Where have I seen the 2011 Carolina Panthers before?

As talented as #90 was, he was never able to take us the places #1 will. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Just three years ago there was a team who looked very much like our beloved Carolina Panthers. Their head coach was entering his third year, they were starting a young quarterback, and despite an immense amount of offensive success their defense let them down as they finished 6-10 on the year.

Following this season the Green Bay Packers spent their 9th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft on Nose Tackle B.J. Raji and a less than two years later the Packers were raising the Lombardi trophy. 

That 6-10 season definitely stung their fan base, but there was little concern overall because the Packers knew they were secure at their most important position. Aaron Rodgers finished the season throwing for 28 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. For all intents are purposes he had 'arrived'. There was a tangible sense that that franchise's setbacks would only be temporary, and after the jump we'll continue to look at the similarities between these two organizations.

Cam Newton will not duplicate Aaron Rodgers' 2008 season, but he shouldn't be able to

Rodgers had the opportunity to sit for three years and learn every facet of the Packers' offense before being handed the keys. Green Bay masterfully did everything they could to ensure his success, and when he finally had his chance he completed almost 64% of his passes and only threw 13 picks. 

On the other end of the spectrum we have Cam Newton, a rookie QB being asked to not only take the keys to the car, but do all the body work on it too. Newton is establishing the Carolina Panthers' offensive identity, one that is build on a vertical passing game and utilizing his own athletic ability to keep opposing defenses off balance. I don't believe he'll be able to reach the same TD/INT ratio as Rodgers (he's on pace for 20/20) but that doesn't mean he's not a franchise QB. Make no mistake- Cameron Jerrell Newton is our franchise quarterback, Marty Hurney, Ron Rivera and the scouting department were absolutely right about him.

 

Finding our Greg Jennings

In 2008 the receivers for Green Bay featured the 33 year old Donald Driver, and the 25 year old Greg Jennings, who came to the Packers in the 2006 draft. Both receivers amassed over 1,000 yard receiving and were vital in ensuring future success of the passing game. Donald Driver is still going strong at 36 now, and we could potentially expect the same from Steve Smith who is playing agelessly right now, but what do we do across from him? 

I'm not 100% sure Brandon LaFell could be 'the guy'. I say this because in the case of the Packers they were already transitioning from Driver being the #1 receiver to Jennings being the #1. LaFell's abilities as an amazing blocker and possession WR are invaluable, but they don't scream future #1 WR. However, there are options for the Panthers. It just so happens we have a good crop of wide receivers set to hit free agency in 2012, headlined by Dwayne Bowe. The 27 year old Bowe could be just what the doctor ordered for the Panthers. A tall, athletic, deep threat who will get all the passes you need. If the Panthers managed to land Bowe I truly believe the process could begin in transitioning him into the #1 receiver role.

 

We're already a step ahead at tight end

The Packers drafted Jermichael Finley in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft and he wasn't really able to contribute his first year. The Panthers spent a 3rd round pick to bring in Greg Olsen giving them an edge in terms of his ability out of the gate. 

 

We have better running backs

This one goes without saying really. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart > Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.

 

We already have our pass rush

In the 2009 draft the Packers used two 1st round picks to select B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, this could have been the best 1st round any team has ever had getting two defensive cornerstones in one round. However, the Panthers are already a step ahead because there doesn't seem to be a plan to move to a 3-4 and the Panthers already have their pass rush set in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.

 

So, what am I getting at here? I'm basically saying we're a lot closer than anyone may think. Sure, living on the moral victories is getting a little old, but just like the 2008 Packers we have a QB to build around, and just missing those last few pieces of the puzzle. We need to look at the cornerbacks again, find a WR and of course revamp the defensive tackles but when it's all said and done the future is so bright we need shades.

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