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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 25: Carolina Panthers

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The Panthers have an incredibly talented quarterback, an offense with a good number of playmakers, and a defensive front seven that stacks up with almost any in the league.

But for several reasons, few think of them as a playoff contender, primarily for the things they don’t have.

The parts of their roster that are thin are painfully thin, and if Cam Newton fails to take the next step and become a guy that can lead a playoff team (whether he’s a team captain or not), the whole thing’s probably going to collapse and be rebuilt.

They brought in a new General Manager this offseason in Dave Gettleman, but the core of the team is the one built by the old G.M. (Marty Hurney), and it’s not an untalented group.

But they have enough questions, and live in a tough enough neighborhood, that nothing is certain.

Strengths.

The Panthers are better than advertised in a few areas, and their defensive front seven could be quite good.

With the double-dip drafting of defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, along with re-signing Dwan Edwards, the previous gaping hole in the middle of the defense has been filled, which could make their edge rushers even better.

While Charles Johnson’s still overpaid, he’s at least productive. Over the past three seasons, the only seven players in the league have more sacks than his 33.0. Greg Hardy’s coming off an 11.0-sack season and is looking for a contract, and they have a promising third in Frank Alexander.

Along with a fast trio of linebackers, it’s an imposing front.

Luke Kuechly came in as a rookie and made the middle his own, necessitating Jon Beason’s move outside. With Thomas Davis bouncing back from three torn ACLs to have a productive season, it’s a mobile group.

They’re also deep at running back (if sometimes to a fault), and any passing game that includes Steve Smith and Greg Olsen is only going to be so bad, as Brandon LaFell has been an acceptable second.

Weaknesses.

The secondary, to put it politely, is a real mess.

The best player, free safety Charles Godfrey, is kind of average. And he stands out among his peers.

Who starts next to him in the middle remains to be seen. They have an odd cast of spare parts (Haruki Nakamura, Mike Mitchell, D.J. Campbell), and have expressed interest in free agent Quintin Mikell, who would walk in the door as the best defensive back on the roster.

The news is worse at cornerback, where they have a sack full of nickels, but no one you really trust starting outside and matching up with a Roddy White or a Julio Jones (or a Vincent Jackson, or a Marques Colston, etc.).

Captain Munnerlyn is probably the best of the lot, an undersized competitor (which means he tries hard but people routinely throw over the top of him). They brought in Drayton Florence to shepherd a young group, and former Bears cast-off D.J. Moore could easily make a run at a starting job.

The good news is the Panthers have a good pass rush. The bad news is that pass rush will have to be better than just good to cover up the problems in the back.

They’re also not particularly deep on the offensive line, and are a year away from having needs for a pair of tackles.

Changes.

The upheaval was relatively mild, considering new General Manager Dave Gettleman inherited a significant salary cap pinch.

He was able to restructure and keep left tackle Jordan Gross, running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams and others, keeping together a core of players which have closed strong in recent years.

Of course, the biggest change was the one the Panthers didn’t make, as coach Ron Rivera held onto a job despite a 13-19 record, which includes a sparkling 2-12 mark in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Rivera essentially applied for his own job in an offseason meeting with owner Jerry Richardson (prior to Gettleman being hired), and talked the owner into letting him stay.

Finishing strong both seasons has given Rivera a certain momentum, and his honesty and straightforward approach with players makes him popular in the locker room.

But he’s opened both his seasons 2-8, and he probably won’t survive another such start. If he’s learned how to adjust on the fly and avoid the early hole, he has a chance to grow into an NFL head coach, because his ability to draw Xs and Os is respected.

Camp Battles.

Again, between now and the opener, three of the four jobs in the secondary will be won by someone, and it’s possible that it’s by someone not there at the moment.

But they do have jobs contested by people on the current roster.

Fourth-rounder Edmund Kugbila got off to a slow start because of some minor injuries, but could push right guard Geoff Hangartner for a job, now or in the future.

They’re looking for a reliable third receiver, and brought in Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon to go along with a cast of leftovers including Armanti Edwards, David Gettis and Kealoha Pilares.

But the majority of the jobs are claimed, for better or for worse.

Prospects.

The Panthers are such that anything between five and 10 wins could be achieved with minimal surprise.

