QB Josh McCown, RB LaBrandon Toefield, WR D.J. Hackett, WR Muhsin Muhammad, G Keydrick Vincent, G Milford Brown, G Toniu Fonoti, DE Tyler Brayton, DT Darwin Walker, DT Stephen Williams, OLB Landon Johnson, CB Ricardo Colclough, FS Terrence Holt.
RB Jonathan Stewart, TE Gary Barnidge, OT Jeff Otah, OT Geoff Schwartz, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, DT Nick Hayden, OLB Hilee Taylor, ILB Dan Connor, CB/FS Charles Godfrey.
QB David Carr, RB DeShaun Foster, WR Drew Carter, WR Keary Colbert, TE Christian Fauria, G Mike Wahle, C Justin Hartwig, DE Mike Rucker, DT Kris Jenkins, DT Kindal Moorehead, OLB Terrence Melton, ILB Dan Morgan, CB Patrick Dendy, FS Deke Cooper, S Marquand Manuel.
2008 Carolina Panthers Offense:
It's hard to believe the Panthers were 4-2. I know, they beat up on the 3-13 Rams, 4-12 Falcons, 7-9 Saints and 8-8 Cardinals, and one of the games they lost was a 34-21 home defeat to the Texans, but 4-2 still sounds a lot better than 7-9. During that initial stretch, Carolina scored 20.5 points per game, nearly four points higher than their seasonal average (16.7).
So, what happened besides the fact that they transitioned into a tougher portion of their schedule? Well, for starters, how about losing Jake Delhomme to a season-ending elbow injury? Delhomme played in three contests and was on his way to having an incredible season before going out in the Atlanta contest on Sept. 23. In those three starts, Delhomme had 624 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. Compare that to the trio of quarterbacks who replaced him in the other 13 games, and you can see why the Panthers finished 3-7. Vinny Testaverde, David Carr and Matt Moore combined for 11 touchdowns and 16 picks. All three guys failed to complete at least 57 percent of their passes (Delhomme was at 64 percent). And Carr was naturally sacked 13 times - more than any other signal caller on the roster.
The bottom line - Delhomme must stay healthy. He has reportedly recovered from Tommy John surgery, but that's a pretty major injury to have at 33. If Delhomme can't bounce back, Moore will take his turn at the helm. His best game saw him throw 19-of-27 for 208 yards in an imporbable 13-10 home victory over Seattle. That was the first of Moore's three starts, so it's way too early to say if he can be a reliable replacement for Delhomme.
Ever since Muhsin Muhammad bolted for Chicago, Delhomme has been handicapped with a one-man receiving corps. That one man did account for the production of three solid wide outs, however, as Steve Smith has averaged 90 catches, 1,208 yards and nine touchdowns in his previous four healthy seasons.
Smith will actually have help in 2008, though the two guys have some baggage. Muhammad is back. He had 93 receptions, 1,405 yards and seven touchdowns in his final season in Carolina, but that was way back in 2004. Muhammad was plagued with horrific quarterbacking in Chicago, but now he'll have to fight through the aging process (he just turned 35). And unfortunately, as we all know, no one wins that fight except for Dick Clark. Meanwhile, D.J. Hackett is a potential sleeper. Hackett managed just 32 catches, 384 yards and three touchdowns in 2007, but that was in just five full games. In the first round of the playoffs, Hackett dominated Washington's secondary, snagging six balls for 101 yards and a score. He just hasn't been able to stay healthy - knee and ankle injuries sidelined him last season - but if he can stay on the football field, he'll be a potent weapon for Delhomme.
Speaking of potent weapons, someone who was far from one was DeAngelo Williams. Chosen in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Williams hasn't been able to escape John Fox's doghouse in his two seasons as a pro. Williams managed just 717 rushing yards, 23 receptions and five touchdowns last year. He surrendered most of his carries to DeShaun Foster, as it seemed Fox was unconvinced Williams could carry the load or block well enough to start. That became even more evident when Fox spent the No. 13 selection in the 2008 NFL Draft on Jonathan Stewart.
Stewart is a tough runner (230 pounds) with solid speed and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He'll have success running behind monstrous rookie right tackle Jeff Otah (340 pounds), the 19th selection in April's draft. Playing across from Otah, Jordan Gross was franchised this offseason. Gross would probably be better at right tackle, though he's still an adequate left tackle. I can't fault Carolina for franchising him.
