Carolina Panthers Player Reviews: The Best So Far

Grant Halverson

As we inch toward the end of the regular season, 75% of all games have been played. We've seen a Carolina Panthers team which started off ugly come out and string together eight straight wins and make a serious push for the playoffs. We've seen them blow teams out, we've seen them win the close ones, we've seen them win ugly, and we've seen them win the "big ones" that seemed to elude this team during the Cam Newton era. We know it's been an all around team effort, but who have been the fueling forces behind Carolina's resurgence to prominence? We use Pro Football Focus to find out.

The Trenches

For all of the critiquing of our offensive line, one player has stood out. Many, including myself, questioned whether he could still play the game. I believed that his days were numbered and either a position switch or a release would happen in the near future. But instead, he's shown that he can still play, and play at a high level at that. Posting an overall offensive rating of 22.7 from PFF, with a breakdown of 14.7 rating in pass blocking and 2.2 in run blocking, along with a 5.5 rating in penalties to boot. Can you guess who I'm talking about? Why, Jordan Gross of course!

Gross has been the anchor to the back end of this line since the start of the season, taking on the best pass rushers opposing defenses have to offer. While we've seen some pretty abysmal line play at times, Gross has easily been the best lineman we have.

Ratings
Week Game Pos S Snaps Overall Pass Rush Pass Block Screen Block Run Block Penalty # of Pen QB Sk QB Ht QB Hu
784 22.7 0.0 0.0 14.7 0.5 2.2 5.3 1-1 4 1 19
1 SEA @ CAR LT S 52 / 52 1.4 0.9 0.0 0.1 0.4 0-0 1 2
2 CAR @ BUF LT S 79 / 79 2.9 2.3 0.0 0.1 0.5 0-0 1
3 NYG @ CAR LT S 61 / 77 3.6 1.6 0.0 1.6 0.4 0-0
5 CAR @ ARZ LT S 68 / 68 0.3 0.2 0.5 -0.9 0.5 0-0 4
6 CAR @ MIN LT S 65 / 71 0.7 -0.3 0.0 0.6 0.4 1-1 2
7 SL @ CAR LT S 62 / 62 3.2 0.7 0.0 2.1 0.4 0-0 1 2
8 CAR @ TB LT S 62 / 64 5.2 2.2 0.0 2.6 0.4 0-0 1
9 ATL @ CAR LT S 77 / 77 -0.1 1.3 0.0 -1.9 0.5 0-0 1 1
10 CAR @ SF LT S 67 / 67 -0.4 0.5 0.0 -1.4 0.5 0-0 4
11 NE @ CAR LT S 58 / 58 5.5 2.5 0.0 2.6 0.4 0-0
12 CAR @ MIA LT S 73 / 73 1.3 1.2 0.0 -0.4 0.5 0-0 1 2
13 TB @ CAR LT S 60 / 64 -0.9 1.6 0.0 -2.9 0.4 0-0 1

His 22.7 overall rating is the best among ALL of our Offensive players, with Ben Hartsock's 12.0 overall rating coming in next, a full 10 points less. Gross's ranking is also good for fourth in the league at the OT position. One thing is certain, Jordan Gross's play has been a catalyst to the improvement of Cam Newton, and we will need him to continue this performance down the stretch.

Next is free agent pickup and familiar face Travelle Wharton. Wharton was picked up after the many injuries to offensive guard, including the likes of Garry Williams and Amini Silatolu, both week 1 starters. There were questions of Wharton's effectiveness coming off an injury while he played for the Cincinatti Bengals. But it's been a warm welcome for Wharton, who posted an 11.7 overall rating, with a 4.2 pass block rating and a 6.7 rush block rating. Wharton's score is good for third on the team overall offensively, showing our top three offensive performers being blockers (Gross, Hartsock, and Wharton). The veteran presence on the offensive line has been great for Cam's blindside, and is an obvious reason for this team's effectiveness in short yardage situations. One thing's for sure about this season, which is that it's nice to have reunited Gross, Wharton, and Kalil on a line that was infamous for pounding the rock down team's throats back in the late 2000s.