They’re changing offensive coordinators (with Mike Shula replacing Rob Chudzinski), but they’re going to lean toward the stuff that worked in the second half of last year, and away from the over-tinkering that made them a hesitant mess last September and October.

They played the Falcons as well as anyone last year, beating them once and tripping over their own shoes to lose the other in the last seconds.

If Rivera matures as a coach, and Newton matures as a passer, there’s a reasonably high ceiling for this team.

If neither happens, the floor could fall out from beneath them.

Richardson’s not getting more patient as he ages, and doesn’t seem inclined to offer many more chances like the olive branch he extended Rivera this offseason.

Being mediocre again will likely trigger a mass exodus, but the Panthers have the potential to be better than that.

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25 Responses to “PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 25: Carolina Panthers”
  1. whatnojets says: Jul 12, 2013 3:09 PM

    HaHaHaHaHa!

    Don’t bother to show up game day!!

  2. touchdownroddywhite says: Jul 12, 2013 3:12 PM

    Sounds about right… they’ll be sitting at the bottom of the NFC South, yet again. Unfortunately, they’ll still beat the Falcons at home this year…

  3. therillest says: Jul 12, 2013 3:13 PM

    Not a Panthers fan but this one is way too low. What in the hell did the Panthers ever do to you Darin?

  4. flapjackdaddy says: Jul 12, 2013 3:16 PM

    Wow. So six teams they drafted behind are better than them? Too low. 18-22 makes far more sense…

    Seven of their nine losses where by one score. They held leads in all seven of those loses.

    The defensive line had no depth, Johnson and Hardy would get tired and the D couldn’t stop anyone in the 4th quarter.

    They added DL depth, are getting Beason back, and the offense will continue to do their part.

    This ranking is unjustifiable.

  5. flapjackdaddy says: Jul 12, 2013 3:20 PM

    @touchdownroddywhite

    The Panthers have finished last in the division only once (in 2010) since it’s inception in 2002.

  6. 8to80texansblog says: Jul 12, 2013 3:20 PM

    It’s going to be very hard to make headway in a division with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan….

  7. ozymandias121 says: Jul 12, 2013 3:23 PM

    I will bet $100 they put the 49ers number 4 just to spite the Bay Area.

  8. bullethead527 says: Jul 12, 2013 3:32 PM

    I dont agree with the rankings, but I can’t really complain about where they are ranked, because I only rank my Panthers about 4-6 spots higher then where they are ranked anyways…..

    8-8 give or take one. my 2013 Panthers prediction.

  9. ColtsWinColtsWin!! says: Jul 12, 2013 3:32 PM

    Wow, they just gave the big middle finger to you Carolina! Way to low in my opinion but you know what they say about power rankings, if you don’t like them wait one week and they will change.

  10. weekendatberniemadoffs says: Jul 12, 2013 3:36 PM

    Sure, they suffered two humiliating losses last year (Broncos & Giants), but the Panthers were in every other game they played. The offense kept them in games, but the defense folded at the end of 7 of those losses. The team got better as the year went on. If anything, barring injury, this defense should be much better than last years. I am a Panthers fan, yes, but I do realize there are holes on the team. I would’ve assumed we would’ve been ranked anywhere from 17 up to 22. But what do I know? I’ve only watched every snap since ’95.

  11. skarbar001 says: Jul 12, 2013 3:48 PM

    @therillest “Not a Panthers fan but this one is way too low. What in the hell did the Panthers ever do to you Darin?”

    Darin was overly critical of ownership prior to the lockout. Jerry Richardson had the Charlotte Observer (Darin’s former employer) reassign him to a college volleyball team iirc. Which he then left for PFT.

  12. olhoss1884 says: Jul 12, 2013 3:50 PM

    The hardest thing for the Panthers this year is going to be that they play in a tough division loaded full of passing offense, and they have a terrible secondary. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went 1-5 in the division, meaning a 7-3 mark against the rest of football leaves them out of the playoffs. And since they play the even tougher NFC West, a better division record by a game or two might STILL not be enough to get them in.

  13. 8to80texansblog says: Jul 12, 2013 3:57 PM

    ozymandias121 says: Jul 12, 2013 3:23 PM

    I will bet $100 they put the 49ers number 4 just to spite the Bay Area.
    ===========================

    I’d have them 3rd.

