Now just a year removed from an NFC Championship, the Panthers enter 2017 with high expectations after going a disappointing 6-10 last year. Over the offseason they made strides in revamping the offense by adding playmakers Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel via the NFL Draft, while also improving the offensive line as Matt Kalil joins his brother Ryan on the offensive line.
With an improving NFC South division, the Panthers will be forced to step up their play if they want to return to the playoffs. It all starts in the preseason. Below I attempted to predict the Carolina Panthers 53 man roster, along with their practice squad.
This final week of the preseason will carry a lot of weight in determining who will secure the few final roster spots, but here’s how I see it.
OFFENSIVE PREDICTIONS – 26
QB (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb
I thought for a split second about leaving Derek Anderson off of the roster. However, the surgically repaired right shoulder of Cam Newton keeps Derek Anderson on the roster for at least another year.
RB (4): Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
Stewart and McCaffrey are locks, Fozzy Whitaker is reliable and plays special teams. 3rd year running back Cameron Artis-Payne has earned his way onto the roster by having a fantastic preseason.
FB (1): Alex Armah
The 6th rounder gets the nod here over Darrell Young. Armah played tight end in college, so could he add more value if the Panthers decide to only keep 2 tight ends.
WR (6): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Curtis Samuel, Damiere Byrd, Kaelin Clay
Brenton Bersin and Austin Duke just miss the cut here. Duke is likely to be placed on the team’s practice squad. Bersin has battled injury for most of the preseason so his time in Charlotte may finally be coming to an end.
TE (3): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson Chris Manhertz
Olsen and Dickson are locks. Due to Scott Simonson being injured for most of camp, Manhertz gets the nod.
OL (9): Ryan Kalil, Matt Kalil, Daryl Williams, Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell, Taylor Moton, Tyler Larsen, Gino Gradkowski, Amini Silatolu
Depth and experience for a position group who had the most offensive line combinations in the NFL last year. Guard Chris Scott is currently in concussion protocol and just misses the cut.
DEFENSIVE PREDICTIONS – 24
DL (9): Mario Anderson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers, Vernon Butler, Wes Horton, Bryan Cox Jr. Daeshon Hall
I only have 3 defensive tackles making the roster here. Veteran Julius Peppers slid inside for a few snaps in last week’s contest against Jacksonville. Undrafted free agent rookie Bryan Cox Jr. has had a great preseason and the Panthers can’t afford to lose him to another team by letting him hit the waiver wire in hopes to stash him on the practice squad.
LB (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, David Mayo, Jared Norris, Jeremy Cash
A solid group of linebackers. Zeke Biggers and rookie Ben Boulware are prime candidates for the practice squad.
CB (5): James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, Captain Munnerlyn, Corn Elder, Cole Luke
Cole Luke gets the edge over Teddy Williams.
S (4): Kurt Coleman, Mike Adams, LJ McCray, Colin Jones
Dezmen Southward nearly made this list as a 5th safety. I expect the Panthers to bring in another safety, either via trade or from the waiver wire after preseason cuts. For the time being, these four safeties will have to do.
SPECIALISTS – 3
K (1): Harrison Butker
Butker unseats Graham Gano whom struggled last season and had a shaky start to the preseason. Of course keeping Gano and stashing Butker on the practice squad is also an option.
P (1): Andy Lee
The veteran punter barely edges out punter Michael Palardy after a tight battle during camp.
LS (1): JJ Jansen
Practice Squad – 10
QB Garret Gilbert
WR Austin Duke
WR Keyarris Garrett
WR Fred Ross
TE Bryce Williams
G Greg Van Roten
DE Efe Obada
DT Eric Crume
LB Zeek Bigger
LB Ben Boulware