Otah's presence has allowed Travelle Wharton to kick inside to left guard. Wharton, who signed a 6-year, $35 million contract in February, struggled outside last year, but should be a devastating blocker on the interior. Right next to Wharton will be promising second-year center Ryan Kalil. The USC alumnus started the first two games of the 2007 campaign, but then was in and out of the lineup with injuries. In total, Kalil played six contests and started three, including the final game of the regular season. Right guard, meanwhile, is Carolina's sole weakness up front, assuming Otah pans out. The job is currently open to Keydrick Vincent, Milford Brown and Geoff Hangartner.
Injuries to Delhomme have ruined Carolina's previous two seasons, while Steve Smith missing most of 2004 killed that year. So, to say that the Panthers need to stay injury-free is more than a cliche.
2008 Carolina Panthers Defense:
We've discussed what went wrong with Carolina's offense last season. What occurred with their defense, namely Julius Peppers, is a greater mystery. Why did Peppers manage just 2.5 sacks in 2007? Why was he playing left defensive end so often when it was evident Mike Rucker was so ineffective? Why were there reports that he was out of shape? Peppers is moving back to the right side for the 2008 campaign, which should help him rebound statistically. Prior to his 2.5-sack performance, Peppers had averaged 10.8 sacks per year.
Peppers SHOULD be back to his normal production, but I can't express the same confidence about the three guys playing with him up front. Charles Johnson, slated to start across from Peppers, has two career starts and zero sacks. Sure, he looks good in practice and he was a dynamic pass-rusher at Georgia, but we've yet to see what he can do in the NFL. Johnson doesn't even have his starting gig cemented yet; he still has to beat out the newly acquired Tyler Brayton.
Kris Jenkins was traded to the Jets, so the Panthers are lighter in the middle with Damione Lewis slated to start in his spot. Lewis has nine sacks the past two years, which isn't bad from someone at his position, but he's far from what the Rams expected when they chose him 12th overall in the 2001 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Ma'ake Kemoeatu will continue to handle the run-stopping duties in front of the linebackers. Kemoeatu is a load at 350 pounds, but he was in and out of the starting lineup late in the season.
Peppers' dropoff resulted in Carolina generating just 23 sacks in 2007, which put a ton of stress on the secondary. Starting corners Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble, who had a combined 13 picks two years ago, saw that total drop to three last season. Nickel Richard Marshall, entering his third year in the league, outplayed both guys in front of him, especially Gamble. Marshall should be able to supplant Gamble, who may not be on the team in 2009.
Strong safety Chris Harris, who came over from Chicago last spring, was the Panthers' top defensive back. That came as a surprise, as he really struggled in Chicago. Carolina isn't nearly as solid at free safety, where rookie Charles Godfrey, a converted corner, may start right away. He'll have to beat out Nate Salley and Terrence Holt, which shouldn't be too hard because they're both pretty pathetic.
The Panthers are in better shape at linebacker, though I can't agree with what they're doing there. When they selected Dan Connor in the third round, it was conventional belief that they would start him at middle linebacker and move Jon Beason to the weakside position. But apparently, Beason (one of the better linebackers in the NFL) is sticking to the interior with former Bengal Landon Johnson outside. I understand Carolina is trying to justify the $10 million they spent on Johnson, but everyone will soon realize that he was a bust signing. He's nothing more than a mediocre linebacker who racked up a good amount of tackles (109) in Cincinnati's scheme. I'm willing to bet Connor starts by November, but whatever they decide to do, it's clear Thomas Davis will continue his solid play at strongside linebacker. With Carolina smaller at defensive tackle, Davis will have an even greater role at stopping the run than in 2007.
While I'm confident in Carolina's offense rebounding, I have my doubts about the stop unit. There are just way too many holes and unknowns (Charles Johnson, Dan Connor, Charles Godfrey), including Peppers, who really needs to bounce back after a brutal season.
2008 Carolina Panthers Schedule and Intangibles:
What's up with NFC South teams struggling at home? The Panthers are a laughable 51-53 as hosts since 1995 (2-6 last year). Conversely, they were an amazing 5-3 as visitors.
John Kasay has nailed at least two 50-yard field goals since 2003. He hit the pair he attempted last season, and also was good on 6-of-9 from 40-49. He turns 39 in October, so there's some concerns about his leg strength fading away. Carolina signed Rhys Lloyd to handle the kickoff duties.
Jason Baker maintained a decent 44.2 punting average, but hit just 22-of-90 kicks inside the opposing 20.
Ryne Robinson was drafted out of Miami of Ohio last year to be the Panthers' return specialist. He failed to score, while the team surrendered a touchdown itself. Robinson will once again take back punts and kickoffs.
