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What I Learned – 2020 Carolina Panthers Team Outlook: Projecting The Teddy Bridgewater Era

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Coaching StaffThis season the Carolina Panthers turn to Matt Rhule as their head coach. His only experience in the NFL came in 2012 for the Giants as the assistant offensive line coach. Over the past seven seasons, Rhule worked as the head coach for Temple (28-23) and Baylor (19-20). Carolina went 5-11 in 2019.He took over both programs at low points. In each season as a college coach, his team improved from the previous year. In 2019, Baylor finished 11-3 and 8-1 in conference play after going 1-11 in 2017.Rhule has been coaching since 1998, with his best highlight coming as the AAC football champion in 2016.Joe Brady takes over as the offensive coordinator. His rise in the coaching ranks came from his development of Joe Burrow in 2019. At age 30, Brady has two years of experience as an offensive assistant for the Saints (2017-2018) while holding the job of passing game coordinator and wide receiver coach last season for LSU.Despite having the great Christian McCaffrey leading their offense, Carolina finished 19th in offensive yards and 20th in points scored (340). The defensive side of the ball goes to Phil Snow. His path to the NFL came paired with Matt Rhule over the past seven seasons. Snow does have four years of experience in the NFL working for the Lions as a defensive assistant and linebackers coach. His early career entailed multiple seasons working on the defensive side of the ball in the Pac-10 and Pac-12 while seeing time at Arizona State, UCLA, California, and Washington.Last season the Panthers allowed the second-most points (470) in the NFL with huge problems defending the run. Overall, their defense ranked 23rd in yards allowed.Free AgencyThe most significant change in the offseason in free agency came at the quarterback position. Carolina moved on from Cam Newton while signing Teddy Bridgewater after a short resume of success for the Saints in 2019.The Panthers added WR Robby Anderson to help stretch the field. They lost TE Greg Olsen after a long successful career, and Carolina signed Pharoh Cooper and Seth Roberts for wide receiver depth. They didn’t bring back WR Chris Hogan while TE Seth DeValue will compete for playing time at tight end.On the defensive side of the ball, it was all about retooling. The Panthers lost CB James Bradberry, DT Gerald McCoy, S Eric Reid, CB Javien Elliott, DE Mario Anderson, DE Bruce Irvin, CB Ross Cockrell, DT Dontari Poe, S Colin Jones, and DT Vernon Butler.Bradberry tends to allow plenty of yards and big plays. Last year he struggled in run support while minimizing the damage in touchdowns in most seasons. Bradberry is an up and down player who was paid like a star by the Giants.Over the last eight seasons, McCoy played well vs. the run while adding value in the pass rush. His best play came in 2013 and 2014, but he can still provide plus productivityPoe worked as a rotational player vs. the run last year. His value in the pass rush is fading.The only additions to the defense were S Juston Burris and LB Tahir Whitehead.Whitehead saw plenty of snaps over the past three years for the Raiders, but his play continues to fade.The Panthers signed T Daryl Williams after a disappointing year for the Bills. He missed almost all of 2018, which came after a successful season in run and pass blocking the previous year.G Greg Van Roten found a new home on the Jets. He made 27 starts over the past two years for the Panthers. His play was much better in pass blocking while seeing action at left guard. DraftCarolina dictated all seven of their draft picks in 2020 to the defensive side of the ball. With the seventh overall selection, they invested in DT Derrick Brown. He brings extreme power to the defensive line with the initial quickness to disrupt at the point of attack. His overall speed does limit his range and ability to finish in the pass rush. Brown uses his hands well while expecting to shine as a run clogger.The Panthers had a pair of picks in the second round – LB Yetur Gross-Matos and S Jeremy Chinn.Gross-Matos looks to be on a path to be an upside pass rush once he adds more depth to his pass-rushing moves and taps into his already high floor in strength. His next step is improving his ability to shed blocks and strengthen his hands. Gross-Matos also needs to add more nastiness to his play.Chinn