Before talking about next season, I'm going to review and grade the position players for the Carolina Panthers to identify where the major holes on this team are. Today I'll do the offense, tomorrow I'll do the defense and special teams. I got the idea from the Buccaneers blog on here.
The root of the problem for Carolina this season starts with their offense. They were dead last in the league in just about every category except for rushing. You can’t win when you score an average of 12.7 points per game and turn the ball over 35 times in a season. The offense having numerous three and outs led to the defense being on the field too long and being worn out by the end of the game. It was a perfect storm for the Panthers offense, really. Three young QB’s on the roster, terrible playcalling, bad pass protection, injuries and an inexperienced receiving corps. It’s really no surprise that this team had the worst offense in the league even with two stud running backs.
Matt Moore – D+
857 yards, 5 TD, 10 INT, 55.2 completion percentage
Going into this season as the QB who was supposed to groom/not rush rookie QB Jimmy Clausen, Moore did exactly the opposite of that. He lost his starting job after two games, got it back after three more then tore his labrum and is probably done for his career. After looking so good to close out the 2009 season, Moore was the exact opposite of that this year. He showed barely any confidence, looked scared out of his mind in the pocket and made some awful decisions which resulted in 10 interceptions. Moore can make plays when there isn’t any pressure on him but when there is, he gets rattled and makes very bad decisions. We saw more of the latter this season. He gets a + added to his grade for the game against San Francisco, which was probably the best of his career. As bad as he was this year, he can take advantage of teams with a weak secondary like the Niners. The offensive line deserves some blame as Moore was sacked 13 times in six games but it still doesn’t excuse him from having a 2:1 INT:TD ratio.
Jimmy Clausen - D
1558 yards, 3 TD, 9 INT, 52.5 completion percentage
The grade seems kind of harsh but let’s face it, Jimmy Clausen was not good this season. I know he’s a rookie coming into a team with an offensive line which failed at pass protection (sacked 33 times) but when you have a QB who throws 3 INTs for every TD , that’s pretty scary. Clausen showed many rookie mistakes this season; bobbling snaps, throwing low passes, starring down receivers and made slight improvements on them but he hasn’t looked like the future "franchise QB" for this team at all. That and he hasn’t shown good pocket presence or the ability to read blitzes that well which has led him to panic under pressure. Obviously, you have to expect mistakes like this from a rookie but Clausen has only been slightly impressive this year and I don’t know if I’m comfortable having him at QB the next few seasons. That said, his supporting cast was very poor this season too so he doesn’t deserve all the blame for the offenses problems.
Yikes. So, that averages out to a D for both QB's which sounds about right with the duo throwing for 9 TDs and 18 INTs. Obviously, the biggest decision Carolina has to make this off-season is whether or not they will draft Andrew Luck with their #1 overall pick. Moore is a free agent next year and Clausen hasn't won over many fans this season. Could Clausen have done better if Moore stayed healthy or wasn't horrible? Or if we had brought in a veteran QB to not rush him instead of relying on Moore to do that? That doesn't matter right now but if the front office wants to avoid another season like this, they'll have to start by deciding who is going to QB this team. Whether that be Clausen, Luck or any other QB.
Jonathan Stewart – C+
770 yards, 4.3 YPC, 2 TD
Slow start, strong finish for Stewart. You can blame injuries, only getting 5-10 touches per game and poor offensive line play for Stewart’s sluggish start out of the gate but he didn’t look like himself for the first half of the season. Stewart had 562 of his 770 yards during the last 6 games of the season. He is proving himself to be a capable #1 back but pre-season injuries making him slow out of the gate have made a huge impact on his effectiveness, mainly at the beginning of the year.
361 yards, 4.1 YPC, TD
He missed half of the season with a foot injury but for the first half, he had some flashes of brilliance but overall, he didn’t look as good as he did last year. Williams is still one of the best running backs in the league when it comes to improvising and trying to get as many yards as possible so it’ll be interesting to see if Carolina shells out the money to keep him this off-season. If he was healthy the entire year would have better numbers? Good question.
Mike Goodson – B+
452 yards, 4.4 YPC, 3 TD; 40 rec. 310 yards, 7.8 YPC
Probably the biggest surprise for Carolina this season was the great play of Mike Goodson while Williams and Stewart were hurt. He made the most of his playing time and had two 100 yard rushing games this season. He’s also been very useful in the passing and return game. He was one of Clausen’s favorite targets, especially in short yardage situations. Keeping him as a "change of pace" back for next year wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Now if he could just work on those fumbling problems.
Tony Fiammetta – C
Fiametta’s done his job as primarily a blocking fullback and not much else. He’s had his number called on some 3rd and 4th and 1 situations but aside from that, there isn’t a lot to say about him other than he did a decent job this year.
