There are a lot of holes and question marks on the Carolina Panthers roster in 2018. They have the pieces to make another run, but also have aging stars and don’t have a lot of depth at key positions.
Here are the best players on the Panthers roster and some predictions for this season.
Best Skilled Offensive Player
Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. He has been named to the three times in the four years. He ranks sixth in receptions and 14th in receiving touchdowns among active players but is second and fifth, respectively among all active tight ends. Olsen has led the Panthers in receptions in four of the last five years, with last season’s injury-filled year being the outlier. Olsen has all the skills to be an elite tight end: size, athleticism, strength and hands.
Best Offensive Lineman
Kalil has been the starting center for the Panthers every game he has been healthy except three since he entered the league in 2007. The problem has been his health, especially over the last couple seasons. In his first 10 seasons, he missed 26 games. In 2016 and 2017, he missed 18 games. The 33-year-old stated in an interview over the phone with the Charlotte Observer that he will retire after this season.
Best Pass Rusher
Peppers is one of the best pass rushers in NFL history. He has had double-digit sacks in 10 of his 16 seasons and ranks first among all active players and fourth among all players in NFL history in sacks. He won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award as well as named to the NFL All-Rookie Team and has been named to the NFL’s Top 100 four times, a First-Team All-Pro three times and to the Pro Bowl nine times. He had surgery on his shoulder during the offseason but should be ready to go by Week 1 of the regular season. He is a freakish athlete for a player standing 6-feet-7-inches tall and weighing 295-pounds. He can beat blockers with speed or strength.
Best Pass Defender
Kuechly has been among the league’s best tacklers for several seasons. In addition, he can get into a backpedal and defend the middle of the field against the pass. He is very good at reading and diagnosing the play. He uses that knowledge to get into passing lanes and intercept passes. He led the Panthers last season with three interceptions.
The need to add playmakers in the passing game prompted the Panthers to select Samuel in the second round of the 2017 draft. He is an extremely fast and explosive weapon that has experience running and receiving the ball. He played in only nine games and had just 15 catches on 26 targets last season as a rookie. With his speed and just over a year’s worth of NFL wide receiver knowledge, Samuel should quickly become a favorite target of quarterback Cam Newton.
Best New Addition
DT Dontari Poe
Poe entered the league with a lot of hype as a 346-pound defensive tackle that ran the 40-yard dash in under five seconds. His performance moved him up the draft board and got him selected 11th overall in 2012. After five seasons of less than stellar numbers, but still effective play, he signed with the Falcons last season to boost their interior defense. He had just 2.5 sacks and 39 combined tackles. In his career, he has 15.5 sacks and 239 combined tackles. His massive frame got him a three-year contract from the Panthers.
Not So Out On A Limb Prediction
Luke Kuechly will finish in the top 10 in the league in combined tackles.
Kuechly is a tackling machine. He finished 10th in the league in combined tackles last season with 125. Prior to that he has been tied 31st, 13th, first, fourth and first, respectively since entering the NFL. The only time he did not finish in the top 15 was an injury-shortened season that cost him six games. With a massive defensive tackle in Poe in front of him, there is no reason to believe he will not keep pace among tacklers in the league again in 2018.
Curtis Samuel will lead the Panthers in receptions.
The Panthers do not have a good receiving group. Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith have the most clout among the rebuilding group. Olsen will garner most of the attention. That will take a lot of coverage away from a slot receiver like Samuel. With his speed and elusiveness, he will be able to take advantage of the extra space and lead the Panthers receivers. Newton will start looking for Samuel early in the season and his production will quickly grow.