While the offense was a complete disaster for the Carolina Panthers in 2010, the defense wasn’t too awful. With Julius Peppers gone, there were bound to be problems with the pass rush, and there were. The whole unit only produced 30 sacks (T-17th in the NFL) for the season and 11.5 of them came from DE Charles Johnson. While that was a problem all season, the bigger problem was their inability to stop the run. They allowed an average of 125.5 rushing yards per game (23rd in the NFL) and while that doesn’t seem too abysmal on paper, it is when you watch running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Carnell Williams have big games against your team. It’s even scarier what good running backs did to them. The Panthers being very thin at defensive tackle had a lot to do with this but their solid linebacking corps kept things from getting too ugly. The pass defense wasn’t too awful. 11th in the league in yards given up and 17 INT’s forced. However, they also allowed 17 passing TD’s. The defense would also spend the majority of every game on the field due to the offense being ineffective and they became worn down faster and gave up very long drives to other team’s offenses. Let’s go and single out some players now, shall we?
Charles Johnson - A
62 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 7 tackles for losses
Hands down, the team’s best pass rusher. Someone needed to step up with Julius Peppers gone and Johnson did just that. 11.5 sacks despite playing with weak defensive tackles and no real disruptive force on the other side of the line. It’s a very impressive season from him and I’m hoping Richardson will be able to keep Johnson around for at least another year.
Everette Brown – C
25 tackles, 3.5 sacks, forced fumble, INT
I had pretty high expectations for Brown being the team’s "replacement" for Peppers but that didn’t quite work out. That said, I don’t think Brown had a bad season, he just wasn’t as good as I hoped he would be. The claims of him being undersized have me worried but I think he can build off this season as he was effective at getting into the backfield on numerous occasions this season.
Greg Hardy – B-
30 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked punt
If I’m grading based on expectations and how much players met them, I’d definitely give Hardy a low B for this season. He didn’t start many games and was mainly used on certain downs but I’ll be damned if he didn’t make the most of it. He’s shown a ton of potential as a pass rusher this season and I hope we can use him regularly in 3rd down situations in the future. Hardy was always getting to the ball and making things happen when he was playing and if he can stay healthy he might become the "steal" of last year’s draft like a lot of people are proclaiming him to be.
Derek Landri - B-
43 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Again, he outperformed my expectations and despite how much I talk about how weak the team is at defensive tackle, Landri played pretty well this season. He always seemed to get into the backfield and make the most effort to bring down the ball carrier and he wasn’t bad in putting pressure on the QB either. However, he wasn’t very consistent and I still think he’s a backup on most teams in the league. That said, he should be taken into consideration for next season when the roster is put together.
Nick Hayden -D+/C-
31 tackles, 1 sack
Had a couple of good games here and there but overall, he’s just one of the defensive tackles who couldn’t bring down the ball carrier and made the linebacking corps job more difficult.
Tyler Brayton – D+
22 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries
Honestly surprised he was a starter on a lot of weeks. This was his worst season in Carolina and he capped things off by committing an idiotic penalty against Atlanta which he surpsingly was only fined $15k for. Brown, Johnson and Hardy all outperformed him this season by far.
Ed Johnson – C-
22 tackles, INT
Pretty much the same as Hayden. A few nice games but mostly ineffective at getting to running backs up the middle. The INT against the Bears was fun to watch though. He was also injured for 4 out of the last 7 games of the season. Sounds about right in terms of what I expected.
The defensive line as a whole would get an overall grade of a C in my book. 30 sacks in a season isn’t abysmal but it could have been a lot better. There are a lot of good pieces here at defensive end and it makes me wonder if we need to find "The Next Julius Peppers" or just roll through next year with Johnson, Brown and Hardy. I will say that the defensive tackle position needs to be completely revamped, though. Maybe we keep Landri but we definitely need some better personnel there.
Jon Beason – B+
121 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, INT
He was moved over to Thomas Davis’ spot at Weak-side linebacker and did a fine job there despite being out of his normal position. He is really the only linebacker on the team talented enough to make the switch to that position. Him and James Anderson really had their workload increased a bit since our defensive line wasn’t doing it’s job at stopping running backs at the line. Still, Beason did pretty much all he was asked to do this season and was great. Could have had a few more big plays but oh well.
James Anderson - A
130 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, INT
What a great season for him. He did just about everything you could ask for at his position (except for cover tight ends but that’s another story) and he was the team’s best linebacker when it comes to chasing down ball carriers. Anderson was a straight up tackling machine this year, he had 5 games with at least 10 or more, which is pretty damn impressive. I’ve always liked him but I didn’t know he could be this good.
Dan Connor – B-
47 tackles, 1 sack
Missed about half the season but considering he was filling in as the team’s middle linebacker, I think Connor did very well while he was healthy. He was always making a great effort to get into the backfield and get to the ball carrier. Also had a couple games with 10 or more tackles. It’s going to be interesting to see what we do with him next season because as good as he is, he is kind of expandable when/if Thomas Davis comes back. I heard someone suggest we should use him as a fullback. Interesting concept, not sure if it’ll work, though.
Nic Harris – B-
37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
It’s pretty impressive given he played in 10 games and was only got significant playing time in a few of them. Harris took over for Beason’s WLB spot once Connor was placed on the IR (forcing Beason to move back to MLB) and he did a solid, yet unspectacular job. Still, a few very solid games from him when he saw more playing time.
Jordan Senn – C
Technically, he’s a linebacker and he started in a few games this year and like Harris, he was good but not exceptional which is about what I expected. He was solid on the special teams unit for the most part.
