When Sam Darnold lit up the Rose Bowl in 2017, everyone was ready to make him the first overall pick. It seemed like he had everything. He had the arm, the body type, and poise to become the next great quarterback in the NFL. After an interesting stint with the Jets, he looks to start over with Carolina. I mean, after seeing this guy look like this in his introductory press conference, we all should've know Darnold was doomed.
Just like Darnold, the Panthers are looking to turn the page and rebuild a new culture under second-year head coach Matt Rhule. It seems like the Carolina Panthers are ready to compete in Rhule's second year.
Carolina has a young defense that is looking to take a step forward this season. They weren't necessarily great on the defensive side of the ball last season, but they have some young pieces that should excite Panthers fans.
Let's start with their first-round pick Jaycee Horn. Horn was the first cornerback selected in this year's draft. The South Carolina product joins a young secondary that also has Jeremy Chinn, who shined as a rookie last season. We all expect Horn to be the next shutdown corner, as he has versatility to play both outside and inside.
Upfront is where I'm most excited to see how this defensive unit improves. I think Brian Burns is one of the most underrated young pass rushers in the NFL. In his first two seasons, he has at least 7.5 sacks in both seasons. I expect Burns to finish with double-digit sacks this season.
Joining Burns on that front-seven is second-year defensive tackle, Derrick Brown. The seventh overall pick in last year's draft is looking for a second-year leap, after an underwhelming rookie season. I also like the addition of free agent Hasan Reddick. Burns and Reddick is an underrated edge duo.
This offense has the potential to be explosive. The question is, can Joe Brady get the most out of Sam Darnold?
Sam Darnold hasn't been great in the NFL. Some blame his situation in New York when others think he flat-out stinks. We saw some potential out of New York. It looks like he can make the throws, is athletic enough to move around in the pocket, and seems like an overall good dude. Too bad you don't get sympathy points in the NFL. Darnold is definitely in a better situation. Better coach, weapons, and culture. If it doesn't work out in Carolina, the Darnold experiment will officially come to a close.
Next, we have the superstar running back. After dealing with injuries that pretty much forced him out for the entire season, Christain McCaffery is back. It's always nice to have a weapon that's going to catch over 100 balls and also get close to 300 carries. I expect McCaffery to bounce back in a big way in 2021.
I really like the Panthers receivers. DJ Moore has been one of the most consistent receivers ever since he came into the league. He has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons but definitely would like to see his touchdown numbers go up. We then have Robby Anderson, who already has a relationship with Darnold going back to their Jets days. Anderson broke out last season and should continue to be a productive receiver in this offense. Lastly, I like their rookie receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. Marshall gives them a big body receiver on the outside who can make contested catches. I think he complements Moore and Anderson nicely.
If they can't block, these weapons might as well be useless. The line is what plagued Darnold's career in New York. The Panthers need their offensive line to step up if they want a true evaluation on whether or not Darnold is their guy moving forward.
BEST VALUE FANTASY PLAYER
CMC is going to go first overall in most leagues. Anderson and Moore are both going to go somewhere in the early mid-rounds. If you draft McCaffery, I like the idea of drafting Chuba Hubbard late in the draft. Hubbard might be useless all season, but it's a good insurance policy to have considering McCaffery's injuries last year. Hopefully, CMC stays healthy, but drafting Hubbard late is something McCaffery owners should consider.
TOTAL WIN PREDICTION
This is a tough one. Their line is currently set at 7.5 wins. For now, I'm going to go under. Although I like the weapons they have on offense, I need to see it to believe it with Sam Darnold. I think the Panthers finish the season 7-10.
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