* = 2019 full-time starter

Need #1: Cornerback

Notable Free Agents:

  • James Bradberry (prototypical size, has held his own against elite NFC South WRs, a solid player - but not a true lockdown corner - probably not worth the inflated market price)
  • Ross Cockrell (made 11 starts in 2019, not a real difference maker but quality of play was adequate, also offers quality run support, not really an ideal starter, but solid and experienced depth)

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Donte Jackson (2018 2nd rounder, lost starting job to Cockrell late in season, he's got talent and excellent speed - but has been far too inconsistent in coverage, 2020 will be a defining year for him in CAR)
  • Corn Elder (2017 5th rounder, cut before the 2019 season, signed to Giants practice squad, then signed back on with Panthers, has done next to nothing thus far in the NFL, but may be in line for a role if the Panthers let Bradberry and Cockrell go in FA)

Need Level: Very High

Need:

  • The Panthers will need to either resign or replace Bradberry. They also need to increase depth and competition throughout the unit.

Updates:

  • Drafted in 4th Round: Troy Pride Jr (elite physical traits, unrefined from a technical standpoint, does not seem to have a natural feel for the game, fits into the track star trying to make it as a football player category, there is starting upside though... if he can start to put everything together)
  • Drafted in 7th Round: Stanley Thomas-Oliver III (switched from WR to CB after sophomore season at FIU, proved to be an effective player despite the limited experience, has nice length and athletic traits, he's definitely raw, but well worth a 7th round pick, could end up as a nice steal - really like the upside)
  • Signed Eli Apple (former 1st round pick, 48 career starts, coverage has been inconsistent and generally average, but he does tackle well, he's only 25 and has great speed - so there is still time to refine his game, the Panthers needed to add a CB and Apple is a good get this late in the offseason)

Need #2: Linebacker

Notable Free Agents:

  • None

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Shaq Thompson (played very well in 2019, received a big contract extension in December, great athlete, now the top LB following Kuechly's retirement)
  • Jermaine Carter Jr. (2018 5th rounder, did not stand out over 5 starts in 2019)

Need Level: Very High

Need to Address:

  • While nobody is going to be able to come in and fill the Kuechly void - the Panthers must bring in a new ILB to start next to Thompson. They need someone who can improve the worst run defense in football.

Updates:

  • Signed Tahir Whitehead (always puts up great tackling production, strong vs the run, but tends to struggle quite a bit in coverage, has Rhule/Temple connection)

Need #3: Defensive Tackle

Notable Free Agents:

  • Gerald McCoy (not quite the perennial Pro Bowler he once was, but can still get after the QB, did not make a big enough impact as a run defender, the new staff will likely choose to move in a younger direction)
  • Dontari Poe (similar to McCoy - Poe is not the dominant player he was a few years ago - but he can be a quality nose tackle when healthy, injuries have been an issue though, and he does not exactly fit in the new 4-3 scheme)

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Kawann Short (spent most of 2019 on IR, from 2015 to 2017 he was a dominant DT, but production was down in 2018, all this makes 2020 difficult to project... will he return to Pro Bowl form or will injuries and age lead to more decline?)

Need Level: High

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers had the league's worst run defense in 2019... and those issues started up front. They need to add at least one new starting DT.

Updates:

  • Signed Zach Kerr (rotational defensive lineman)
  • Drafted in 1st Round: Derrick Brown (highly decorated SEC DL, 3 year starter, statistical production is not eye-popping but does not tell the whole story - as Brown was often double and triple teamed, very powerful player with sneaky explosion and quickness, eats up blockers, should make an immediate impact as a run defender, there were moments on tape where he disappeared and his pass rush skills are underdeveloped, pre-draft testing underwhelmed, he will either be an All-Pro beast or a big-time bust - don't see much middle ground)
  • Drafted in 6th Round: Bravvion Roy (put up nice numbers as senior at Baylor, lacks length but offers nice quickness and power, has the ability to make plays vs. the run and get after the QB, nice value in Rd. 6, there is some starting upside here)

Need #4: Quarterback

Notable Free Agents:

  • None

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Cam Newton (foot injury limited him to 2 games in 2019, has a 23-23 record since his MVP season in 2015, the injuries and inconsistencies are outweighing the talent at this point, possible the team moves on)
  • Kyle Allen (mediocre across 12 starts, more suited for a backup than starter role)
  • Will Grier (2019 3rd rounder, looked horrible in the 2 starts he made, it's too early to lose all hope - but he showed no signs of being functional NFL QB as a rookie)

Need Level: High

Need to Address:

  • With a new HC in town this would the right moment for the Panthers to move on from the mercurial Newton.