offers an intriguing combination of size (6’3’ and 220 lbs.), speed (4.45 forth), and strength (20 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine) to the safety position. He projects well in coverage with build to win vs. the run. His challenge comes with his vision and anticipation. Chinn would have the most growth with improvement in the mental part of the game.In the fourth round, Carolina added CB Troy Pride. His speed (4.4 forty) earns him a ticket into the NFL, but Pride has plenty of work to do to develop into a top player in coverage. His scouting report paints him more of an off the ball player in coverage, but he may allow too much cushion on underneath routes. Pride has a looker feel while not expecting to help vs. the run.Over the final three rounds, the Panthers drafted S Kenny Robinson, DT Bravvion Roy, and CB Stantley Thomas-Oliver. Robinson has a playmaking skill set, but he lacks the foundation in speed and quickness to shine in coverage. His game plays well when moving forward in run support, but Robinson will miss some tackles. His vision does limit his upside when asked to decide between run and pass plays.Roy gets a knock for his length, which is tied to his height (6’1”). He plays with power while showing the ability to attack quickly after the snap. His job will be to clog up the middle vs. the run while still having a chance to put heat on the quarterback. Thomas-Oliver is a former wide receiver, which leaves his technique in coverage trailing. His speed (4.48 forty) is workable with a feel for route development and the quickness to be a factor in early routes. He needs to improve vs. the run and press coverage, plus develop his transition in pass routes.Offensive LineCarolina fell to 14th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,819) with 20 TDs and seven runs over 20 yards. They averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 24.1 rushing attempts per game.The Panthers rose to 10th in passing yards (4,134) with 17 TDs and 21 Ints. They gained only 6.5 yards per pass attempt with 40 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 58 sacks and 102 QB hits.LT Russell Okung The Chargers traded for G Trai Turner in early March in a deal that sent LT Russell Okung to the Panthers.Okung missed the first ten games of 2019 with a slow recovery from blood clots. He also battled calf and groin issues during the year. His best play comes in pass protection while needing a rebound in run blocking. Okung is a ten-year vet, who came into the NFL in the first round in 2010.LG Dennis DaleyAfter making nine starts in his rookie season at left tackle, Daley expects to be shifted to left guard in 2020. Last year he allowed a ton of pressure on the quarterback while ranking as a neutral run blocker.His technique in pass protection needs plenty of work while showing the base to handle bullies. Daley lacks fire after the snap with self-created miscues. He also needs to clean up his hands.C Matt ParadisThe Panthers gave Paradis 16 starts last year, but he failed to match his previous success with the Broncos. His plays regressed dramatically in pass protections after ranking highly in this area over his first four seasons in the NFL. His run blocking continues to offer upside. RG John Miller This first option at right guard for Carolina in 2019 goes to Miller. He has five seasons of experience in the NFL while never ranking as a top player. His game did look on the uptick in 2016 after getting drafted in the third round in 2015. That season Miller graded as a neutral player at his position while making 16 starts. In 2019, he fell short of expectations in all areas.RT Taylor MotonMoton made 32 starts over the last two seasons. His run blocking continues to improve while continuing to play well in pass protection. The Panthers drafted him in the second round in 2017.Offensive Line OutlookThe two tackles positions have a chance to rank highly in 2020, and Paradis should be much better than he showed last year. Carolina has risk at guard while needing plenty of improvement in pass protection. The high upside of Christian McCaffrey does hide some of the deficiencies in run blocking. At best, a league-average offensive line if a couple players show growth in 2020.Offensive ScheduleThe data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS). This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams. 2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.With four tough matchups (NO X 2 and TB