Carolina Panthers Depth Chart: Can Sam Darnold lead the Panthers to success in 2021?

Panthers Analysis | Defense

With the offense out of the way, what have the Panthers done to improve their defensive depth chart?

Interior Defensive Line

The No. 7 overall pick in 2020 showed why the Panthers could build their DL depth chart around him. Derrick Brown recorded 34 tackles, 2 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 4 passes defensed, 8 tackles for loss, and 19 pressures as a rookie.

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

DaQuan Jones signed a one-year contract worth $4.05 million with the Panthers in April after spending the last three seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Jones played all 48 games for the Titans, recording 125 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.

Daviyon Nixon, a fifth-round pick from Iowa, and Phill Hoskins, seventh-rounder from Kentucky, are expected to compete for a rotational spot on the line’s interior as rookies.

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 recording 7.5 sacks over his previous three seasons combined.

Brian Burns played in 15 games while making 14 starts in 2020 but missed the regular-season finale with a shoulder injury. The 22-year-old ended his season with 58 tackles (35 solo), 9 sacks, 4 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles.

second-round selection in 2020, Yetur Gross-Matos saw his rookie campaign get off to a slow start due to an ankle injury. Yet, he started 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. After an injury-plagued rookie season in 2019 and a lost 2020, he is a wild card on the Carolina Panthers’ depth chart. Miller was a standout performer at Alabama who the Panthers selected with pick No. 119. He ended his rookie season playing in seven games and 91 snaps, recording 3 tackles and 2 sacks.

Linebacker

Denzel Perryman heads to the Panthers after a disappointing season in which he lost 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 for Perryman is health. 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. When healthy, he is a substantial upgrade over Tahir Whitehead.

Second on the Carolina Panthers’ depth chart in tackles, Shaq Thompson saw his contract restructured to save the team $6.2 million in salary-cap space. A 2015 first-round pick, Thompson recorded 114 tackles, 5 passes defensed, and 2 forced fumbles. He moves back to his natural spot on the outside, thanks to the addition of Perryman.

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

As far as UDFAs go, none have a more impressive resume than Paddy Fisher. If you get a linebacker from Northwestern, you know they are an intelligent player and have a nose for the football, and Fisher embodies that and then some. 

Fisher was a Freshman All-American, starting 12 of 13 games with a team-high 113 tackles. As a sophomore, he was first-team All-Big Ten and led the team again with 116 tackles. In his junior year, Fisher started all 12 games and recorded 89 tackles as a third-team conference selection. Then as a senior, he generated his best season yet by winning Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and first-team all-conference honors in 2020. 

Cornerback

The Panthers were going to use their first-round pick in one of three ways –quarterback, offensive tackle, or cornerback. They chose the latter and selected Jaycee Horn with the No. 8 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Horn possesses every measurable you could ask for in a shutdown CB at 6’1″, 205. He ran a blistering 4.40 40-yard dash and showed his explosiveness with a 41.5-inch vertical and 133-inch broad jump. He has the length to break up any pass and the athleticism to play press-man coverage and not worry about getting beat.

The last time we saw Rashaan Melvin, he was suiting up for the Detroit Lions in 2019 and enjoyed a stellar 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.

CB A.J. Bouye joined the Carolina Panthers depth chart during free agency. Bouye, 29, was released by Denver after appearing in only seven games because of injuries and suspensions. He will also miss the first two games due to the carry-over of his PED suspension. Bouye registered 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 snatched 2 interceptions in the first three games but dealt with a toe injury which hampered his play the rest of the year.

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 scores 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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