Next, we take a look at the defensive trenches. This defense has been absolutely dominant this season stopping the run and rushing the passer, and it all starts in the trenches. In almost every offseason since Kris Jenkins departed to New York, Carolina Panthers fans could be heard clamoring for finding a new defensive tackle or two. We were spoiled to have one of the most dominant defensive lines in history during the early 2000s, and unfortunately the front office hadn't done much to address this issue. We saw two defensive tackles taken in 2010, but it was clear that we needed more than mid-round talent to shape up this rush defense. And we sure got it this season.

Play Counts Ratings
Pos. Name Total Run Def. Pass Rush Pass Cov. Overall Run Def. Pass Rush Pass Cov. Penalty # of Pen QB Sk QB Ht QB Hu BP Tks Ass MT Stops















DL Star Lotulelei 438 180 256 2 14.0 11.8 0.0 1.5 0.7 1-1 2 4 13 0 28 3 2 27
DL Greg Hardy 638 222 394 22 12.5 7.5 6.1 0.5 -1.6 5-0 7 16 32 0 30 4 5 30
DL Kawann Short 377 121 253 3 9.9 5.4 3.1 0.5 0.9 1-0 2 7 13 0 16 1 2 14
DB Captain Munnerlyn 717 255 15 447 8.6 3.8 -1.0 3.6 2.2 5-2 0 1 1 1 43 6 2 18
LB Thomas Davis 727 262 76 389 7.5 -1.7 -0.7 9.1 0.8 1-0 4 2 11 0 78 14 16 42

For those of you who are unsure of what you are looking at, this is the Top Five defensive players on the team by PFF's overall ranking. Notice anything funny? The top THREE are defensive lineman, including our new toys in Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. To put this in perspective, Star Lotulelei is ranked 14th among all active defensive tackles and Kawann Short is ranked 19th. Both are having absolutely amazing rookie years at a position that often requires a year or two to fully develop. Star and Kawann both have logged 13 quarterback hurries and two sacks, while Star's 27 defensive stops (solo defensive tackles that constitute an offensive failure) is good for fourth on the team.

Snap counts wise both of them have not seen the amount of snaps that players like Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly have, which is a blessing. This team is blessed with having a solid rotation at defensive tackle with Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole (who PFF rates terribly), along with the added advantage of having a versatile defensive end in Greg Hardy who can kick inside to under tackle. Still though, having this kind of production is something we could have only dreamed of. Dwan Edwards ranks 33rd overall at defensive tackles with a 4.1 overall rating, so the depth at under tackle is great to have for the later part of the season, and the playoffs. While our defense was pretty damn good last year, the additions of these two young lineman has kick started an elite defensive unit that can only get better over time.

Backs

Cam Newton boasts an impressive 9.5 rating running the ball, leading all quarterbacks in the league. Part of his great rushing grade is the fact that he's not rushing the ball more than 8 or so times a game, where other backs like Williams, Tolbert, and Stewart will garner the most carries. Of all 368 rushing attempts, Cam only holds 82 credited carries, which factors out to about 22% of all rushes at about 7 carries per game. So his metric's will be more effective by design because he carries the ball so rarely and his carries often come from scrambles. Cam should end the season around 110 total rushes with about 593 yards and 9 TDs, a respectable stat line for any quarterback but not as high as we've seen before.

Of all of the running backs, Mike Tolbert produced the highest grade with a 4.5 grade. DeAngelo Williams boasts a pedestrain 1.2 while Jonathan Stewart's grade is -1.8. This isn't super surprising, as the rushing attack has been a three to four headed monster all season. Stewart's appeared to still be dealing with coming back from his injury, while Williams missed a game with an injury of his own. Carolina's rushing attack is still quite potent, posting the 6th best rushing attack by PFF's standards. It remains to be seen if the rushing attack can get back up off the ground but thus far it's been exactly what we needed. Most offensive statistics are going to be down as well due to the better field position provided by better special teams and defensive play.