X 2) in their division, the Panthers have a challenging schedule for their rushing offense. They have two other below-par games (LV and CHI) with their best chance for success on the ground coming against Washington and Kansas City.Carolina expects to have upside passing the ball in four contests (ARI, DET, and TB X 2) with a winning game as well against Las Vegas. They will be tested against the Chargers with the Bears and the Chiefs ranking well in yards allowed in 2019.OffenseThere is no doubt that the offense runs through the running back position in Carolina. Teddy Bridgewater comes with a game manager skill-set with the talent to shine if asked to drop back to pass on many plays. The key to their style in 2020 falls on the improvement of their defense. In 2019, the Panthers ran the ball only 37.8 percent of the time while ranking second in the NFL in passing attempts (633). Here’s a look at the early projections for the Panthers, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:QuarterbacksTeddy BridgewaterBridgewater parlayed a successful five games (5-0) with the Saints into a $63 million contract in the offseason. He came into the league as a first-round draft pick (32nd) while working as a low volume passer over 28 starts (17-11) for the Vikings. After a bad left knee injury before 2017, Bridgewater served as the backup QB for the Saints over the past two seasons. In his five wins for New Orleans in 2019, he averaged 241 passing yards with nine TDs. His highlight game (314/4) came in Week 5.The Panthers finished 10th in the NFL in passing yards (4,134) with 17 TDs, but they gained only 6.53 yards per pass attempt. Carolina has the best pass-catching RB in the game, and D.J. Moore (87/1,175/4) is trending toward a top tier wide receiver. Both Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson have the talent to make big plays as well.This year, Bridgewater will need to throw more based on his opponents’ strength in the NFC South. His passing production is no more than a 50/50 chance of reaching 4,000 yards with below-par expectations in TDs. I set his bar at 4,098 combined yards with 25 TDs and 11 Ints. In the early draft season, Bridgewater was the 25th quarterback drafted with an ADP of 158.Other options: Will Grier, P.J. WalkerRunning BacksThe rise of Christian McCaffrey has led to impressive stats from the running back position for Carolina. The best catching opportunity has been over 30 percent in three straight seasons with growth in catches (94, 114, and 124) and receiving yards (752, 919, and 1,068). They scored 43 touchdowns from the running back position over the past two years while gaining over 5.0 yards per carry over this stretch. Christian McCaffreyMcCaffrey led fantasy leagues in RB scoring in PPR leagues in 2018 (387.0) and 2019 (471.2) while being a massive edge (scored 154.3 fantasy points over the 2nd best RB) last year. He finished with 403 touches while only being the third player in NFL history to gain over 1,000 yards rushing (1,387) and receiving (1,005). McCaffrey gained over 100 yards rushing in six of his first nine games, but none over the final seven weeks. Carolina featured him more in the passing games (68/609/1) over his downturn in rushing yards, highlighted in three outings (11/121, 11/82, and 15/119). McCaffrey had ten catches or more in five games.The Panthers had him on the field for 93.4 percent of their plays, which included eight contests where he saw 99 percent or more of the RB action. High floor and ceiling player that will be drafted first overall in almost all fantasy leagues in 2020. His offensive line doesn’t project to be an edge. I have him penciled in for 2,207 combined yards with 18 TDs and 108 catches.Jordan ScarlettOver his final three seasons at Florida, Scarlett worked as a part-time player in two seasons (179/889/6 and 131/776/5) while missing 2017 with an off the field incident with the law (fraud). He has a short resume in the passing game (15/108). Scarlett runs with a leg-churning style while showing the ability to bounce off defenders while doing an excellent job holding onto the football. When given space, he shows some wiggle and open field ability while lacking a home run gear. This season he’ll compete for the top backup role for the Panthers at RB, which will lead to minimal chances.Other options: Mike Davis, Reggie Bonnafon, Rodney SmithWide ReceiversOver the last two years, the Panthers’ wide receivers had enough targets (315 and 334) to produce a