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Panthers 2021 season opener countdown: 54 days to go

We’re counting down the days until the Panthers kick off the 2021 season.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

We’re 54 days away from the Carolina Panthers 2021 season opener, so that means today’s countdown piece is devoted to linebacker Shaq Thompson.

Thompson is entering his seventh season with the Panthers after having been drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft, out of Washington.

Thompson was a first-team All American in his senior season on a loaded Washington team. That Huskies squad had the likes of Budda Baker, Marcus Peters, Kevin King, Vita Vea, Sidney Jones, John Ross III, Dante Pettis, Jayden Mickens, Will Dissly, Cory Littleton and Danny Shelton.

It was a good year to join the Panthers in 2015, as Thompson and the Panthers played in Super Bowl 50, ultimately falling to the Denver Broncos.

Former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney saw enough in Thompson by 2018 to pick up his fifth-year option, which was in 2019. That season, Thompson put up a career high in tackles with 109.

Hurney then inked Thompson to a four-year, $54.2 million extension with the December 2019. Thompson’s average annual salary works out to $13.6 million. Spotrac currently lists him as the sixth highest-paid inside linebacker.

The move paid dividends. Thompson reached new career highs with 114 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 2020.

Pro Football Focus didn’t quite see it that way, relegating Thompson’s 2020 season to 57th place among all linebacker player grades. PFF gave Thompson a 49.8 grade, including a 45.0 coverage grade.

However, only 14 other linebackers were on the field for more defensive snaps in 2020 than Thompson. For example, Baltimore’s L.J. Fort is listed as PFF’s ninth best defensive grade in 2020, despite playing just 421 defensive snaps. That’s less than half the playing time that Thompson saw.

If we were to restrict player grades only to the linebackers who played at least 1,000 snaps, Thompson grades in as 16th best among linebackers.

How will Thompson perform in 2021? Judging by his ability to stay healthy, the amount of time he spends on the field and his relatively consistent performance, I wouldn’t be surprised if the experts perhaps begin to acknowledge Thompson’s value a little more.

Moreover, it looks like Thompson has beefed up a bit:

Let’s hope that extra muscle translates to great things for Thompson this year.