ESPN Insider has a piece where they are predicting the top pas rushers in the NFL for the 2015 season. I'm not sure who really values a prediction of this kind made this far in advance but thought I would give it a spin myself. Believe it or not a Panther made the list at #13, just behind Mario Williams:
13. Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers signed Johnson to a huge contract before the 2011 season. While he wasn't quite the force after signing his contract as he was before, Johnson still was solid last season. He will turn 26 next month, so there is plenty of good football ahead of him. Another Panthers defensive end that didn't quite make my honorable mention list is Greg Hardy, who could help Johnson's cause going forward by preventing offenses from keying so heavily on him.
Johnson is an obvious answer to lead the Panthers team that season or is he? Also, is a #13 ranking being kind or is he being under valued? I'll tackle the latter question first.
The #1 ranking went to Jason Pierre Paul of the Giants. I can't argue with that one too much. The top 5 is rounded out with Aldon Smith, Von Miller, Robert Quinn and Clay Matthews with really only the selection of Robert Quinn giving me pause. You think at least one good season would be needed to draw this kind of confidence in future performance. Besides that, when was the last time the Rams had a pass rusher to be feared period?
Likewise Von Miller will have a hard time continuing to put up big numbers from a true OLB position in Denver's 4-3, especially if they actually get a DE who can rush besides Elvis Dummervill.
More after the jump...
More pertinent to Panther fans is who will be our team leader in sacks in 2015. After OTAs and mini camp earlier in the offseason I'm excited to see what Greg Hardy can do in 2012. He gets a mention in the ESPN piece but it is hardly a show of confidence. Instead I see Rivera's praise of Hardy to be a better gauge that suggests Hardy could be a breakout player this season. In that scenario he would certainly be in the mix in 2015.
How stoked should we be that our 4th round DE draft pick Frank Alexander is not even mentioned in the mix at this point. The kid was a solid second round pick until his false alarm health issue prior to the draft. If he had been picked earlier you would hear more buzz about his potential impact on whatever defense he had landed. With his size and production don't sleep on this guy for 2015. He could end being the steal of the draft class for us, a class that might be filled with 'steals' as it looks right now.
I personally don't put much stock in these type of 'way forward' predictions but it does give me hope for the future of the pass rush none the less. What was a weakness in 2011 could not only be much improved in 2012 but a solid strength by 2015. All three players are young or at least should still be in their prime by 2015.