If Carolina fails to make the Doggone Playoff this year, don't blame the schedule-maker. The team should have an easy time with the Falcons (twice), Bears, Chiefs, Cardinals, Raiders and Lions.
2008 Carolina Panthers Analysis: Uncertainty. If I had to choose one word to describe Carolina's 2008 campaign, it would be "uncertainty." There are just way too many questions to be answered. Here are some for starters:
Can Jake Delhomme bounce back from elbow surgery and stay off the IR? If not, how well will Matt Moore perform? Will Jonathan Stewart emerge as the type of running back the Panthers projected him to be? Can D.J. Hackett stay healthy? Is Muhsin Muhammad done? How quickly can Jeff Otah and Charles Godfrey transition to the NFL? Who will play right guard? Can Julius Peppers bounce back from the worst season of his career? Is Charles Johnson an adequate left end? Will Kris Jenkins be missed? Why is Landon Johnson starting? Has John Kasay's leg strength begun to fade away?
I'd list more, but my fingers are about to fall off. With all of these questions, how can I possibly project Carolina to qualify for the postseason?
Projection: 7-9 (3rd in NFC South)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Jake Delhomme: Jake Delhomme played really well in his only three games last season (624 yards, eight touchdowns, one pick), but he's 33 and coming off elbow surgery. Outside of the 2004 season, Delhomme was never a great fantasy quarterback, so I really don't see the upside in drafting him.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 3,050 passing yards. 19 passing TDs. 30 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 269.
Jonathan Stewart: DeAngelo Williams could never escape John Fox's doghouse, as he never showed the ability to be an every-down back or an effective blocker. Jonathan Stewart will get the majority of carries and catches in Carolina's offense this season. He's a rookie, so there's some uncertainty. Still, I'd take him before any other first-year runner this season.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,250 rushing yards. 350 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 224.
DeAngelo Williams: Forget about DeAngelo Williams; he's nothing more than a third-down back. Even if Jonathan Stewart gets hurt, I'm not sure if LaBrandon Toefield doesn't get all of the carries.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 300 rushing yards. 150 receiving yards. 1 total TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 51.
Jeff King: Carolina tight ends have struggled statistically since Wesley Walls retired, but Jeff King was actually second on the team in receptions (46) and third in receiving yardage (406). He had just two touchdowns. Not a fantasy option.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 350 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 47.
Steve Smith: Steve Smith had a "down year" (87 receptions, 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns) because he couldn't get anything going with Vinny Testaverde and David Carr. Good news though - if Jake Delhomme struggles with his elbow, Smith's production should stay steady, as he registered 22 catches, 257 yards and a touchdown in the three contests Matt Moore started.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,225 receiving yards. 9 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 176.
D.J. Hackett: D.J. Hackett has been a sleeper on this site for the past two years. The problem has been his ability to stay healthy. In just five full contests, Hackett managed 32 catches, 384 yards and three touchdowns. Transcribe that over a 16-game slate, and you have 102 receptions, 1,229 yards and 10 touchdowns. Pretty sick.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 825 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 106.
Muhsin Muhammad: The last time Muhsin Muhammad donned a Panthers jersey, he had 93 receptions, 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. In the three years since, 164 catches, 2,183 yards and 12 touchdowns. No wonder he wanted to come back to the Panthers. Unfortunately, Muhammad is 35, so despite the fact that he'll have better quarterbacking this season, I wouldn't expect too much out of him.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 600 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 90.
John Kasay: John Kasay has hit at least two 50-yarders the past five seasons. He'll turn 39 in October, so that streak may end. I'd find another kicker if I were you.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 24-29 FG (2-4 50+). 32 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 114.
Carolina Defense: Julius Peppers' 2.5-sack campaign scares me. If he doesn't bounce back to where he once was, the Panthers may go weeks without producing double-digit fantasy points.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Bottom 10 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
The Panthers added some major talent in the first round, though there is something wrong with what they did (read on for more details) ... Charles Godfrey and especially Dan Connor were exceptional third-round picks ... Carolina may have found an upgrade at tight end in the fifth round (Gary Barnidge). Nick Hayden and Geoff Schwartz were also solid value later on.
I don't get Carolina's first round. Jonathan Stewart and Jeff Otah both figure to be solid players, but I hate that the Panthers surrendered their 2009 first-round pick. Why couldn't they have drafted Chris Williams or Branden Albert (or even Otah) at 13 and Ray Rice/Matt Forte/Tashard Choice in the second round? That's almost equivalent to what they pulled off, and they would have retained next year's No. 1. ... I don't hate any of the Panthers' picks, and if I were grading based on a talent standpoint, I'd have to give them an A+. However, I feel as though I have to dock them a whole letter grade for surrendering a 2009 first-rounder.