higher level of catches and receiving yards. Unfortunately, their catch rate came up short in 2017 (58.1) and 2019 (56.9). Carolina averaged only 12 passing TDs over the last three seasons.D.J. MooreThe next WR star has arrived for the Panthers. Moore moved to 10th in WR targets (135) while placing 16th in WR scoring (231.8) in PPR leagues. Over his first 14 games, he caught six targets or more in ten contests with eight double-digit target games. From Week 5 to Week 15, Moore caught 66 of his 102 chances for 913 yards and three TDs, which projected over 16 games would come to 106 catches for 1,461 yards and five TDs. Over his final eight games, he gained over 100 yards in four contests (7/101, 9/120, 6/126/2, and 8/113).The Panthers made a switch at QB in the offseason, and they appear to want to play a ball-control offense. After the first cut of this year’s projections, I have Moore catching 90 passes for 1,161 yards and six TDs. His ADP in late June is 37 as the 13th wide receiver drafted.Curtis SamuelRhythm was a problem for Samuel and the rotating quarterbacks for the Panthers in 2019. He saw his targets (105) rise by 60 percent, but his catch rate (51.4) was much lower than 2018 (60.0). Carolina also gave him 19 rushes for 130 yards and a TDs, which helped him to 36th ranking (171.7) in fantasy points in PPR leagues. Samuel gained fewer than 50 yards receiving in 11 games while catching more than four passes in just two games.Samuel is getting better while remaining an explosive type player maker. I still feel he would be the top handcuff to Christian McCaffrey based on his experience at running back in college.Fantasy owners have him priced (ADP of 172) as a backend WR5 in the early draft season. I have him rated as the second-best wide receiver on the Panthers with a chance at 55-plus catches with over 800 yards and five TDs.Robby AndersonAfter a breakthrough season in 2017 (63/941/7 on 114 targets), Anderson saw his targets fall about 20 percent of the next two years (94 and 96). The change to Sam Darnold at quarterback led to Anderson falling short of expectations in back-to-back years. Over the first ten weeks in 2019, he posted only one impact game (5/125/1) while gaining under 45 yards in eight starts. Anderson regained his value from Week 12 to Week 16 (22/370/2 on 32 targets), highlighted by three straight strong outings (4/86/1, 7/101, and 7/117/1). This year I have him a notch below Curtis Samuel as the WR3 for Carolina. His big-play skill set will have value at times as defenses focus on slowing down RB Christian McCaffrey. I set his bar at 54 catches for 777 yards with three TDs. Anderson has an ADP of 153 in late June.Other options: Seth Roberts, Keith Kirkwood, Pharoh Cooper, Brandon Zylstra, Damion JeanpiereTight EndsThe tight end opportunity for the Panthers has improved over the past three seasons while still ranking below a top 12 opportunity in the fantasy market. Their tight ends caught 61.6 percent of their targets.Ian ThomasAfter a minimal career (28/404/5) over two seasons at Indiana, Thomas surprised in his rookie season (36/333/2) in 2018 after an injury to Greg Olsen. Over 32 games in the NFL, his best play came in four games (9/77, 4/48/1, 5/61/1, and 5/57/1) while only starting nine career contests. The door is open to start, but a change in coaching staff and new quarterback creates some speculation on how many balls will be directed toward the TE in 2020.His starting point looks to be 40 catches for 394 yards and three TDs.KickerJoey SlyeThe kicking job for the Panthers looks to be wide open after losing Graham Gano for all of 2019 with a knee injury. Over his last five years with the Panthers, he made 132 of 155 FGs (85.2 percent) and 185 of 197 extra points. In his NFL career, Gano is 20-for-35 from 50 yards or longer. Before last year (35 per year over the previous four seasons), his field attempts ranked in the top-ten in the league.Slye fell short of the league average in field goal percentage (78.1) in his rookie season, but he did shine from 50 yards or longer (8-for-11). He did miss four of his 35 extra-point chances. In 2019, the Panthers scored 38 touchdowns while creating 32 field goal attempts. Both kickers have upside with a chance to be a viable top-12 kicker with the loser possibly landing another winning opportunity elsewhere in the NFL.Defense ScheduleAfter struggling to defend the run in 2019, Carolina has ten favorable matchups (LAC, CHI, KC, DET, DEN, WAS, ATL X 2, and TB X 2) against