Carolina Panthers 2021 Season Preview: One year from Rhuling the world?

The Carolina Panthers season preview for 2021 is about progressing year to year. Can they show us enough to feel good about them in 2022?

This team is just one season away from the Matt Rhule team-building peak. The Carolina Panthers 2021 NFL season preview looks to be full of potential upside and a lot of unknowns. Rhule turned Temple around in Year 3, and he did the same with Baylor. Could the Panthers outpace the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South? Could Rhule turn Sam Darnold into a franchise quarterback?

Carolina Panthers 2021 season preview

The Panthers possess the sixth-easiest schedule in the NFL. They face the Jets, Texans, Eagles, Giants, and Falcons (twice). That gives them six contests against teams projected to win 7 or fewer games. However, their other two divisional opponents have stellar rosters. They also have a bout with the Buffalo Bills. The rest of their games are against teams that project to win less than 10 games.

Offseason additions and losses

It’s always good to see underachieving teams be aggressive in the offseason. The Panthers did just that. This offseason, they really focused on reinforcing the offensive line. Carolina placed the franchise tag on Taylor Moton while trying to secure him long-term: Moton and the Panthers eventually agreed to a massive extension. They also signed Pat Elflein and Cam Erving to bolster the line. Unfortunately, those moves are not necessarily upgrading the front five.

Additionally, the Panthers added tight end Dan Arnold and wide receiver David Moore. Arnold caught 31 passes in 2020 and scored 4 touchdowns. He is the stretch-four type of tight end with a lean frame that moves well for his size. His receiving ability is his calling card. Moore can line up and run routes from the slot or carry the ball as an offensive weapon.

Defensively, Carolina made two big-time moves. The Panthers added stud pass rusher Haason Reddick and linebacker Denzel Perryman to the mix. Reddick adds to what is an impressive and young defensive line. Perryman was a much-needed asset because the linebacking corps was underwhelming.

The Panthers lost Mike Davis, but Christian McCaffrey will get the bulk of the workload thanks to his physical gifts. Logically, that loss makes sense. They also allowed wide receiver Curtis Samuel to leave in free agency.

2021 NFL Draft

It’s impossible not to like some of the value the Panthers received in their draft. Even if you personally believe they should have selected a quarterback, they drafted solid players. Jaycee Horn was a Twitter favorite due to his… aggressive… play style. Horn fills the void left by the loss of James Bradberry two years ago.

The Panthers were missing a realistic third option at receiver with the loss of Samuel, so they added Terrace Marshall Jr. in Round 2. Marshall is a high-upside X receiver with outstanding speed and red-zone ability. He needs to become a more technically refined route runner, but he has WR1 upside.

Brady Christensen was outstanding value in Round 3. He has the potential to start over Cam Erving or develop behind him before starting. The Tommy Tremble addition might mean the Panthers value athleticism at tight end. That would be smart because that is the one position where athleticism is historically the most important.

Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard is a linear runner, but he’s an explosive piece to use sparingly behind McCaffrey. Daviyon Nixon is a great pairing opposite Derrick Brown. Nixon could be a legitimate 3-technique pass rusher with his athleticism and repertoire.

Cornerback Keith Taylor doesn’t add much athleticism to the position, but his tape shows a pro-ready player that could be successful situationally. Deonte Brown is a monster. If he’s able to control his weight, he will be an NFL starter at guard. His footwork for his advanced size is outstanding. WR Shi Smith was another underrated draft pick.

Where do Carolina players rank in PFN’s Top 100?

How many players do the Panthers have in Pro Football Network’s Top 100?

24) Christian McCaffrey

The Panthers only have one player on the PFN Top 100, but don’t expect that heading into 2022. They have other players who could elevate their game to a top-100 level this season. McCaffrey is one of the most impressive all-around athletes in the league. Despite only playing in three games last year, his value was evident enough to miss out on dipping in the rankings.

Brian Burns landed at No. 14 on the edge-rusher rankings, but he could easily be in the top five next year and one of the best overall players in the league. His flexibility and pass-rush plan are impressive, and his explosion allows him to be a constant issue around the arc.

Panthers 2021 prediction

Matt Rhule’s college résumé is outstanding. He’s widely recognized for his ability to lead and develop young men in programs at their lowest depths. It’s fair to be optimistic about his future as the Panthers’ head coach.

Part of that success would probably come from Joe Brady, one of the hottest names in the sport. Brady led the passing game for the National Championship-winning LSU Tigers in 2019. If he has a good year offensively with a healthy McCaffrey and an improved Darnold, he could end up as a head coach going into 2022.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has followed Rhule around since their time in Temple. He’s been coaching since 1976, but like Rhule, he had very little NFL experience. Still, Snow has a lot of young talent on his side of the ball.


The Carolina Panthers’ offense struggled in 2020 with a poor offensive line, a mediocre quarterback, and no McCaffrey. They made a few significant changes in the offseason, but it all comes down to Darnold’s performance.


The Panthers’ defense has a ton of young talent. Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Jaycee Horn, and Shaq Thompson are all former first-round selections. Jeremy Chinn, Donte Jackson, and Yetur Gross-Matos are all second-round picks that were high-upside athletes. Carolina has a chance to improve its efficiency drastically in 2021.

2021 Panthers record prediction

If Darnold shows improvement in Carolina, this team could win 8 or 9 games in 2021. Unfortunately, it might take some time for him to round into form. A 7-10 season seems like a more appropriate prediction for the Panthers’ season preview.

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