I am just going to put this out there and be open and honest that I think Cam Newton is probably by far one of the most overrated quarterbacks. Not only that, but the media and fans often give him a pass and then go around and harshly critique other quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Tony Romo. Outside of his rookie year and the year he won the MVP he has been a very good quarterback just not one I am ready to say build a team around for a decade. He still has a loose grasp on how to read defenses and as we all saw last season he does not know how to protect himself. Thankfully for him he is a huge man instead of the size of RG3 who could not stay healthy playing the same style of quarterback. Even his coaches want him to run less and develop his pocket passing ability, but he has since come out and said he will not change the way he plays. Good luck with that Cam you are just going to get more hits and have a short disappointing career playing like that.
Anyways, this season for the Panthers does hinder on whether Cam can play better or not and I am not sure the Panthers did enough around him to do anything better than a playoff berth. His blockers are still poor and how they tout getting Matt Kalil as a big free agent pick up is hilarious with how injury prone and terrible he has been the past few seasons. I did love their drafting of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel which will give them some much needed explosiveness on offense that has been missing. Plus, hopefully McCaffrey can put Jonathan Stewart firmly on the bench with how poor he has played as he gets older. Now if only they can get an actual outside option instead of two slow trees in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Cam is going to have to rely on Greg Olsen a ton again to move the chains consistently and utilize his far superior right side of the line to run the ball. Side Note: I have no clue how players can suddenly ask for a raise midway through a contract you signed. I understand Olsen has exceed his pay rate, but in a cap league and still having 2 years left on the contract you signed he has no leverage for a new deal. What's he going to do sit out the year? I doubt it. So, go out continue playing great and when you are a free agent get a better deal. Even normal people in everyday life have to deal with being stuck in contracts until you can renegotiate.
The defensive side of the ball is the biggest key next to Cam for the Panther's success. Their defense was the backbone to their Super Bowl run and last season it was the complete opposite. They were unable to create any pressure on opposing quarterbacks nor could they defend any receiver. Part of that is former GM Dave Gettleman being cheap not wanting to resign Josh Norman, but a lot of it is more on the highly touted line that played poorly. They just gave a new deal to Kawann Short, which is worrying to me since he played way below expectations and now with a new deal why would he try any harder. It's almost similar to how they gave Charles Johnson a big deal and then his play just went flat. They definitely need former first rounder Vernon Butler to show some promise to push the veterans in front of him, but also protect them when Star Lotulelei leaves in free agency. I think their secondary should step up for what is many of their starters sophomore seasons if not they could be in for another long year defending the passing game. The only non worry on defense is their great linebacking corp, but in today's NFL I think they along with the running backs are one of the least valuable and impactful positions.
In the end, if they bounce back to form like they did during their Super Bowl run and other younger players develop I see no reason why they do not go 10-6 and maybe better if they take wins from their divisional rivals. Granted, this is one of the toughest divisions with the Falcons looking to repeat, the Bucs on the rise, and the Saints who are always a threat with Drew Brees. If they have another poor season I would worry where Cam's head is at and wonder if the Panthers should start looking in another direction at quarterback.
1 (8) - Christian McCaffrey RB/WR - I loved this selection to be honest since I was always a doubter of Jonathan Stewart. People worried about his ability to consistently run the ball, but I do not with how smart he is about protecting himself and his shiftiness to avoid big hits. Plus, keeping him in the game will force defenses to play back due to his pass catching ability. The only reason to take him off the field is for a breather or allow Stewart to come in on goal line situations. I think the former Stanford Cardinal will be a possible Offensive ROY candidate.
2 (8) - Curtis Samuel WR - Not to toot my own horn or anything, but in a few of my mocks leading up to the draft I mocked Samuel here to the Panthers. I think he is a great compliment at the slot and possibly on the outside to threaten defenses vertically. Especially, since Benjamin and Funchess do not provide that at all on their offense. With teams focused on him going down field in a hurry it will force who ever is covering to be off the line a lot and that means one less person coming at Cam. Overall, this was a very good pick.
2 (32) - Taylor Moton OL - I was not a huge fan of many of the linemen in the draft and I know I was not alone either. Moton was one of those I was not too thrilled about, but I understand why the Panthers wanted him. He provides versatility and much needed ability in pass blocking. However, if he can only play guard this may be a waste pick since Trai Turner and even Andrew Norwell are two very good blockers. If he can stick it out at right tackle that would be great for the Panthers and many pundits and beat reporters said he looked good in OTAs. However, real games are a world different than OTAs and to play right tackle you need more strength than he provides. I am a bit mixed on this pick and interested in seeing how he pans out.
3 (13) - Daeshon Hall DE - Another pick I was less than thrilled about for the Panthers. Hall was a bit disappointing throughout the year even playing across from Myles Garrett taking up much of the opposing offenses' attention. I know people love his athletic upside, but something about Texas A&M players worry me since many have not really panned out in the NFL outside of Mike Evans. Even in college they should be better, but each day they turn out to be disappointing. Is that more on Sumlin at the college level or the players being lazy. Who knows, but I think Hall may be just a nice rotational pass rusher. He may play more thanks to Charles Johnson and Mario Addison having less than stellar health records.
5 (8) - Corn Elder CB - I liked Elder coming into the draft being a nice mid-round pick who will stick on any roster just because of his tough worker's mentality. He may not be the biggest player, but he has some nice athleticism and ball skills to be a consistent contributor on defense. With the Panthers' mixed bag of corners I can see him finding the field sooner or later by pleasing many of his coaches with how hard he works.
6 (8) - Alex Armah FB - The Panthers lost their fullback Mike Tolbert and in Carolina's smashmouth offense a fullback is actually utilized. He is also a better pass catcher than Tolbert was so this could be a nice solid pick late in the draft.
7 (15) - Harrison Butker K - I am not going to nitpick a 7th round kicker and in the end if he is a consistent he has the possibility of being one of the better picks in this draft. Most likely the longest tenured from this class too if he pans out thanks to kickers ability of having longer careers.
2018 Off Season:
This is a critical season in my opinion for the Panthers and their future. If they play up to people's expectations then they should be good, but if they falter again then this can end up being an off season of change for the team. From their GM position to Ron Rivera if the new GM wants his own guy and maybe even if Cam continues his apathetic approach to the game. I doubt they bust again this year however, since Rivera is one of the better coaches in the league and their defense should return to form. If they play up to expectations drafting a more legitimate blindside blocker would be a good idea or finding a better outside receiver. Also, possibly landing a better lock down corner would be nice, but they may not need to if one of the younger guys steps up. Overall, it is very hard to predict how their off season will be next season since they have such a big boom or bust possibility this season.
My 2018 Mock Selections: 1 (22) - Christian Wilkins DT Clemson 2 (23) - Deon Cain WR Clemson