FanPost

Are the Panthers a Better Team Today?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Now that most of the offseason additions have been made, although I am certain at least one or two more guys will be added once the cuts start taking place, the question I have asked myself is: Are the Panthers today better than they were after the loss to the 49ers? I began to think about it after I heard the post draft press conference where the question was posed to Ron Rivera. He gave a typical coach answer,

"I think we definitely can be."

I kind of chuckled while thinking there is no way this team is better today than they were last year and all the "experts" have the Panthers with one of if not the worse offseason. So I decided to take a look at the team position by position for comparison to see, on paper, how this current team stacks up. I will start with the top ranked defense first. (I did not take into consideration UDFA)

D-Line

2013

LE: Charles Johnson, Frank Alexander

DT: Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short

DT: Dwan Edwards, Colin Cole

RE: Greg Hardy, Mario Addison

2014

LE: Charles Johnson, Cony Ealy

DT: Star Lotulelei, Dwan Edwards

DT: Kawann Short, Colin Cole

RE: Greg Hardy, Mario Addison

Better/Worse: Better

Whenever you add a first round talent you are going to be better. Add to that the growth and development of Star and KK, and you are looking at the best defensive front in football. Yeah, I know St. Louis has a very, very good front too but the Panthers go a solid three deep at the ends with Wes Horton and Frank Alexander, whom are also young and developing.

Linebackers

2013

WLB: Chase Blackburn, AJ Klein

MLB: Luke Kuechly, Jordan Senn

SLB: Thomas Davis, Jason Williams

2014

WLB: AJ Klein, Chase Blackburn

MLB: Luke Kuechly, Chase Blackburn

SLB: Thomas Davis, Jason Williams

Better/Worse: Even

I could say that this group is going to be better because one can assume that Kuechly and Klein are going to progress, but for the sake of argument I will say that it's a wash between last year and this year.

Cornerbacks

2013

CB: Drayton Florence, Josh Thomas

CB: Melvin White, James Dockery

NB: Captain Munnerlyn

2014

CB: Antoine Cason, Josh Thomas

CB: Melvin White, Josh Norman

NB: Charles Godfrey, Bene Benwikere

Better/Worse: Better

I am really intrigued by the prospect of Godfrey moving to cornerback. I have him slated in at nickel just because that's what DG and Rivera had been saying. I think this years group is better because (1) Antoine Cason is better than Florence, (2) Melvin White year two will be better than Melvin White year one, and (3) this year has better depth. I think Cason could have a really big year and I am not ready to say Godfrey will be better than Munnerlynn, but this could be a really solid set of cornerbacks.

Safeties

2013

SS: Mike Mitchell, Robert Lester

FS: Quintin Mikell, Colin Jones

2014

SS: Roman Harper, Robert Lester

FS: Thomas Decoud, Tre Boston

Better/Worse: Even

I wanted to say better because I really think it can be, but Mitchell was such a beast last year and I have to see how much Harper has left. I think Decoud is an upgrade over Mikel and the depth this year is better with the drafting of Boston so for that I think it is at least even from last year to this year.

Defense

Better/Worse: Better

So did the second rank defense get better? In my opinion I think it clearly did. The core guys are still here, young players are developing, and the return of Godfrey is going to be a nice boost. Expect another huge year out of the Panthers defense.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now we transition to the side of the ball that has been highly scrutinized all off-season long.

O-Line

2013

LT: Jordan Gross, Nate Chandler

LG: Travelle Wharton, Geoff Hangartner

C: Ryan Kalil, Geoff Hangartner

RG: Chris Scott, Nate Chandler

RT: Byron Bell, Nate Chandler

2014

LT: Byron Bell, Nate Chandler

LG: Amini Silatolu, Edmund Kugbila

C: Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner

RG: Trai Turner, Chris Scott

RT: Nate Chandler, Gary Williams

Better/Worse: Worse

There is just no way anybody could justify that this current group is better. Obviously, last year's group got decimated by injuries but they were pretty solid all year. I could be wrong but I think the Panthers pick up a tackle at some point in the summer, but at this point in time this group is worse.

QB/RB/FB

2013

QB: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson

RB: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart

FB: Mike Tolbert, Richie Brockel

2014

QB: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson

RB: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart

FB: Mike Tolbert, Tyler Gaffney

Better/Worse: Slightly Better

I grouped these together because the main guys stayed the same. Given the added depth at RB, the hope that Stewart can stay healthy, and the continued development of Cam Newton I think the 2014 version will be slightly better than the 2013.

WR/TE

2013

WR1: Steve Smith

WR2: Brandon Lafell

WR3: Ted Ginn

WR4: Domenik Hixon

TE: Greg Olsen, Ben Harstock

2014

WR1: Kelvin Benjamin

WR2: Jerricho Cotchery

WR3: Tiquan Underwood

WR4: Jason Avant

TE: Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson

Better/Worse: Better

I am saying better just because I am so tired of hearing people say that we lost our top 4 receivers and acting like they were dominant. First off, I would of not have wanted to pay Lafell and Ginn that type of money that they got from other teams, on the contrary, even though I understand the cutting of Smith I would prefer him in Carolina even with that salary because he is the greatest Panther all time. Back to the point. When you look at Lafell, Ginn, and Hixon compared to Cotchery, Underwood, and Avant as a group, the three this year are collectively better in my opinion. Also, I think management really does believe Tavarres King or Marvin McNutt can at least factor for playing time. Below I have assembled two charts comparing last year's stats of each group. The stats given to Benjamin are the average of the top 10 rookie WR from the 2013 season.

Name

Rec

Yards

TD

Smith

64

745

4

Lafelll

49

627

5

Ginn

36

556

5

Hixon

7

55

1

Totals

156

1983

15

Name

Rec

Yards

TD

Benjamin

46

623

4

Cotchery

46

602

10

Underwood

24

440

4

Avant

38

447

2

Totals

154

2112

20

The only person I do not seeing at least emulating his stats from last year is Jason Avant. Maybe I am wrong but I see him filling the role Hixon was last year. I think everybody else can have the same kind of stats with Benjamin and Underwood, I see him taking on the Ginn role, trending up. Also, I think the tight end group is improved with the addition of Dickson. That was a quiet, under the table move by Gettleman that can prove to pay off big nicely. I think this group as a whole is just as good as the one last year. One thing that might set them back is Cam's injury and the lack of chemistry they have right now with one another, and for that I should of really put even but again I put better out of spite (If Jerry Seinfeld can try to return a jacket out of spite I can give a better out of spite).

Offense

Better/Worse: Even with a chance to be better

Let's face it our offense last year did not set any records so to out due last year is really not that daunting of a task. They were a ball controlling offense that did not take any risk and scored enough to win. This offense can at least be that. I expect the Panthers to be at the top of the league in time of possession again and be a methodical type of offense. Rivera and DG have stated that they are going to run the ball, but I am going have to wait and see if the line can create holes and protect Cam before I can say that this offense will be better.

So there you have it. I think this team stacks up very well against the NFC South champions of last year. Again, it is still way too early to really project much but I now believe Ron Rivera when he says that this team can be better than last years. Not to say that they will duplicate or even surpass 12 wins but I expect them to be very competitive based on that defense alone. Let me know what you think!

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