Panthers Preview Capsule
CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-6)
New faces: RB C.J. Anderson, WR Torrey Smith, WR Jarius Wright, WR D.J. Moore, TE Ian Thomas, OL Jeremiah Sirles, DT Dontari Poe, CB Donte Jackson, S Da’Norris Searcy, QB Taylor Heinicke.
Key losses: RB Jonathan Stewart, OG Andrew Norwell, TE Ed Dickson, DE Charles Johnson, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Daryl Worley, S Kurt Coleman, QB Derek Anderson.
Strengths: Panthers added speed and quickness to ease QB Cam Newton’s workload, acquiring veteran WRs Smith and Wright, and drafting Moore and Thomas. Solid depth exists at running back, led by Christian McCaffrey and Anderson. TE Greg Olsen looks healthy and strong after missing nine games last season. Defensive front seven is outstanding, spearheaded by DEs Mario Addison and Julius Peppers (11 sacks each in 2017), DTs Kawaan Short and Dontari Poe, perennial All-Pro MLB Luke Kuechly, and OLBs Shaq Thompson and Thomas Davis (suspended for first four games). PK Graham Gano missed one field goal last season.
Weaknesses: Offensive line devastated by knee injuries in preseason, losing three starters (LT Matt Kalil, RT Daryl Williams and LG Amin Silatulo) to injuries — although none considered season-ending. Aside from steady CB James Bradberry, secondary remains huge question mark. Speedy rookie CB Jackson expected to start with veteran Ross Cockrell (broken leg) out. Panthers must adjust to three new coordinators: Norv Turner (offense), Eric Washington (defense) and Chase Blackburn (special teams). Roster getting old fast with several core players on wrong side of 30.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Simply put, draft McCaffrey. Coach Ron Rivera wants to get McCaffrey “25 to 30 touches” per game — more than double rookie season when he had 1,086 combined yards and seven TDs. Breakout season is ahead if he holds up physically. Had 71-yard touchdown run in preseason vs. Dolphins.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 50-1. Over/under wins 9.
Expectations: Carolina should compete for fifth postseason berth in past six seasons barring any more injuries. But can Panthers get by New Orleans? Saints swept all three games last season, including playoff. Getting offensive linemen back on field ASAP is priority for starting season fast. Newton needs to learn Turner’s offense and will be asked to improve completion percentage. Davis’ suspension hurts, but Panthers have depth at linebacker.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL