Tauren Poole of Tennessee is the only UDFA to make my first depth chart. That could change come training camp. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
With the 2012 class in the rearview mirror we get to move forward to looking at the 2012 Carolina Panthers moving forward, and projecting how the team will fare in the fall. We have the next four months to look at this from every angle, and break down every position battle- but for now I thought I'd give you a ludicrously early look at the projected depth chart for 2012.
This chart is based on what I know about the way the organization works, and how some players are viewed. This will give us an early chance to examine the 53 man roster to see where there are some strengths and weaknesses. Obviously none of us truly know how this will shape up before training camp, but this is how I think it could shake out.
QB- Cam Newton/Derek Anderson/Jimmy Clausen
RB- DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart/Tauren Poole
FB- Mike Tolbert
TE- Greg Olsen/Gary Barnidge
RT- Jeff Otah/Bruce Campbell
RG- Geoff Hangartner/Byron Bell
C- Ryan Kalil
LG- Amini Silatolu/Mike Pollak
LT- Jordan Gross/Lee Ziemba
WR1- Steve Smith/David Gettis/Joe Adams
WR2- Brandon LaFell/Kealoha Pilares/Armanti Edwards
Not really any shockers here. I feel that Armanti Edwards will just squeak his way onto the roster. The only real surprise here is UDFA Tauren Poole winning the 3rd RB spot. I think there's still value in getting more insurance in case Jonathan Stewart leaves, and Poole is the kind of relentless runner that I think Ron Rivera will value. He's the only UDFA I have making the 53 man roster.
After the jump, a look at the defense
RDE- Charles Johnson/Antwan Applewhite
DT- Ron Edwards/Sione Fua/Frank Kearse
DT- Terrell McClain/Andre Neblett
LDE- Greg Hardy/Frank Alexander/Thomas Keiser
ROLB- James Anderson/Kenny Onatolu
MLB- Luke Kuechly/Jyles Tucker
LOLB- Jon Beason/Thomas Davis/Jordan Senn
CB: Chris Gamble/Captain Munnerlyn/Josh Norman
SS: Reggie Smith/Sherrod Martin
FS: Charles Godfrey/Haruki Nakamura
CB: Brandon Hogan/Darius Butler
After speaking to some people in the know it seems more and more likely the Panthers are planning to start Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker, with Jon Beason at the weak side. The idea behind this is that out of the gate you're not asking Kuechly to cover NFL tight ends, and it's the best way to ease him into the league. It's important to not take LB roles too seriously, as we'll see them move all around all three positions. In my projection I have Thomas Davis set to come off the bench, and be used in a variety of packages.
On the defensive line I see Greg Hardy starting initially, but I wouldn't be surprised if Frank Alexander takes over mid-season. Despite a poor 2011 I think Terrell McClain will pleasantly surprise this year. Playing the under-tackle doesn't take as long to develop as a nose tackle, and while I expect him to be rotated with Neblett a lot, I think this will be the first team.
In the secondary the biggest changes are Brandon Hogan taking over for Captain Munnerlyn, who is moved back to his natural nickel spot- while Josh Norman is eased slowly into the NFL. Sherrod Martin takes a step back also, where Reggie Smith takes over after leaving San Francisco to come to Carolina looking for a starting job.
My initial reaction to the entire depth chart is that I feel the Panthers are much better prepared for injuries in 2012. There's more depth at the pass rushing spots, as well as linebacker, both areas where the Panthers struggled when players went down in 2011.
Obviously there's room for UDFA's and 7th round pick D.J. Campbell on the practice squad, but that's way, way too early to project.
I've looked at the idea of a 46 look, but in the 3-4 look here's how I see the personnel.
OLB: Antwan Applewhite
ILB: Jon Beason
ILB: Luke Kuechly
OLB: Frank Alexander
DE: Sione Fua
NT: Ron Edwards
DE: Charles Johnson
What do you think about this depth chart? Is there a player missing who you think belongs, and if this is the final fifty-three how do you feel about this depth chart?