    Broncos (easiest schedule in the league, 14 wins easy)
    Seahawks (just feel that Seattle is better than SF)
    Niners (great all around team, but i think their QB is a mental midget compared to RW… maybe more athletically gifted, but RW just oozes leadership to me, whereas CK just oozes immaturity)

  14. dallascowboysdishingthereal says: Jul 12, 2013 4:11 PM

    The logic here for 25 is sound. Their terrible secondary hasn’t been addressed and it lost games for them last season. If you watched them play, you know it’s true.

    They have been weak the last two seasons and probably have a lame duck coach in Rivera. Oh but they have two rookie DTs and Cam.

    Good luck with that….

  15. teek77 says: Jul 12, 2013 4:13 PM

    Carin Gantt missed this one by a long shot. Of course, Carolina never has gotten much respect as compared to the media darlings of the Northeast. I am not sure that Big Ben can carry the whole load for the Steelers with a lack of running backs and wide receivers with an aging defense. Then there’s the Ravens who were ransacked worst than a Walmart on Black Friday. The Giants are getting older and have less talent than last year when they had a less than sparkling year. And now let’s talk about morale….can you spell Patriots? There has been a question about how they were going to use Tebow. To me, the Good Lord is giving clear indications that Tim needs to get hold of a Tight End playbook. And then there’s the —Skins. Not to wish any bad luck on a great player like RGIII but there is going to be huge pressure to stay healthy. Anyway, Cats are ranked too low.

  16. bucrightoff says: Jul 12, 2013 4:58 PM

    How is this too low? The Panthers have started the last two seasons 2-8. 25th is actually pretty accurate.

  17. joeyrio says: Jul 12, 2013 5:15 PM

    Carolina will be better this year than many people are expecting. The team seems to have a renewed focus on the traditional run game and with the talent they have in the backfield this should have been a no brainer. Gone with Chudzinski is the heavy reliance on the read option and by running the ball more consistently hopefully we will give those explosive offenses in the division less opportunities on the field.

    Defensively the Panthers are improved. Yes the defensive backfield is a huge question mark, but the front seven has been significantly upgraded. With a stronger pass rush and a much stronger run defense, offenses will have a much more difficult time moving the ball. Even with mediocre secondary play this team could easily be a 10 win team.

    There are several teams in this division with question marks? The Saints have to improve on a defense that gave up nearly 450 yards per game, the Bucs have uncertainty at the quarterback position, so much so they drafted a qb this year, and the Falcons have some defensive questions to be answered themselves.

    One thing’s certain, this division has talent and will be extremely competitive.

  18. therealhazer says: Jul 12, 2013 9:09 PM

    Nowhere near as talented as rest of division. Last place.

  19. vegaskid21 says: Jul 12, 2013 9:14 PM

    I’m sorry but the very first sentence makes me laugh.

  20. asublimeday says: Jul 13, 2013 2:47 AM

    DJ Moore is the best CB ever, just ask him.

  21. joeyrio says: Jul 13, 2013 9:57 AM

    that’s just his humble opinion.

  22. wilsonwillbreaku says: Jul 13, 2013 2:12 PM

    week 1. home 13 visitors 31

  23. panthernation45 says: Jul 13, 2013 4:03 PM

    vegaskid21 says:
    Jul 12, 2013 9:14 PM
    I’m sorry but the very first sentence makes me laugh.

    – and whys that? Hardy C. Johnson Lotoulelei Edwards T. Davis Kuechly Beason ? Name a front 7 that is far And above better.

    And how is Cam not immensely talented? And please contest the playmaking ability of our offense..I beg you

  24. slammincamnewton says: Jul 13, 2013 7:30 PM

    It’s just the 10th anniversary of the NFC Championship Panthers. They were slept on that year too.

  25. jgedgar70 says: Jul 16, 2013 3:17 PM

    I want to get mad at this prediction, but then I realize A) it’s mid-July and B) the analysis is solid, even if the ranking seems low.

    Defensively, it all depends on how much better the line is. If it’s a ton better, we win more close games. If not, we’re going to be sweating through a ton of 45-38 games. Offensively, it depends on how well we run, which I’m a bit worried about because we have an O-line with a super-stud center and a bunch of what-ifs.

    If we had to start playing today, I’d say we probably go 9-7. I’m hoping we can get a good DB and OL that are salary cap cuts and do even better. The season can’t get here fast enough.

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