By Andrew Schuster @ShootsMcGavin on June 11, 2014
The Carolina Panthers are looking to defend their title as NFC South champions, but some extra work will need to be done in order to do so. They lost a number of key veteran players over the offseason, however, they still have the talent to be a destructive force in their division. With that in mind, let's take a look at five early predictions for the 2014 season.
DT Star Lotulelei had a solid rookie campaign in 2013 before being named to multiple all-rookie teams. He played like the first-round pick that he was and is only going to get better. I see Lotulelei taking the next step at becoming great and possibly making a Pro Bowl in 2014. The Panthers may have found themselves a long-term defensive tackle.
Losing CB Captain Munnerlynn is going to hurt the Panthers. Charles Godfrey is moving to the cornerback position behind Antoine Cason and possibly Melvin White. Carolina was able to acquire Thomas DeCoud to take over free safety duties and Roman Harper to fill in at strong safety. However, DeCoud struggled a bit, playing in only 10 games last year with Atlanta, and Harper is just too old and slow to really make an impact.
LB Luke Kuechly is a freak of nature and arguably the best middle linebacker in the game right now. After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, he went on to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, went First-Team All-Pro, and earned a spot on the Pro Bowl roster. A similar year is very likely for the young talent.
Selecting Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of the draft was a no-brainer. Losing veterans Steve Smith, Brandon Lafell and Ted Ginn Jr. left a huge hole in the receiving corps. By the time the season kicks off, Benjamin should be listed as the team's second WR, playing on the other side of Jerricho Cotchery. At 6-foot-5, he should be Cam Newton's top target, especially in the red zone. Carolina is the perfect fit for the former FSU Seminole.
After losing a number of veterans, it's going to be hard for the Panthers to repeat their success from the previous year. The New Orleans Saints are looking at one of their best rosters in years, so I see Carolina finishing right behind them in the NFC South. The Panthers' schedule also looks to be one of the toughest they've seen in years.
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