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Panthers 2017 season review: Defensive ends

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Here’s a review of the 2017 performance of the Panthers defensive end position group

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Position Recap

The Panthers received significant production from the defensive end position in 2017. I could also argue they failed to achieve all of their potential. The Panthers knew they needed to improve the position group and so they added a piece for the current season and a piece for the future. The addition of the ageless wonder Julius Peppers in the offseason was certainly the catalyst to the improved pass rush. In the NFL draft the Panthers looked to the future and added a very athletic Daeshon Hall to groom behind Peppers. Unfortunately Hall was lost to injury after only four games and playing zero snaps. The group experienced further set back late in the season when Charles Johnson was suspended for four games for failing a drug test. Fortunately his loss did not impact the playoff drive.

On the season the Panthers recorded 50 sacks, good for third in the NFL behind only the Jaguars (55) and Steelers (56). Panthers defensive ends accounted for 27.5 sacks of the 50 (55%). Here’s the Panthers five-man position group in the season opener.

Starters Week 1: Charles Johnson and Mario Addison

Bench: Julius Peppers, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall

Later in the season the Panthers would increase it to six for reasons I can only guess. I’m sure Charles Johnson’s suspension has something to do with it, that and Johnson was largely ineffective most of the season. After Hall went on injured reserve, the Panthers added Bryan Cox Jr. and Zack Moore.

Wildcard game starters: Mario Addison and Julius Peppers

Bench: Wes Horton, Bryan Cox Jr.

Inactive: Zack Moore, Charles Johnson

Here’s the bio data on the defensive ends currently on the roster:

Here are the stats from those registering stats during the 2017 season:

Now let’s talk specifics for each player.

Julius Peppers

$3.75 million 2017 Cap Hit

The plan when the Panthers signed Peppers was to play him only in pass rushing downs and they did that right up until Charles Johnson got suspended. Peppers would not only start those four games; he remained the starter into the playoffs. As a reserve Peppers registered 8.5 sacks in 11 games, just the kind of production you want from that role. As a starter his sack production dropped a bit, but all around he played well. Peppers eleven sacks on the season was the tenth time in his Hall of Fame career he has hit double digit sacks. He is now fourth on the all-time sack list and only needs six more in 2018 to move into third all time. For that reason, plus the fact he is still in great shape, I think Peppers comes back for one more season. The Panthers should make bringing Peppers back a priority and not try to nickel and dime him on the contract. He’s earned a few more dollars that what we paid him in 2017.

Mario Addison

$4.3 million 2017 cap hit; $8.9 million cap hit in 2018

In 2017 Addison was rewarded for his fine play in seasons’ past with a starting job and he responded. Addison began his Panthers career as a third down speed rusher specialist. Over time he increased his bulk and strength and developed into a three down defensive end. Addison posted a career highs in sacks (11) and tackles (44) and is a solid starter under contract for 2018. He is most effective on the right side lined up on the left tackle. His cap hit also makes him a value even with the increase in 2018 assuming he at least matches his 2017 production.

Wes Horton

$1.425 million cap in 2017; $1.2 million cap in 2018

Horton is a fifth-year undrafted free agent that the Panthers have waived three times in the past but they keep bringing him back. He also survived a suspension in 2015 so the Panthers must have seen something in the player. He responded in 2017 by playing in all 16 games as a reserve and registering a career highs in sacks, tackles and forced fumbles. Two of those forced fumbles were strip sacks, the premier play a defensive end can make. For the first time in his career, I see him entering training as a solid lock to make the roster as a reserve, especially at such a team friendly cap number.

Charles Johnson

$4.1 million cap hit in 2017; $3.75 million 2018 cap

Johnson was easily the biggest disappointment in the group. In spite of starting eleven games Johnson failed to register a sack on the season for the second time in his eleven year career (since his rookie season). Even if you focus only on Johnson as a run stopper versus a pass rusher I think he still had a bad season. The Panthers could save $3.5 million by cutting Johnson before June 1. I predict they will do just that.

Bryan Cox Jr.

$382k cap in 2017; $555k cap in 2018

As a rookie undrafted player out of Florida, Cox played in seven games but didn’t get a lot of snaps. When he did play though he showed well enough to be in the equation for a back-up role in 2018. Plus, I’m a firm believe that genes matter. His dad was a bad ass, three-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Dolphins back in the 90s. I predict the Panthers will continue to develop Cox in 2018.