Linebackers


Pos. Name Total Run Def. Pass Rush Pass Cov. Overall Run Def. Pass Rush Pass Cov. Penalty # of Pen QB Sk QB Ht QB Hu BP Tks Ass MT Stops

































LB Luke Kuechly 727 262 48 417 1.9 4.9 -2.2 -2.0 1.2 2-0 1 0 6 0 78 17 10 44
LB Thomas Davis 727 262 76 389 7.5 -1.7 -0.7 9.1 0.8 1-0 4 2 11 0 78 14 16 42
LB A.J. Klein 116 52 7 57 0.5 -1.4 0.8 0.9 0.2 0-0 2 0 1 0 12 2 3 8
LB Chase Blackburn 105 61 1 43 -2.5 -2.8 0.4 -0.1 0.0 0-0 0 0 1 0 7 2 4 5
LB Jon Beason 63 31 0 32 -3.7 0.9 0.0 -4.8 0.2 1-0 0 0 0 0 8 2 3 4
LB Jordan Senn 22 1 4 17 -1.5 0.0 -0.4 -0.6 -0.5 1-0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 1

At linebacker, PFF hasn't been too kind to any of our linebackers other than Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Thomas Davis's overall rating of 7.5 is good for 8th in the league at 4-3 Outside Linebacker. Davis's only real weakness by PFF's standard is his rush defense, which isn't a big deal when you have Luke Kuechly and four talented defensive lineman making plays. PFF appears to be one of the few outlets who truly recognize what a force Thomas Davis is, even having him listed as BETTER than Luke Kuechly. Now, their stats aren't a be-all-end-all, but it's nice to see someone giving him some recognition. Davis is one of the most talented OLB's in the game, able to play the SAM and WILL positions at a moment's notice. He's doing pretty much everything a defensive coordinator can ask, and doing it quite well at that. On the other hand, Luke Kuechly's grade is quite a bit lower, part of which being a result of struggles in the pass rushing and pass coverage departments. Honestly, this is probably a fair grade for Kuechly in some aspects. Kuechly has never been known as a pass rusher, and we've seen him get beat a few times in pass coverage. Kuechly's made some great plays as far as interceptions and tackles go, but there is no cushion allowed for "splash" plays in PFF's grading. Still, Kuechly's 4.9 rush defense rating is good for 5th in the league. Kuechly's obvious strength is having a nose for the football and shutting down the run, but this shows that there's areas of his game that he can master and get better at. A scary thought for a player who is already highly touted as one of the best at his position after 1.75 seasons of play!

Receivers

As one would expect, Steve Smith leads all of our receivers with an 8.1 overall grade, good for 22nd in the league. One must remember that PFF accounts for all aspects of a player's game (receiving and blocking). Steve Smith has been all we expect this year, making plays when he's thrown to and throwing wicked blocks when he doesn't have the ball. He's not lighting up the receiving stat sheets this year, as he's on pace for just under 1,000 yards and 4 TDs. But he's been there to move the chains and make plays when we need him, which is the perfect role for a player who's going into his 13th season.

Greg Olsen's the next in line, with a 6.1 overall rating. However, almost all of his rank comes from the receiving game, where he's been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Last season we saw a lot of yards left on the field cause Cam simply wasn't finding Olsen when he was wide open, but this season Olsen's become a bigger part of the offense. He won't be setting any career highs, but again the presence of an elite defense will reduce many offensive stats by proxy.

Ted Ginn's boasted a higher grade than Brandon LaFell, posting a 3.6 and 0.1 respectively. They've both been solid this season, but Ginn seems to be a more consistent target for Cam in the passing game. LaFell's run blocking has always been his strong suit, and it shows with his 1.8 rating. They are both on pace for pedestrian receiving seasons, both on pace for a little over 750 yards receiving. We won't have any wide receivers going to the Pro Bowl this year, but we have a pretty solid receiving corp all around.