Grade give on 4/28/08: B+
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
13. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
I wouldn't mind the Jonathan Stewart pick if... A) The Panthers didn't use a first-rounder on a running back two years ago. B) They didn't have tons of needs outside the running back position. C) This running back class wasn't deep. Carolina could have drafted Chris Williams here and Ray Rice in the second round. That would have made more sense. (Pick Grade: D)
19. Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh
This pick is tied to the first one for the reason I brought up in the No. 13 analysis. Chris Williams and Ray Rice would have been just as good as Jonathan Stewart and Jeff Otah, and Carolina would have kept its No. 1 pick in 2009. I don't get what they were thinking - it's like they had a brain fart or something. (Pick Grade: D)
67. Charles Godfrey, CB/FS, Iowa
Charles Godfrey's the third decent player Carolina obtained on Draft Day. At least they didn't give up a 2010 first-round pick to get him. (Pick Grade: A)
74. Dan Connor, ILB/OLB, Penn State
Excellent pick. Dan Connor, a first-round prospect, can play every position in the linebacking corps. He and Jon Beason are going to create nightmares for opposing offensive coordinators. (Pick Grade: A)
141. Gary Barnidge, TE, Louisville
The Panthers finally get a tight end. Gary Barnidge is solid value in the fifth round. (Pick Grade: A)
181. Nick Hayden, DT, Wisconsin
A replacement for Kris Jenkins. Nick Hayden could have been drafted in the fourth round, so this is solid value. (Pick Grade: A)
221. Hilee Taylor, OLB, North Carolina
Not on my board, but it's the seventh round. (Pick Grade: C)
241. Geoff Schwartz, OT, Oregon
I didn't think Geoff Schwartz would be good fit on Carolina's offensive line, but with the addition of he and Jeff Otah, it appears as though they're moving away from the zone-blocking scheme. (Pick Grade: B)
250. Mackenzy Bernadeau, G, Bentley
I never expected a Frenchman from a fancy car to be drafted in the seventh round. (Pick Grade: C)
I guess if you had to choose one word to sum up Carolina's 2007 campaign, it would be "frustrating." Going into their bye, the Panthers were 4-2. Coming out of it, Vinny Testaverde forgot what year it was, and despite that fact, John Fox stuck with him instead of giving Matt Moore a shot. Carolina consequently tanked in the second half of the season, finishing with a losing record, as the stench of Testaverde's adult diapers wafted throughout the team's locker room.
Panthers acquire QB Josh McCown from Dolphins for TBA
Panthers cut QB Lester Ricard
Panthers cut DT Ian Scott
Panthers cut TE Chad Upshaw
Panthers sign QB Lester Ricard
Panthers sign DT Ian Scott
Panthers sign DT Darwin Walker
Panthers announce retirement of DE Mike Rucker
Panthers sign DT Stephen Williams
Panthers sign G Milford Brown
Panthers sign G Toniu Fonoti
Panthers sign FS Terrence Holt
Panthers sign WR D.J. Hackett
Panthers sign G Keydrick Vincent
Panthers cut C Justin Hartwig
Panthers sign OLB Landon Johnson
Panthers sign RB LaBrandon Toefield
Panthers cut CB Patrick Dendy
Panthers re-sign OLB Donte' Curry
Panthers sign DE Tyler Brayton
Panthers sign CB Ricardo Colclough
Panthers trade DT Kris Jenkins to the Jets for third- and fifth-round picks
Panthers re-sign DT Damione Lewis
Panthers re-sign CB Dante Wesley
Panthers re-sign FB Brad Hoover
Panthers sign WR Muhsin Muhammad
Panthers cut QB David Carr
Panthers cut RB DeShaun Foster
Panthers franchise OT Jordan Gross
Panthers re-sign G Travelle Wharton
Panthers cut MLB Dan Morgan
Panthers cut G Mike Wahle
Left Tackle: Neither Travelle Wharton nor Jordan Gross is a left tackle. The Panthers need a premier player protecting the quarterback's blind side and opening up vast running lanes. As of Feb. 20, I have Carolina drafting Ryan Clady No. 13 overall. If that happens, the team can move Wharton inside. Drafted Jeff Otah and Geoff Schwartz; signed Charles Spencer
Free Safety: Carolina's secondary has a huge hole at the free safety position. Deke Cooper, an unrestricted free agent, wasn't the answer. Someone like DaJuan Morgan could be in the second round. Signed Terrence Holt
