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Carolina Panthers Depth Chart: What will Matt Rhule do at QB?

A team slowly on the rise, the Carolina Panthers have a depth chart sprinkled with young talent ready to take the next step in 2021.

Carolina Panthers Depth Chart: What will Matt Rhule do at QB?
Nov 8, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule talks with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

While still in the early phases of rebuilding their depth chart, the Carolina Panthers quickly built momentum under their new regime. Following a trade for a new quarterback, the Panthers now turn their eyes to the NFL Draft as they look for the next integral pieces in their evolution.

Carolina Panthers Depth Chart

Offense

Quarterback: Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, P.J. Walker, Will Grier, Tommy Stevens

Running Back: Christian McCaffrey, Trenton Cannon, Reggie Bonnafon, Rodney Smith, Darius Clark

Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, David Moore, Brandon Zylstra, Micah Simon, Omar Bayless, Keith Kirkwood, Marken Michel, Ventell Bryant, Ishmael Hyman

Tight End: Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Giovanni Ricci, Stephen Sullivan

Offensive Tackle: Cameron Erving, Taylor Moton, Greg Little, Matt Kaskey, Trent Scott, Aaron Monteiro

Offensive Guard: Pat Elflein, John Miller, Sam Tecklenburg, Dennis Daley, Mike Horton

Center: Matt Paradis

Defense

Interior Defensive Line: Derrick Brown, Bravvion Roy, Mike Panasiuk

EDGE: Haason Reddick, Brian Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, Christian Miller, Marquis Haynes, Austin Larkin, Daniel Bituli

Linebacker: Denzel Perryman, Shaq Green-Thompson, Jermaine Carter, Jordan Mack, Frankie Luvu, Chris Orr, Clay Johnston

Cornerback: Rashaan Melvin, A.J. Bouye, Donte Jackson, Troy Pride, Myles Hartsfield, Stantley Thomas-Oliver

Safety: Jeremy Chinn, Juston Burris, Kenny Robinson, Sean Chandler, Sam Franklin, Jalen Julius

Special Teams

Kicker: Joey Slye

Punter: Joseph Charlton

Long Snapper: J.J. Jansen

Panthers Depth Chart Analysis | Offense

Quarterbacks

After months of speculation, the Panthers completed a trade that will have a new QB sitting atop their depth chart — just not the one most fans were clamoring for all offseason. On Monday [April 5], Carolina completed a trade that sent a 2021 sixth, 2022 second, and a 2022 fourth-round pick to the New York Jets in exchange for Sam Darnold.

Like myself, many believe that Darnold needed a change of scenery. Playing under Matt Rhule and Joe Brady could be precisely what the exorcist ordered to get rid of those pesky ghosts that haunt him.

What happens now with Teddy Bridgewater? Signed to a three-year deal before 2020, he played well enough to get the job done, but that is not the term you want to use when describing the leader of your offense. While not officially stated, Bridgewater seems to have fallen down the Panthers’ depth chart, though they have said this does not change the draft strategy. We could see rookie QB selected to sit behind both Darnold and Bridgewater while the team gives them an opportunity. Whether that is an opportunity to win the starting job or elevate their trade value is the question.

Running Backs

As if 2020 didn’t suck enough, those of you who had the 1.01 in your fantasy football leagues likely got a swift kick in the nether regions last year as Christian McCaffrey missed the majority of the season. Trust me, I feel your pain on this. When on the field, McCaffrey is the best running back in the NFL, and he demonstrated it again last season in limited time. McCaffrey rushed 59 times for 225 yards with 5 touchdowns in just three games and saw 19 targets, catching 17 for 149 and another score.

With Mike Davis joining the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, the RB2 role on the Panthers’ depth chart is up for grabs. 

Rodney Smith could be seen as the “favorite” as they head into camp. Smith ended the 2020 season on a high note when he recorded his first career touchdown. Trenton Cannon is in the mix as well but saw only 10 carries over his last two seasons combined. Reggie Bonnafon had 12 carries last season while appearing in two games. 

Wide Receivers

One thing you will never hear out of me is D.J. Moore slander. I will head to the top of every water tower to defend his honor, and with Darnold under center, Moore can prove the detractors wrong. In three years, Moore has 208 receptions, 3,156 yards, and 10 total touchdowns. Since 2019, Moore is the only WR with back-to-back 1,200-total-yard seasons in the NFL.

Anytime you add a new QB, there is a period where players need to gel. That took place when Darnold and WR Robby Anderson were together on the New York Jets, and both players should be on the same page from Day 1. Anderson totaled 102 catches for 1,531 yards and 11 TDs in 30 games played with Darnold.

With Curtis Samuel gone, the WR3 on the Panthers’ depth chart is up for grabs. One option could be former Seahawks WR David Moore, who signed in free agency. Moore had 35 catches for 417 yards and 6 touchdowns last year.

Brandon Zylstra re-signed with the Panthers in the offseason but was mainly a special-teams contributor. He was on the field for 12% of Carolina’s offensive plays, recording 3 receptions for 35 yards.

When OTAs start to fire up, remember the name Micah Simon. A WR from BYU, Simon went undrafted in 2020 and ended his collegiate career with 90 receptions for 1,109 yards and 5 TDs (40 games). 

