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Mocking the Depth: Linebackers

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A look at the Carolina Panthers linebacker position after free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers' strongest position on defense is definitely the linebacker group. Between the two elite playmakers and the batch of young athletes backing them up, the Panthers are set up to continue to field a top level group for the next several years. The defense is fueled by their sideline to sideline skill and hard hitting style of play. Unfortunately, when you have a surplus of talent at one position, tough decisions are a certainty in the future.

Rookies

Jared Barber (UDFA)

Jeremy Cash (UDFA)

Jared Norris (UDFA)

Starters

MLB: Luke Kuechly

OLB: Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson

Depth

David Mayo, Brian Blechen, Ben Jacobs, A.J. Klein

Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will continue their dominant run as the best 4-3 linebacking duo in the NFL, and hopefully we will get more Pro Bowls and All Pro nods. Shaq Thompson and A.J. Klein will continue to split time at the remaining spot, though Shaq will probably start to get a bigger load than Klein in 2016. That's not a knock on Klein, who stepped in and played extremely well when Kuechly went down with a concussion last season. The unfortunate part here is that Klein probably won't be a Panther next season if he wants to start, and quite honestly he deserves that opportunity. It'll be a shame to see him go, and I'll enjoy watching him play. He's become quite the finished product in his time here.

When I look at the backups, it's probably going to come down to who is more of a special teams contributor for those last 2-3 roster spots. I wouldn't even call 2015 5th rounder David Mayo a lock to make the roster after the Panthers managed to nab Jeremy Cash and Jared Norris in free agency, both of which likely could have been drafted in the later rounds. Cash will need time to transition to linebacker, but it's possible he still finds himself on the field as a big nickel type guy or a heavier box safety. Norris could develop into a passable starter at linebacker, but it may be hard to do on a team so loaded with linebacker talent. Blechen and Ben Jacobs will make more of an impact on special teams, but I don't see them doing much more than that. If I had to take a guess, I'd say Cash and Mayo both make the final 53, but that's contingent on special teams play in the preseason. While Mayo, Cash, and Norris may bring more to the table on defense, the Panthers have 4 guys above them already who are proven commodities.

Who do you think will make the 53 man roster, Panther fans?