By Chris Ross @DraftScout_NFL on May 28, 2014
In 2013, the Carolina Panthers surprised everyone on their way to winning the NFC South. 2014, however, appears to be a different story. The team lost several key contributors this offseason, and unless more players step up next season, it appears 2014 is going to be a difficult year for Carolina. That said, here is a prediction of what the Carolina Panthers' starting lineup will look like in 2014.
A former No. 1 overall pick, the light came on for Cam Newton in 2013. Newton cemented himself as the Panthers' franchise quarterback, and he has this spot locked up for the foreseeable future.
Although the fullback position has been devalued over the years, Mike Tolbert has been consistently solid for the Panthers. Tolbert is mainly used as a goal-line back, however, his blocking is generally above average and he deserves the Panthers’ starting job.
DeAngelo Williams might not be the player he once was, but he’s still an adequate NFL starter. Look for Williams to get around 200 carries in 2014, with Jonathan Stewart providing a change-of-pace.
The release of Steve Smith earlier this offseason really hurt the Panthers’ receiving corps. Kelvin Benjamin, a first-round selection this year, has the potential to be a star, but I think he’s still a year or two away from being a consistent producer. As for Jason Avant, he will provide a reliable, albeit unspectacular target for Cam Newton.
Easily the most reliable receiver in Carolina’s offense, Greg Olsen has been solid for the team since he was traded to the Panthers back in 2011. Olsen won’t blow you away, but he’s extremely reliable and I fully expect him to continue to be Newton’s favorite target in 2014.
Surprisingly the Panthers decided not to address the offensive tackle position this offseason, and it appears that it will come back to haunt the team. Nate Chandler isn’t starter-quality at left tackle, and Byron Bell has never been anything more the below-average as a starter. The lack of depth at offensive tackle is going to hurt the Panthers.
Although the offensive guard position is better than the offensive tackle spot for the Panthers, the position still doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Amini Silatolu is likely to falter as a starter, and while Trai Turner has potential, he’s likely to experience his share of rookie growing pains.
Perhaps the only player on the Panthers’ offensive line who has been proven to be above-average as a starter, Ryan Kalil has locked up the starting center spot for the team. Kalil is one of the better players at his position, and he should continue to be a valuable player.
Easily the deepest position on Carolina’s roster is the defensive end spot. Both Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have proven their worth as elite pass-rushers, and with the team’s addition of Kony Ealy in the 2014 draft, the position got even better this offseason.
As far as defensive tackles are concerned, a pair of second-year players are expected to man the position for the Panthers. Kawann Short showed the potential to become an above-average starter, while Star Lotulelei has displayed the talent to become an absolute star. Expect the Panthers to have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL with the amount of talent they have stockpiled.
Finally healthy for the first time in years, Thomas Davis made a huge impact for the Panthers’ defense in 2013. If he can stay healthy again in 2014, it’s reasonable to expect Davis to replicate his production. On the other hand, Chase Blackburn has shown flashes of potential throughout his career, and he seems primed for a big season.
After two phenomenal seasons in the NFL, Luke Kuechly has proven himself to be one of the NFL’s best middle linebackers. Kuechly’s instincts, range and reliability make him extremely valuable to the Panthers, and I fully expect him to star again in 2014.
When he was healthy in 2012, Josh Norman looked ready to become one of the NFL’s better corners. That said, there are some question marks surrounding him as he is coming off an injury-plagued season. As for Antoine Cason, he will never be anything more than an average starter, but he is likely to earn himself a starting position in 2014.
One of the most underrated free agency signings of the offseason, Thomas DeCoud gives the Panthers a very reliable presence in their secondary. DeCoud is another player who might not blow you away, but he has a skill set well-suited for success in Carolina’s scheme.
Another free agency signing, Roman Harper is likely to earn himself a starting spot this offseason. Harper lacks the skills needed to succeed in coverage, but when he’s motivated, he is a tackling beast.
Going into 2014, the Carolina Panthers once again have a very average special teams unit. Graham Gano has been solid enough as a place kicker to solidify a starting job, while Brad Nortman is likely to be the team’s starting punter. Also, J.J. Jansen will likely be the team’s long snapper while Kenjon Barner will handle return duties.
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