dennis Daley
Explanation: This was the position group the Panthers went into the off-season knowing they needed a massive upgrade, and they did just that. Bradley Bozeman signed a very team friendly deal after playing four solid seasons for the Ravens. Austin Corbett signed a big contract to come play for Caroline and then the Panthers took Ikem Ekwonu 6th overall in the draft. Many draft experts had Ekwonu as the number one overall tackle prospect. This is a complete overhaul in a position group that finished second worst in the league in overall position group rankings by PFF. Taylor Moton is at the other tackle spot, and he is a very high-quality tackle in his own right. This is going to be interesting to see just how much improved this group is in 2022.
DL: Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Matt Ioannidis, Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes Sr, Daviyon Nixon, Bravvion Roy, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Amare Barno, Phil Hoskins, Marquan McCall, Frank Herron, Daryl Johnson, Drew Jordan
Explanation: Derrick Brown improved in 2021 and the Panthers will look for him to improve even more going into year three. Brian Burns has had 9 sacks each of the past two seasons which is solid production. Ioannidis comes from Washington where he is still a force on the inside but hasn’t had the sack production he had earlier in his career. Carolina is also going to want more from 2020 2nd round pick, Gross-Matos in 2022. The addition of Ioannidis helps but ultimately the development of their younger few guys will decide how this group fares in 2022.
LB: Shaq Thompson, Damien Wilson, Cory Littleton, Kamal Martin, Isaiah Graham-Mobley, Frankie Luvu, Julian Stanford, Brandon Smith, Khalan Tolson
Explanation: Shaq Thompson headlines this unit after having 104 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions in 2021. Damien Wilson comes from Jacksonville where he had a breakout season of his own with 109 tackles, 3 sacks and an interception. Littleton also signed with the Panthers this off-season so this a will be a mostly knew unit strapping up each Sunday. Brandon Smith was taken in the 4th round of this past draft and will look to develop and contribute. This is a solid and improved group from a year ago.
CB: Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, Rashaan Melvin, CJ Henderson, Myles Hartsfield, Keith Taylor Jr, Sam Franklin Jr, Chris Westry, Kalon Barnes, Stanley Thomas-Oliver III, Madre Harper
Explanation: The former number eight overall pick from 2021 highlights this group after he showed a very impressive first three games before suffering a season-ending torn Achilles. He only allowed one reception in those three outings. He also had an interception. Donte Jackson is the other corner and had a 65.6% completion percentage on him in 2021. His run defense grade was a 78.5 in 2021 though. A lot on this group will ride on whether the young Horn can return from injury and show a full season’s work of what he showed last season. Cornerback play is a position of upgrade for this defense and Horn could really help it out.
S: Jeremy Chinn, Xavier Woods, Juston Burris, Kenny Robinson, Sean Chandler, Sam Franklin Jr
Explanation: Chinn showed early he is a high-quality safety. He had a 71.4 overall defensive grade in 2021. He had 107 total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception last season. Xavier Woods comes over from Minnesota where he had a breakout season himself with 108 tackles, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions. This is an improved position group with the signing of Woods and should be a force in the secondary in 2022.