This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Panthers organization underwent a full transformation this offseason, ushering out franchise legends while welcoming fresh faces from top to bottom. A new coach, quarterback and coordinators hopefully will rejuvenate Carolina, where tailback Christian McCaffrey remains the star attraction.
- QB Teddy Bridgewater (from Saints)
Signed to start after a long injury rehab and successful backup spell.
- WR Robby Anderson (from Jets)
Reunites with college coach after three straight 750-yard, 5-TD seasons.
- DT Derrick Brown (Rd. 1, No. 7 – Auburn)
Imposing first-rounder projected to be a disruptive presence in the middle.
- DE Yetur Gross-Matos (Rd. 2, No. 38 – Penn State)
Long, fluid edge rusher with great college production and pro upside.
- QB Cam Newton (FA)
Former MVP and best QB in franchise history released after nine years.
- TE Greg Olsen (to Seahawks)
Three-time Pro Bowler let loose amid recent injuries at an advanced age.
- LB Luke Kuechly (retired)
Perennial All-Pro calls it a career after eight 100-tackle terms.
- CB James Bradberry (to Giants)
No. 1 corner gets big payday thanks to four-year consistency.
A Look Under the Hood
Head Coach: Matt Rhule (Year 1)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Brady (Year 1) - Spread/West Coast Offense
Defensive Coordinator: Phil Snow (Year 1) - 4-3 scheme
2020 Vegas Projected Wins: 5.5 (T-29th)
2019 Record: 5-11
2019 Points Scored: 340 (20th)
2019 Points Allowed: 470 (31st)
2019 Point Differential: -130 (29th)
2019 Run-Play Rate: 35.8 percent (29th)
2019 Situation-Neutral Pace: 28.56 seconds per play (5th)
2019 Offensive Snaps: 1,077 (5th)
2019 PFF O-Line Ranking: No. 18
Projected 2020 Depth Chart
FB: Alex Armah
A New Rhule in Carolina
Despite nine seasons, three division titles and a Super Bowl appearance, both coach Ron Rivera's and quarterback Cam Newton's time with the Panthers ended unceremoniously. Rivera was fired last December after starting the season 5-7, and the highly paid Newton was cut this spring after injuries limited him to two games in 2019.
They weren't the only casualties, however, as veterans Greg Olsen and Trai Turner, among others, also departed, and defensive stalwart Luke Kuechly stunningly announced his retirement. Combined, Newton and the others made 18 Pro-Bowl appearances with Carolina.
To rebuild, the team hired coach Matt Rhule, who recently led impressive collegiate makeovers at Temple and Baylor, and signed signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 and threw for 1,370 yards while filling in for Drew Brees last season. With the Panthers, Bridgewater gets his first starting gig since his traumatic 2016 knee injury and is reacquainted with coordinator Joe Brady, a former Saints staffer who at 30 years old sensationally fueled LSU's championship offense last fall.
Opposite Brady, Rhule brought defensive coordinator Phil Snow with him from Baylor. Together, this collection of leaders hopes to overcome its lack of top-level experience to propel the retooled Panthers into a new era of prominence.
Cam Newton awaits word on where he'll next take his Superman persona.
McCaffrey Stars Amid New Supporting Cast
Drafted eighth overall in 2017, Christian McCaffrey was named second-team All-Pro after his second season. While fantasy owners knew of his dynamic, dual-threat ability, he took his game to another level last year.
With quarterback Cam Newton injured, the Panthers relied heavily on McCaffrey to move the sticks, and he didn't disappoint. In fact, as a 23-year-old, he became the third player in NFL history to post 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
Overall, he finished with 287 carries for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns to go with 116 catches on 142 targets for 1,005 yards and four more scores. In doing so, McCaffrey jumped to first-team All-Pro, became the unanimous No. 1 fantasy option and was rewarded with a precedent-setting contract extension.
Ahead of the 2020 campaign, he has a new quarterback and coordinator in place. Fortunately, though, QB Teddy Bridgewater brings accuracy and a preference for underneath targets, while whiz kid Joe Brady just orchestrated the highest-scoring offense in college football history, transforming tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire into a first-round pick in the process.
With those seemingly strong fits in place, McCaffrey should be able to overcome any acclimation period, and his track record suggests he only has more domination in store anyway.
Defensive Improvement Required Despite Youth
After finishing in the top 10 in total defense every season from 2012 through 2015, Carolina was 15th or lower three times in the last four campaigns. The unit allowed at least 30 points seven times last year, with Week 8's 51-13 rout at San Francisco setting the stage for nine losses in the final 10 games.
That stretch coincided with the dismissal of defensive-minded coach Ron Rivera, but seven-time All-Pro Luke Kuechly's retirement this offseason undoubtedly was an unplanned subtraction. Along with the long-time captain, countless veterans also departed, giving first-year NFL coordinator Phil Snow many holes to fill.
The upheaval factored into the team spending all seven of its draft picks on defensive players, most notably Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos to wreak havoc up front, while Jeremy Chinn and Troy Pride aim to bring speed and playmaking to the secondary.
In terms of holdovers, the Panthers welcome back stud defensive tackle Kawann Short after just two appearances in 2019, ascending linebackers Shaq Thompson and Brian Burns, and tantalizing cornerback Donte Jackson.
Overall, this inexperienced group faces the tall task of proving itself while facing quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and, now, Tom Brady six times within the division, a harsh reality that should temper expectations after last year's woes.
⬆️ Rising: WR Robby Anderson
A college standout at Temple under coach Matt Rhule, Anderson has averaged nearly 15 yards per reception in four NFL seasons. Such explosiveness should be a featured component of new coordinator Joe Brady's high-octane offense.
⬇️ Falling: WR Curtis Samuel
Despite posting career highs while finally staying healthy in 2019, Samuel's stock seems stunted by Anderson's addition, which not only puts him lower on the depth chart but also reportedly on the trade block.
😴 Sleeper: TE Ian Thomas
Thomas' playing time was inversely related to Greg Olsen's health over his first two seasons. However, with Olsen elsewhere, the athletic Thomas has a chance to excel as Carolina's unchallenged starter at tight end.
🌟 Pivotal Player: Christian McCaffrey
Widely considered fantasy's premier commodity, McCaffrey dominates both on the ground and in the air. Only two players rushed for more yards than him last season, and only Michael Thomas' record-setting 149 receptions topped McCaffrey's tally. With a league-tying touchdown total to boot, McCaffrey is an unparalleled all-around playmaker.
Christian McCaffrey is perhaps the most clear-cut league winner from a year ago.