Defensive Backs

Play Counts Ratings
Pos. Name Total Run Def. Pass Rush Pass Cov. Overall Run Def. Pass Rush Pass Cov. Penalty # of Pen QB Sk QB Ht QB Hu BP Tks Ass MT Stops















DB Captain Munnerlyn 717 255 15 447 8.6 3.8 -1.0 3.6 2.2 5-2 0 1 1 1 43 6 2 18
DB James Dockery 17 1 1 15 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 -0.2 0.1 0-0 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 1
DB D.J. Moore 58 16 0 42 -0.4 0.1 0.0 -0.7 0.2 0-0 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 1
DB Josh Norman 103 35 0 68 -2.1 0.1 0.0 -2.7 0.5 0-0 0 0 0 0 3 0 1 2
DB Charles Godfrey 114 49 5 60 -1.8 -2.0 0.5 -0.5 0.2 0-0 1 0 0 0 8 1 2 2
DB Josh Thomas 255 99 0 156 0.4 2.5 0.0 -3.4 1.3 0-0 0 0 0 0 21 3 1 8
DB Colin Jones 33 3 1 29 -0.1 -1.0 -0.1 1.0 0.0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
DB Michael Mitchell 639 221 16 402 -0.4 -1.2 0.9 -0.2 0.1 1-0 3 0 1 0 31 5 10 9
DB Melvin White 454 141 1 312 -1.9 1.1 -0.1 -4.0 1.1 3-0 0 0 0 0 24 4 5 11
DB Quintin Mikell 402 165 12 225 1.0 -3.8 1.3 3.6 -0.1 1-0 1 0 1 0 27 4 5 11
DB Drayton Florence 391 97 1 293 7.0 -0.6 -0.1 6.1 1.6 3-0 0 0 0 0 16 1 1 5
DB Robert Lester 294 84 5 205 5.3 0.5 -0.5 4.8 0.5 0-0 0 0 0 0 15 3 1 3

The defensive backfield is a bit of a mess, which is to be expected. The "Legion of Whom" is made up of a lot of stop-gap type free agent pick ups and young talent. However, three players in particular have stood out this season, and it shows in the PFF table.

Captain Munnerlyn has been a target of a great deal of flack since the beginning of the season, but PFF has him ranked as the 4th best overall player on this defense and the 13th best overall corner in the league. His coverage and rush defense ratings are relatively balanced at 3.8 and 3.6. He's definitely shown some improvement this year, but the dropped interceptions and the blown deep coverage will catch the ire of any fan. Still, I'm glad we resigned him. He's an outstanding defensive playmaker who definitely deserves a spot on this defense.

Drayton Florence is a pickup I liked from day one. He's nothing special, he's not going to light up the stat sheet or be a true shutdown corner, but he brings some veteran experience to this defense. Routinely jumping routes and making tackles, we get what we paid for here. He's been beaten a few times this season but he's also shown he can still take the ball to the house if a quarterback makes an errant throw his way. He sports a 7.0 rating good for 16th in the league at that position. He may not technically be starting, but he's seen the field quite a bit as shown by his 391 snaps.

The biggest surprise on this list is Robert Lester. While he's impressed me with his flashy plays and decent coverage skills, I was never impressed with him as an every down safety. I liked the idea of having him rotate with the veteran Quintin Mikell, but his rating came as a bit of a shock. His 5.3 rating is good for 11th in the league at safety. Now, expectations must be tempered here as he hasn't even played half the snaps of the top 10 safeties above him. Still, he's flashing some promise and he will probably stick around for years to come, whether it be as depth or as a starter.

Special Teams:

Graham Gano is ranked as the 2nd overall kicker in the league by PFF. Honestly, there isn't much to be said about this. He's missed a few, but whenever we've put him out there and we really need field goals, he nails it and can make some far attempts at that. Brad Nortman is ranked 6th at the punter position, and he's been a big part of helping our defense stop opposing offenses. It's always harder to take the ball 80+ yards coming off a punt.

Which players have surprised you most this season? Share with us in the comments! And make sure to join us later this week for an in depth look at Cam Newton using PFF's metrics, along with all of your Saints/Panthers coverage.

All statistics and graphics came from ProFootballFocus.com, an amazing premium statistics site! We encourage you to also suscribe to PFF Premium Stats. You can do so here.

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