teams below the league average in rushing yards in 2019. Their only poor contest looks to be vs. the Vikings.On the passing side, the Panthers have a challenging schedule for their pass defense. Eight of their games (LAC, KC, TB X 2, ATL X 2, and NO X 2) come versus offenses that threw the ball well in 2019. Carolina’s pass defense has the best chance for success in five matchups (ARI, CHI, MIN, DEN, and WAS). The Cardinals and Broncos expect to be improved in the passing game this year.DefenseThe Panthers dropped to 29th in 2019 in rushing yards allowed (2,296) with 31 TDs and 23 runs over 20 yards. They allowed only 27.8 rushing attempts per game with ball carriers gaining 5.2 yards per rush.Carolina ranked 13th in passing yards allowed (3,696) with 21 TDs and 14 Ints. Their defense delivered 53 sacks with QBs gaining 7.3 yards per pass attempt.DE Stephen WeatherlyAs a part-time player for the Vikings over the past two seasons, Weatherly was up and down defending the run while continuing to be a below-par player in the pass rush. Over this span, he picked up 59 tackles and six sacks. He looks like a placeholder for Yetur Gross-Matos, who expects to offer a higher ceiling rushing the quarterbacks.DE Brian BurnsIn his rookie season, Burns posted 25 tackles and 7.5 sacks while falling short of expectations against the run. His game is built on attacking from the outside in the pass rush, where his speed, quickness, and moves create an edge. He needs to get stronger while adding bulk to his lower body. If stalled at the point of attack, his skill-set comes across as mediocre. His range in pursuit grades well with minimal experience in pass coverage.DT Derrick BrownBrown expects to move into the starting lineup in his rookie season. His play should offer upside vs. the run while having the ability to disrupt in the pass rush.DT Kawann ShortLast year, he missed 12 games with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Short was a top run defender while losing his way in the pass rush (3.0) in 2018. Over the previous three seasons, he had 24.5 sacks in 48 games. Each year he does miss too many tackles.LB Jermaine CarterCarter made five starts in his second year in the NFL while seeing minimal snaps. He has minimal value in the pass rush while still struggling to find his way in the pass rush. His job/opportunity looks to be at risk in 2020.LB Tahir WhiteheadOver the past four seasons, Whitehead has over 100 tackles each year with one combined sack, two Ints, and 13 defended passes. Despite an active role, his run defense isn’t an edge.LB Shaq ThompsonThompson improved his tackle total each year while ranking highly in run support. In 2019, he set a career-high in tackles (109) with three sacks. Carolina selected him in the first round in 2015. Thompson missed two games in every season in the NFL. Last December, he had surgery to repair foot and shoulder injuries.CB Donte JacksonJackson has electric speed (4.32) and coverage skills, but he lacks size (5’11” and 178 lbs.) and strength. Even with talent and athletic ability, Jackson falls short in vision with risk in run support. Over his first two seasons in the NFL, after Carolina added him in the second round in 2018, he struggled in run support with a ton of missed tackles. His play in coverage last year invited disaster downside.CB Eli AppleApple continues to fall short of expectations in coverage after getting drafted in the first round in 2010. His downside comes from a high number of big plays allowed with a poor TD to Int ratio. S Jeremy ChinnCarolina hopes Chinn emerges as the best option to start at strong safety in 2020. His foundation skill set gives him upside in pass coverage and against the run. He needs experience to help improve his decision making.S Tre BostonBoston had been active defending the pass over the past three seasons (11 Ints and 28 defended passes) while averaging just over 75 tackles per year. Before last year, he played well against the run.Team Defense OutlookThe Panthers are rebuilding their defense, which will lead to growing pains again in 2020. They have risk in multiple areas while lacking the talent to deliver impact sacks. Their linebacking core better doesn’t look ready to make a significant improvement defending the run. Carolina plays in a division where all opponents expect to have success on offense. This defense won’t offer playable value in the fantasy market in many weeks in 2020.

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