Wide Receiver: When will the Panthers get Steve Smith some help? Smith has been the victim of constant double and triple teams ever since Muhsin Muhammad defected for Chicago. This draft is packed with talented wide outs, so look for Carolina to draft one in Rounds 3 or 4. Signed D.J. Hackett and Muhsin Muhammad
Tight End: The Panthers have needed a quality tight end ever since Wesley Walls retired. There are rumors that they are interested in Alge Crumpler. Signing him would be a huge mistake, in my opinion. Drafted Gary Barnidge; signed Chad Upshaw
Defensive Tackle: The guy starting across from Julius Peppers will be either 102-year-old Mike Rucker or the green Charles Johnson. The Panthers need someone to compete with Johnson to unseat the ineffective Rucker. Meanwhile, there's a chance Kris Jenkins could be dealt this offseason. Drafted Nick Hayden; re-signed Damione Lewis; signed Darwin Walker, Ian Scott and Stephen Williams
Running Back: DeShaun Foster won't be back with the team next year in all likelihood. If the Panthers find a sucker who is willing to take him, they'll need a No. 2 running back to spell DeAngelo Williams, who has yet to live up to expectations, struggling in pass protection and short-yardage situations. Drafted Jonathan Stewart; signed LaBrandon Toefield
Weakside Linebacker: The Panthers can afford to keep Na'il Diggs in the starting lineup, though they would really benefit from an upgrade. Unfortunately, their cap situation, aside from Washington's, is the league's worst. Signed Landon Johnson
Return Specialist: Carolina hadn't broken a punt return longer than 34 yards last season. Its longest kick return was 60 yards. Something needs to be done about this.
Quarterback: I'm not sure if Matt Moore is the answer. He played well when given the chance, but it wouldn't hurt for the Panthers to draft some competition in the middle rounds.
Carolina Panthers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 20): $5.8 million
Jordan Gross, OT. Age: 28. Panthers franchise Jordan Gross
Jordan Gross is one of the premier right tackles in the NFL. The problem is, he may command left-tackle money. The Panthers can't really move him to the left side because he hasn't been that effective there.
Brad Hoover, Panthers. Age: 31. Re-signed with Panthers (3 years)
A decent fullback, but not a player anyone should break their bank on.
Travelle Wharton, G. Age: 27. Re-signed with Panthers (6 years, $36 million; $12 million guaranteed)
Travelle Wharton has been ineffective as a tackle in this league, but there's a belief he'll be better suited at guard. Either way, I wouldn't spend much money on him.
Mike Wahle, G. Age: 31. Signed with Seahawks (5 years)
Somewhat of a bust free-agent signing, Mike Wahle could be a solid backup.
Justin Hartwig, C. Age: 29. Signed with Steelers (2 years, $4 million)
Injury-prone and unreliable. You can't count on Justin Hartwig being in your lineup for the majority of the season. Still, he'd make a decent backup.
Deke Cooper, FS. Age: 30. - Signed with Falcons
Geoff Hangartner (RFA), C. Age: 26.
DeShaun Foster, Panthers. Age: 28. - Signed with 49ers (2 years, $1.8 million)
Damione Lewis, DT. Age: 30. - Re-signed with Panthers (3 years, $14 million)
Drew Carter, WR. Age: 27. - Signed with Raiders (1 year, $2 million)
Keary Colbert, WR. Age: 26. - Signed with Broncos (3 years, $7.2 million)
Adam Seward (RFA), MLB. Age: 26.
Evan Mathis, G. Age: 26.
Marquand Manuel, S. Age: 29. - Signed with Broncos (3 years, $4.5 million)
Kindal Moorehead, DT. Age: 29. - Signed with Falcons (2 years)
Chad Upshaw, TE. Age: 24. - Re-signed with Panthers
Ian Scott, DT. Age: 26.
Mike Rucker, DE. Age: 33.
Lester Ricard, QB. Age: 24.
Christian Fauria, TE. Age: 36.
David Carr, QB. Age: 29. - Signed with Giants (1 year, $1 million)
Patrick Dendy, CB. Age: 26.
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: Another road-dominated NFC South rivalry. The visitor has claimed the past five. New Orleans Saints: The road team has mysteriously won eight of the previous nine matchups. Guess the Saints' horrendous home record plays a factor here. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Domination. Carolina has claimed eight of the past 10 meetings, although it should be noted the Buccaneers gave the second game (and their playoff chances) away because they rested their starters.