Much of the attention on the Carolina Panthers is paid to superstar quarterback Cam Newton and the offensive unit. That would be a true disservice to a team that many don’t realize ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in yards against last year despite finishing the season with a 7-9 record. The defense certainly wasn’t to blame for the team losing with more frequency than they won a year ago, and one player in particular who can’t shoulder any of the blame is defensive end Greg Hardy.
The former member of the Ole Miss Rebels was a highly projected draft choice before character concerns surfaced that sent his draft stock tumbling to the sixth round where the Panthers stole him in 2010. Hardy has seen steady progression since his rookie year in Carolina, and that culminated in his breakout 11.0 sack performance form a season ago. That number made up a part of a fearsome pass rush that the Panthers have going as they totaled 41 sacks as a team last season, good for ninth in the league.
What made Hardy’s sack total even more impressive, however, was the fact that he played with a thumb that was broken in two places back in September. His sack number flourished despite playing the bulk of the season with a protective cast, and that only hints at the potential Hardy could have with a clean bill of health.
One the defensive end depth chart, Carolina also boasts the consistent Charles Johnson who led the team with 12.5 sacks last season. Adding Star Lotulelei in the 2013 NFL Draft only figures to help Hardy and Johnson get more one on one looks on the outside as the massive space eater inside will likely demand double-teams on a regular basis. It’s hard to believe that those impressive sack numbers from 2012 could get even better this coming season, but it’s certainly a possibility given the upgrades that the team has made around them.
Entering his fourth year in the league, things are starting to come together for Hardy and his teammates in Carolina. He is just scratching the surface of his potential as a pass rusher, and quarterbacks throughout the NFC South should be worried about having to face him twice a year for the foreseeable future.