If you talked to most fans prior to the 2010 draft there was one almost unanimous lock, that the Panthers would select a defensive tackle, and likely take one early. The draft came and went and the organization chose to ignore the crop of defensive tackles much to the chagrin of the fan base. It was widely believed that the defensive line was a weakness of the Panthers in 2009, not solidified until they signed Hollis Thomas to fill the gap at NT.
There is only one solitary starter returning from the 2009 D-line, DE Tyler Brayton- the remaining spots will likely be filled with DE Charles Johnson, NT Louis Leonard and DT Tank Tyler, the latter two players being traded for during the 2009 season. On the surface it appears like this piecemeal defensive line will be a headache for the Panthers in 2010, but the situation may not be as bad as you think.
More after the jump
To start with the benchmarks we'll be comparing the statistics of the 2010 Panthers with their 2009 compatriots as starters in the NFL. In order to get a fair comparison I am going to look solely at their averages as starters, and in the case of the 2009 starters look at their per start numbers solely as Carolina Panthers
Julius Peppers: 4.1 tackles, 0.77 sacks, 0.32 FF
Maake Kemoeatu: 2.9 tackles, 0.03 FF
Damione Lewis: 2.5 tackles, 0.14 sacks, 0.05 FF
Hollis Thomas: 2.5 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 FF
We now have our benchmarks for what these departed players did on a per game basis as Carolina Panthers. Now for comparison we'll look at the projected 2010 lineman to see what they have done in their past when given the opportunity to start.
Charles Johnson: 3.6 tackles, 0.66 sacks, 0 FF
Louis Leonard: 2.25 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 FF
Tank Tyler: 3 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 FF
Ed Johnson: 4.1 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 FF
The numbers certainly surprised me, as they were much closer than I thought. Look what happens when you average out the line's stats as a whole:
2009 starters: 3 tackles, 0.23 sacks, 0.1 FF
2010 starters: 3.24 tackles, 0.17 sacks, 0 FF
Granted, this is the most rudimentary form of breaking down statistics, but on a superficial level it appears that the projected 2010 line doesn't get to the QB as much, but they do tackle better as a whole.
This doesn't take into account several different factors:
- Players who spent significant time on field, but did not technically start
- Players who started, but left the game
- A breakdown of per snap performance
The answer to all three of these questions in the same, scheming; I didn't feel it was fair to breakdown statistics per snap because it would greatly skew the numbers in favor of the projected 2010 starters. Both Everette Brown and Charles Johnson have put up solid numbers in relief coming in for a few snaps as pass rushers and getting a sack or two- this would make it appear that they are both vastly superior to Julius Peppers, when that isn't the case at this time.
The ‘X-Factor' in all of this is experience. The projected 2010 line is exceedingly young, with the projected starters averaging just 3.4 seasons in the league compared to the 2009 line who averaged 7.8 seasons experience; however, let me leave you with this comparison:
The 2010 D-line will average 3.4 seasons experience, after Jordan Gross' injury the 2009 offensive line averaged 3.8 seasons experience and they faired pretty well.
It is very possible that the 2010 defensive line could be the downfall of the Panthers' defense in 2010, however, this group does have the history of solid starts and I believe they have the potential to surprise.