Do the Panthers Deserve Offseason Hype?

Above: Recently-acquired Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold gives a fist bump to his new wide receiver corps before practice drills on May 25 in Charlotte, N.C. Credit – Jeff Siner, The Charlotte Observer.

After a disappointing 5-11 finish to what was their 25th anniversary season in 2020, the Carolina Panthers have made some noticeable changes to their roster in the offseason. One difference that fans will immediately see is that the team has a new quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater was traded away to the Denver Broncos before the NFL Draft, and in March, the team acquired Sam Darnold, the former No. 3 2018 pick by the New York Jets. Darnold has been up and down with his performances over his first three seasons, as he has compiled 45 touchdown passes to 39 interceptions, a completion percentage of just under 60, and a somewhat disappointing passer rating of 78.6 while leading the Jets to a 13-25 record in his starts.

Darnold, while transitioning between teams, has also transitioned into a new residency in Charlotte, whereas the Associated Press notes, his home “has half of a sectional couch while awaiting the second part of the delivery, and his bed remains on the floor without a frame for now.” The former USC Trojan was known to be more of a pocket passer during his days with the Green and White, but new head coach Matt Rhule is looking to explore some more possibilities with his new QB. Darnold will have an opportunity, also, to reconnect with one of his favorite targets in wideout Robby Anderson. 

The defensive side of the ball for the Panthers has also seen some new veterans join the fray, as Haason Reddick signed a one-year contract worth $8 million on March 20. The former Arizona Cardinal is familiar with Rhule’s system, as he played linebacker under the coach’s system at Temple University. Reddick finished last season with 12.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles, and 15 tackles for loss. 

Meanwhile, the main target for Carolina on the offense has been O-Line free agents. One of the headlining names is guard Pat Elflein, who signed a three-year, $13.5 million deal. The former Viking has the flexibility to play both guard positions as well as the potential to take snaps at center, which he did as a fifth-year senior at Ohio State.

Talking about this year’s NFL Draft, the Panthers had the eighth pick in the first round, which they used to select the son of a Hall of Fame wide receiver in South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. The Panthers struggled on pass plays last season, as according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the secondary allowed the highest average of yards of separation at 3.3. Horn would help as a press corner per ESPN Staff Writer David Newton, as the former Gamecock only allowed 31% of passes to be complete when he was the primary cover man, second-best in the SEC, and 13th in the FBS among qualified defenders. 

With a 17-game schedule going into effect this season, some prediction experts project the Panthers will do better than .500, finishing with a 9 win, 8 loss record. The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Buy Buccaneers are projected to win the NFC South Division for a second straight year. 

The move for Darnold has created a newfound sense of hope and hype for the Carolina Panthers, but things can change in a hurry over the course of an offseason.