Updates:

  • Released Cam Newton
  • Signed Teddy Bridgewater (could not have done a better job filling in for Brees last year, went 5-0 with 68% completion rate and threw for 9 TDs to only 2 INTs, last time he was a full-time starter he led the VIkings to an 11-5 record, there is obviously some risk here - he's only started 6 games over the past 3 years and has never had a Pro Bowl-level season - but the upside is significant)
  • Signed P.J. Walker (unofficial XFL MVP, he's undersized at 5-11 but can be dynamic as a both a passer and a runner, played with HC Rhule at Temple, would not be surprising if he wins the QB2 job)
  • Traded Kyle Allen (got a 5th round pick for a player they no longer need)

Need #5: Safety

Notable Free Agents:

  • Tre Boston (was solid / unspectacular as a full-time starter in 2019, has good ball skills - 13 INTS over the past 4 seasons)

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Eric Reid (excellent tackling production - recorded over 130 total tackles in 2019, but is a liability in coverage, received a contract extension in the 2019 offseason - but new staff may make him a cap casualty)

Need Level: High

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers will need to either resign or replace Tre Boston, they could also look to upgrade Reid.

Updates:

  • Released Eric Reid
  • Resigned Tre Boston
  • Signed Juston Burris (started 9 games in CLE last year, did not stand out - but played pretty well, will compete for a starting job in CAR and at the very least provide solid depth and special teams ability)
  • Drafted in 2nd Round: Jeremy Chinn (tremendous size/athleticism combo, tore up the Combine, projects as safety/linebacker who can go sideline to sideline and cover TEs, is from a smaller school so there is room for development, instincts and awareness can be inconsistent)
  • Drafted in 5th Round: Kenny Robinson (impressive in starting role as both a freshman and sophomore at WVU, but was dismissed from team before junior year, choose to played in the XFL instead of continuing college career, he's a heavy hitter with advanced ball skills, there are inconsistencies to his game, but there is some starting upside, nice value)

Need #6: Edge / Defensive End

Notable Free Agents:

  • Mario Addison (very solid veteran player, has at least 9 sacks in each of the last 4 seasons, market value will be difficult to gauge given his advanced age)
  • Bruce Irvin (recorded a career high 8.5 sacks in 13 games - at 32 years old, similar to Addison - what will the market pay an older player coming off a highly productive season?)

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Brian Burns (2019 1st rounder, impressed as a rookie with 7.5 sacks - which is even more impressive when you consider that he was playing with a pretty serious wrist injury, certainly appears to be an ascending player but you have to wonder if the move from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE in CAR's new defensive scheme will impact his development)
  • Christian Miller (2019 4th rounder, recorded 2 sacks in 7 games as a rookie, like Burns was drafted to play 3-4 OLB - but will now have to adjust to a 4-3 scheme change)
  • Marquis Haynes (2018 4th rounder, owns the sack record at Ole Miss - but only has 1 career sack in the NFL, perhaps the new staff will find a rotational pass rush role for him)

Need Level: High

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers shift to a 4-3 defensive scheme will likely call for at least one new starting DE. Rotational depth is all needed.

Updates:

  • Signed Stephen Weatherley (productive as a rotational DE in Minnesota, 6 sacks over the past 2 seasons, will be given an opportunity to start in CAR)
  • Drafted in 2nd Round: Yetur Gross-Matos (17.5 sacks over the past two seasons at PSU, excellent size/length, solid athlete, has a high ceiling, great value in round 2)
  • COVID 19 Opt-out: Christian Miller (opens up more snaps for Gross-Matos and may present Hayes with another opportunity to prove himself)

Need #7: Interior Offensive Line

Notable Free Agents:

  • Greg Van Roten* (guard, has started 27 games for the Panthers over the past two seasons, solid veteran player - better pass than run blocker, 30 years old)

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Trai Turner (guard, has started 80/84 games since being drafted in 2014, he's a 5X time Pro Bowler in the prime of his career)
  • Matt Paradis* (center, big 2019 FA signing, his first year in CAR was a disappointment - but he was previously a solid player for the Broncos - so there is still hope he can turn it back around)
  • Dennis Daley (2019 6th rounder, started 9 games at LT as a rookie, showed some promise at times but for the most part struggled, expected to move to guard in 2020)
  • Tyler Larsen (veteran backup, 18 career starts, solid depth)

Need Level: High

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers need to either resign or replace Van Roten at RG.

