Just over a year ago, many fans around the NFL would have confidently coined the Carolina Panthers as Super Bowl 50 champions seeing as how successful they were the entire season leading up to it. However, Von Miller and the Denver Broncos’ defense stopped them in their tracks, claiming the title after a 24-10 victory. Given the success they had prior to that loss, a similar season following was expected. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The Panthers’ 2016-2017 season left many people scratching their heads. They opened with a game that may have worsened fans’ post traumatic stress, as they traveled to Denver to face the very team that had just taken the Super Bowl title over them. Luckily, the outcome was not as bad, and the circumstances were not nearly as dramatic. The Broncos won 21-20 in what would bring about many concerns for quarterback Cam Newton’s safety.
Throughout this game, Broncos defenders repeatedly hit Newton in fairly vicious manners with little to no repercussions. It was later discovered that Newton had suffered a concussion post-game. The very next week however, the Panthers confidently won over the visiting San Francisco 49ers by a score of 46-27, reassuring the fanbase that the previous loss may have just been a fluke. But, they would go on to lose their next four games, and finish the season overall with a record of 6-10.
What happened to last year’s dominant leaders of the NFC in such a short period of time? Surprisingly, both the offense and defense could be blamed for their woes. The team finished 15th in the league in scoring, and 29th in the league in total yards allowed. Many people began to blame the inconsistency of Cam Newton, though he hasn’t had the best wide receiver corps to work with. Kelvin Benjamin was poised to be a star after the Panthers drafted him from Florida State University, and while he certainly has not been bad, injuries have seemed to hold him back. Missing the 2015 season entirely, Benjamin came back the following year and recorded seven touchdown receptions for 941 yards total. Aside from Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen (who recorded over 1,000 yards on the season), Newton does not have much to work with.
In preparation for the upcoming season, the front office has addressed what positions need to be filled the most, and at the moment, there are quite a few. The team could benefit from a defensive tackle, and this year’s draft class has many that seem to NFL-caliber players. While it is almost guaranteed that defensive end Myles Garrett will be gone within the first three picks of the draft, there are still a number of players that have the potential to flourish in Carolina’s defensive system, like Solomon Thomas from Stanford, and Jonathan Allen out of Alabama.
Two other positions that could help the Panthers is cornerback and safety. It’s important to look at the team’s competition within their division. Arguably the best wide receiver in the league today, Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons has been nothing short of a nightmare for opposing secondaries. Taking a cornerback or safety early in the draft gives Carolina the opportunity to better handle Jones’ size, speed, and strength.
Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has even expressed concern for the team’s depth at his respective position as well. Seeing as Stewart recently turned 31, his time in the league is nearing its end. With that said, this year’s draft class has a high number of impressive running backs that Carolina could greatly benefit from. LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey all impressed at this year’s draft combine, and with the number 8 overall pick this year, at least one of them is sure to still be on the board when the Panthers’ name is called.
Following a disappointing season, the Carolina Panthers are looking to improve, like all teams. The tools necessary to do so don’t seem to be too far off, as they have a fairly high pick in the upcoming draft, and a good amount of highly talented players at their disposal. The trick will be choosing the right players that they see fit to bring back what was once a truly formidable team.