The whole unit gets a B+. Like running back, linebacker is a position where the Panthers are well stocked in. It’s going to get even better once Thomas Davis returns, too. I have to think that one of them is on the move after this season, though. James Anderson is a free agent but we might re-sign him considering how well he played this year. Dan Connor seems like the one who we would be most willing to trade since he’s talented but replaceable. It really shows that even on a 2-14 team, there are some bright spots.
Chris Gamble – C+
35 tackles, 8 passes defended
No INTs and not a lot of big plays for Gamble. That probably has to do with him being injured for the last 5 weeks of the season. Despite poor play in the Ravens and Browns games, which resulted in him being benched, I I think Gamble did his job for the most part at shutting down the other team’s top receivers. Carolina ranked 9th in the league in yards allowed to other team’s #1 receivers and I think Gamble deserves credit for that seeing how he was usually the one covering them. However, it was a less than stellar year for him and the issue he had with the coaching staff didn’t help either.
Captain Munnerlyn – B+
45 tackles, 12 passes defended, 3 INT, TD
What a turnaround for him! After being abused by Hakeem Nicks in Week 1, he really made an effort to improve his coverage skills and he got so much better as the season went on. He was even used as the team’s #1 corner on some games and he did very well in that position for the most part. I always thought he was too small to be anything more than a nickelback on the team but he’s definitely proved me wrong now. He also did well returning punts. Solid season from Captain in general but I’m still on the fence on if I want him to be a starting corner next year.
Richard Marshall - C
88 tackles, 1 sack, 7 passes defended, 3 INTs
Yeah, I know a C seems kind of weird/unfair judging from the stats but Marshall was very frustrating this season. There were some games where he looked terrible, got burned by receivers and made pathetic attempts at tackling them but he also had games where he made a few really nice plays. One of his INTs set up the game winning kick against San Francisco. Marshall was the one responsible for covering slot receivers and #2 receivers for the most part and we ranked very low in covering team’s slot options. Marshall had a lot to do with that. His tackle total is high because of how many times he let the receivers he was covering catch the ball. I remember reading a report saying he would like to stay in Carolina next year but I have to wonder how much we really want him here and if he’s worth the money he and Drew Rosenhaus are seeking. Still, hard to complain with that stat line and he didn’t have as bad of a season as I thought he did so he gets a decent grade.
Sherrod Martin – B-
85 tackles, 5 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, INT
Going into the season, I though Martin would be the team’s "breakout player" on defense and while that wasn’t exactly the case, he still had a good year. I thought he would have more INTs but Martin still did a good job in pass coverage and at preventing big plays for the other team. He’s also shown the ability to deliver punishing hits over the middle to ball carriers, unfortunately a couple of them got him into trouble with the league even though I didn’t think they were that bad. Again, not the breakout season I was expecting but a very promising one for sure.
Charles Godfrey – C+
84 tackles, 8 passes defended, 5 INTs, forced fumble
Good season statistic wise for Godfrey but he gave up a lot of big plays to the other team and was pretty bad at covering tight ends when he was assigned that role. I think he’s better suited at free safety than strong safety since he’s good at making plays in the open field and intercepting passes but he really struggles with stopping running backs and covering tight end. However, I can understand why the move was made since Martin’s more suited at free safety since he’s quicker and in our defense the roles between strong and free safety are usually split from what I’ve seen. In the end, he made enough plays to say that he had a bad season but there’s definitely plenty of work to be done with him.
Jordan Pugh - C
Wish I saw more of him because I really liked what I saw. Not much else to say except he was pretty decent when active.
Robert McClain - C-
Active mainly towards the end of the year and he didn’t do that good..but not completely terrible either.
I swear, the secondary looked a lot worse this season than the stats indicate. Overall, I'd probably give the whole secondary a low B or high C for the year. Like the defensive line, there are plenty of good pieces here but no real elite talent. No feared shutdown corner or ball-hawking safety. There are some players who have the potential to be one but are not quite there yet. I'm not sure if Gamble qualifies as a "shutdown corner" anymore. If Marshall leaves, then bringing in another corner could be very important next season. I am very excited to see what Martin and Godfrey can do once they both put it all together, though.
John Kasay - B+
Missed one kick that would have given us win #3 but was 25-29 on FGs this year and 14-18 on kicks longer than 40 yards. At 40 years old he’s still got it! Want to know a depressing stat? Kasay scored 92 of our points, we had 196 all season. Ouch.
Jason Baker – C+
Net punting average of only 36.5. Still has 22 punts inside the 20 and 7 touchbacks. There were some games where he struggled and some games where he was the team’s best player. Neither of which are a good thing.
Rhys Lloyd – C
11 touchbacks compared to 21 the previous year and 30 the year before. Good for him the coverage on kickoffs got slightly better this season. Not by that much, though.
John Fox – D
I know he’s a lame duck coach and was in a bad position but anyone who coaches a team to 2-14 shouldn’t get any grade above a D in my book. The team was still trying but John Fox made a lot of indications that he didn’t care about the future of this team (and with good reason). The biggest one was starting Brian St. Pierre, a QB who was only on the team for two weeks, instead of Tony Pike, a QB who likely knew the offense more. There was also him leaving Armanti Edwards inactive for countless weeks despite the team trading up to get him. I think is a great coach and I appreciate what he’s done for the team in past years but this year was just a disaster from him.
Jeff Davidson – F
They say a picture speaks a thousand words, in this case, it’s a gif which speaks a thousand words for the season of Jeff Davidson:
Thank god he’s unemployed now.
Ron Meeks – C+
I still think that we don’t have the right personnel for his cover 2 based scheme but I think he’s done a fairly solid job with the defense in his time here. Still a lot of holes to be filed and I understand why he was let go because the team needs to start over.
Jeff Rodgers – B-
He really turned around our special teams this year. Kick and punt returning was better and so was the coverage on punts. Kickoffs, not so much but it wasn’t as bad as last season.