Unit overall gets a B-. It’s a position of wealth for the Carolina Panthers and it’s looking highly unlikely that we’ll be able to keep all three backs next year. Which one we’ll trade I don’t know yet and I’ll debate that later.
Steve Smith – C-
46 rec. 552 yards, 12.0 YPC, 2 TD
What a frustrating year for the team captain. Catching less than half of the passes thrown his way, only 2 TDs, a multitude of dropped passes and problems in the locker room. It’s his worst season ever since he became a starting WR for the Panthers. There’s a lot of people saying he’s done and I don’t buy that yet since he had plenty of moments where he looked like his usual self this year. That said, even with the QB issues Smitty could have been better. A LOT better.
David Gettis – C+
37 rec. 508 yards, 13.7 YPC, 3 TDs
Another bright spot in a forgettable year was David Gettis. He has the speed and the hands to be a deep threat but struggled with consistency issues. I was originally going to give him a B but he kind of disappeared after having a few great games. I still think he can be a solid #2 receiver in this offense very soon. Hopefully we can get him more involved next season.
Brandon LaFell - C
38 rec. 468 yards; 12.3 YPC, TD
Like Gettis, he’s had a lot of great moments but disappeared in some games and LaFell got off to a really rough start this season. He mainly struggled with dropped passes and poor route running but he really stepped up in key moments this year. At times he’s been great on deep routes and other times he looks like a solid possession receiver or a 3rd down target. Also like Gettis, if he can become more consistent, then he will be a great part of this offense. One thing he has been consistently good at is run blocking similar to the role Muhsin Muhammad had on this team.
Dante Rosario - D
32 rec. 264 yards; 8.3 YPC
I was high him for awhile but I’ve completely jumped off the bandwagon this year. Rosario is supposed to be our "receiving tight end" but he hasn’t been a reliable target at all this season. A lot of dropped passes, bad penalties and inconsistent play.
Jeff King - C-
19 rec. 121 yards; 6.4 yards 2 TD
It’s a bad sign when your team’s blocking tight end is a more dependable receiver than the other TE whose job it is to catch passes. Anyway, King is really only used as a receiver on short yardage and goal line situations but he did a decent job in that minus a few dropped passes. He gets the C- because of poor blocking and a ton of bone-headed false starts and holding penalties. He’s also a free agent so I have a feeling we’ll be looking for a new tight end this off-season. Preferably one who can play every down.
The whole unit gets a C- for this season. They had some good moments and a lot of bad ones as well. I think that both Lafell and Gettis are only going to get better in the next few seasons. There’s also Armanti Edwards who I still have no idea what we’ll do with or how we’ll use him with the new coach. The two tight ends on the other hand, that’s something which needs to be addressed. Big time.
Jordan Gross – C
Pro Bowl selection aside, Gross did not look like his usual self at all this year. I feared that the broken leg he suffered last season would affect his play this year and it did. His footing has been very awkward and he really struggled with pass protection this year. When it comes to run blocking, he’s still great thankfully.
Travelle Wharton – C+/B-
Wharton struggled with injuries but he was one member of the line who I thought had a solid season for the most part.
Ryan Kalil - B-
I feel that Kalil has regressed a bit this year but he’s been a good center for this team. Only goof I can remember was the snap that went over Goodson’s head in the Ravens game but I have a short-term memory with this season.
Do. Not. Want. Him taking over for Jeff Otah at RG led to him getting brutalized by Osi Umenyiora on Week 1, he was replaced, then got his spot back again and continued to be a turnstile until he was benched. Him filling in for Wharton at LG was slightly better but not much of an improvement from his awful play earlier in the year. The right side of our offensive line was a weak link all season and he was a huge part of that.
Geoff Schwartz - D+
Schwartz was the other one who filled in for Otah at RG and he was pretty terrible in Week 2 but slightly better than Bernadeau in the following weeks that he started. Like a lot of this offensive line, his run blocking wasn’t bad but pass protection was a whole other story.Another big weak link in the offensive line which yielded 47 sacks on the season.
Garry Williams – C-
I honestly don’t have much to say other than remembering him playing a solid game against San Francisco and not being that good or horrendous the rest of the year.
If I could, as a whole, I’d give the whole offensive line a D+ for their work this season. I know, they did a solid job at run blocking the second half of the season but any unit which surrenders 47 sacks in a season isn’t doing their job. I didn’t think the o-line would be this bad even without Otah because of how good Gross and Kalil are but they definitely took a step back this season. We need to at least do something to address how weak the right side of our line is. Otah is always injured and Schwartz/Bernadeau aren’t NFL linemen.