Updates:

  • Traded Trai Turner (swapped for Russell Okung, Turner has more talent and is younger - but apparently the Panthers wanted to move on from his contract, now the Panthers need to add 2 guards)
  • Signed John Miller (started 13 games in Cincinnati last year, he is not much of an impact blocker)
  • Signed Michael Schofield* (reliable - has started 32/32 games at RG over the past two seasons for the Chargers, but quality of play has been below average)

Need #8: Tight End

Notable Free Agents:

  • None

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Greg Olsen (stayed relatively healthy in 2019 - started 14 games and put up decent numbers, but hasn't gone a full 16 games since 2016, he's a legendary Panther - but the new coaching staff may move on)
  • Ian Thomas (2018 4th rounder, has shown some promise playing behind and in relief of Olsen, unclear if he is capable of TE1 duties - though he does have above average athleticism for the position, drops have been an issue)
  • Chris Manhertz (blocking specialist - only has 6 career receptions)

Need Level: Moderate

Need to Address:

  • If the Panthers move on from Olsen they will need to bring in at least one new TE to compete with and or compliment Thomas.

Updates:

  • Released Greg Olsen
  • Signed Seth DeValve (showed some promise in back in 2017 with Cleveland - but only has 17 receptions over the past 2 seasons)
  • Released Seth DeValve (must have failed to impress at Zoom mini camp)

Need #9: Wide Receiver

Notable Free Agents:

  • Jarius Wright (team has option on contract, put decent numbers out of the slot in 2018, but production feel quite a bit in 2019, team will likely look for a younger, more dynamic option)

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • D.J. Moore (2019 breakout that nobody is really talking about, caught 87 passes for nearly 1,200 yards - despite below average QB play, excellent after the catch, a legit WR1 and an offensive building block moving forward)
  • Curtis Samuel (2017 2nd rounder, increased production in 2019, though had an inefficient 51% catch rate, still more of a WR3 at this point, the explosive athletic ability will always make him a hyped offseason breakout candidate)

Need Level: Moderate

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers need to increase depth at this position, they really isn't much behind Moore and Samuel.

Updates:

  • Signed Robby Anderson (explosive, can be a lethal deep-threat, production has been consistently in the WR2... not WR1 range, really like the fit in CAR though, a Moore-Anderson-Samuel trio will give opposings DCs headaches)
  • Signed Seth Roberts (underwhelming but dependable slot WR, a nice depth signing)
  • Signed Pharoh Cooper (has had some special moments as a return man, also offers depth in WR4/WR5 role)
  • Signed Cam Phillips (had an impressive stint in the XFL, will compete for reserve work)

Need #10: Offensive Tackle

Notable Free Agents:

  • Daryl Williams (a few years ago was considered one of the better young RTs in football, but knee injuries have disrupted his career, played some LT and OG in 2019, only 27 so there is still a chance he can resurrect his career - but that likely won't be in Carolina)

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Taylor Moton (rock solid force at RT, arguably the best OL on the team, a building block going forward)
  • Greg Little (2019 2nd rounder, was injury plagued as a rookie - only appeared in 4 games, he has the attributes to develop into a starting LT, but needs to make a big jump in 2020)

Need Level: Moderate

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers could bring in competition for the LT spot.

Updates:

  • Traded for Russell Okung (has had plenty of success at LT - but missed half of the 2019 season with a medical issue and was not all that effective upon his return, it's tough to find quality LTs - so this isn't a bad addition - but at 31 years old he is not a long-term solution)

Need #11: Running Back

Notable Free Agents:

  • None

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Christian McCaffrey (arguably the league's top skill player, elite runner and pass catcher, worth a massive contract extension)
  • Reggie Bonnafon (2018 UDFA, averaged 7.3 yards per on 16 carries, limited sample size, but showed some promise)
  • Jordan Scarlett (2019 5th rounder, was expected to win RB2 job as a rookie - but Bonnafon ended up ahead of him, finished the season with only 4 carries)
  • Alex Amrah (traditional lead blocking FB, offers some value in goal line situations, remains to be seen if Rhule will burn a roster spot on a FB)

Need Level: Mild

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers lack proven depth behind McCaffrey, they need to bring in some competition to push Bonnafon and Scarlett.

Updates:

  • Signed Trenton Cannon (2018 6th rounder, did not receive an offensive touch last season, will compete for reserve duties in CAR)

Need #12: Special Teams

Notable Free Agents:

  • None

Notable Players Under Contract:

  • Michael Palardy (average punter)
  • Graham Gano (missed entire 2019 season with a knee injury, historically a very accurate and strong-legged kicker)
  • Joey Slye (was a decent fill-in for Gano, has great leg strength, but there are accuracy issues)

Need Level: Mild

Need to Address:

  • The Panthers are set here as long as Gano can completely recover from the knee issue.

Updates:

  • Released Graham Gano (presumably a vote of confidence for Slye)