Here is where things get interesting. At the 2021 BYU Pro Day, everyone was there to see Zach Wilson, including Panthers GM Scott Fitterer and OC Joe Brady. Simon was one of Wilson’s receivers. He impressed with his routes and ball catching and also laid down a blistering 4.34 40-yard dash. Fitterer and Brady came away so enamored they signed him to a three-year contract two days later to the veteran minimum.

Tight Ends

To say the tight end position is an afterthought in Carolina’s offense would be a slight understatement. In 2020, no team targeted the position less than Carolina. In total, only 7.8% (41) of the targets were for tight ends.

That did not stop the Panthers from adding a likely new starter to their depth chart in Dan Arnold. Playing for the Arizona Cardinals, Arnold had 31 catches for 438 yards (14.1 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns.

Partially due to scheme and sitting behind Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas has yet to have a breakthrough in his career. Thomas made 17 starts over his three seasons, recording 72 receptions for 614 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Offensive Tackle

Cameron Erving signed to play for the Panthers during the offseason, as the team looks to stabilize the offensive line. Since being drafted in 2015, Erving has played in 75 games with 47 starts, playing in 16 games once but never starting more than 13 games.

Starting every game since being drafted in 2017, Taylor Moton saw the Panthers place the franchise tag on him during the offseason. He allowed just 3 sacks on 1,057 snaps in 2020. 

Greg Little appeared in 10 games last season, starting three at left tackle. He ended the season on the IR with an ankle injury.

Offensive Guard

Brought in as a free agent, Pat Elflein started in 47 of his 50 career games for both the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. Elflein has experience at all three interior offensive line positions.

RG John Miller is back with the club for a second season. Miller made 14 starts last season after spending his first five years with the Bills and Bengals.

Center

Matt Paradis restructured his contract to help the Panthers have more salary cap space to redistribute amongst the other improvements to the depth chart. He has started every game in his first two seasons with Carolina.

Panthers Analysis | Defense

Interior Defensive Line

In Derrick Brown’s rookie season out of Auburn, the 2020 No. 7 pick showed why the Panthers could build their DL depth chart around him. He recorded 34 tackles, 2 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 4 passes defensed, 8 tackles for loss, and 19 pressures throughout the campaign.

Bravvion Roy finished the 2020 season with 29 tackles (13 solo) and a sack in 15 games. A sixth-round last year, Roy was drafted by his college coach Matt Rhule and started Carolina’s final nine games.

EDGE

Haason Reddick signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Panthers during free agency. A first-round pick in 2017, Reddick broke out in 2020 with 12.5 sacks after producing just 7.5 sacks over his previous three seasons combined.

Brian Burns played in 15 games while making 14 starts last season but missed the regular-season finale with a shoulder stinger. The 22-year-old ended his season with 58 tackles (35 solo), 9 sacks, 4 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles.

A second-round selection of last year’s draft, Yetur Gross-Matos saw his rookie season get off to a slow start due to an ankle injury but did start the final seven weeks. Gross-Matos finished the 2020 season with 24 tackles (9 solo), 2.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble in 12 games.

Christian Miller opted out of the 2020 season.

Linebacker

Denzel Perryman heads to the Panthers after a disappointing season that saw him lose his starting job with the Los Angeles Chargers. He finished the season with 48 tackles and 1 forced fumble across 13 games. The other concern is health for Perryman. Now 28, he has failed to play 16 games in each of his six seasons with the Chargers, and he’s missed a combined 21 contests over the last four years.

Second on the Panthers’ depth chart in tackles, Shaq Green-Thompson saw his contract restructured to save the team $6.2 million in salary cap space. A 2015 first-round pick, Green-Thompson recorded 114 tackles, 5 passes defensed, and 2 forced fumbles.

Jermaine Carter saw an increased role during the second half of last season, where he recorded all but 4 of his 46 tackles.

A UDFA out of Virginia, Jordan Mack opted out of the 2020 season. 

Cornerback

The last time we saw Rashaan Melvin, he was suiting up for the Detroit Lions in 2019 and had a career-best season where he recorded 68 tackles and 11 passes defensed in 13 games. After opting out of the 2020 season, Melvin signed with the Panthers on a one-year contract during free agency.

The latest addition to the Panthers’ depth chart, CB A.J. Bouye agreed to a contract with the team on Wednesday [April 7]. Bouye, 29, was released by Denver after appearing in only seven games because of injuries and suspension. He will also miss the first two games due to the carry-over of his PED suspension. Bouye recorded 23 tackles and 6 passes defensed last season. 

Donte Jackson finished 2020 with 34 tackles (22 solo), 3 interceptions, and 11 passes defensed in 14 games. Jackson had 2 interceptions in the first three games but dealt with a toe injury which hampered his pay.

Due to a groin injury, rookie CB Troy Pride ended his season in the IR after totaling 42 tackles (27 solo) and 2 passes defensed in 14 games.

Safety

When we look back on the 2020 NFL Draft, the steal of the draft might end up being Jeremy Chinn before his career is over. In 15 games, Chinn finished with a team-high 117 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 1 interception, 1 sack, 2 fumbles forced, 2 fumbles recovered, and 2 defensive touchdowns. He also had one of the most incredible series of plays in recent history. Chinn became the first defensive player ever to return 2 fumbles for a touchdown on consecutive defensive plays. He also became the first player in Carolina history to have 2 defensive TDs in one game.

Juston Burris started a career-high 12 games for the Panthers last season. He posted a career-best 53 tackles (34 solo) and an interception with 4 passes defensed in 13 games. 

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Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

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