The Carolina Panthers have one preseason bout left against the Pittsburgh Steelers before they have to cut their roster, currently at 89 players, down to 53. The Panthers rarely enter a season with this many defined starters across the board, but they also have more questions than ever about how they want to balance their depth. With three quarterbacks, one struggling kicker, and 11 draft picks to find a home for, what will they ultimately do?
Two notes. First, this article is about the players who I think will ultimately make the roster. There are, however, a handful of guys on the bubble who could earn a spot with exceptional play on Friday. We’ll treat them in a separate space.
Second, the positions for all of these players is how they are listed on the depth chart on Panthers.com. Obviously, this staff loves versatility and Phil Snow’s defense, in particular, is known for moving guys around. Players like Brian Burns and Marquis Haynes are listed as defensive ends even though they can, and often will, flex out to an outside linebacker position in different fronts. They, along with Haason Reddick and Frankie Luvu, are likely going to play more fluid Edge roles than any traditional one position.
Quarterback (2): Sam Darnold, PJ Walker
Walker over Will Grier is a coin flip right now. Both have had great and terrible preseason performances. Both of their great performances were with the twos and their terrible ones were with the threes. Friday will decide how this really goes and only an indecisive front office is going to keep carrying both guys. If all else ends up being equal, I lean towards them keeping Walker because of the dimension added by his legs. Rhule values versatility.
Running back (3): Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Chuba Hubbard
This team has a lot of talent at other positions and will try to stash a fourth running back or a full back on their practice squad in the case of injuries rather than use that space on the 53-man roster. Trenton Cannon, who is going to make this roster as a kick returner, also provides some gameday versatility here even though he has been spending as much time with the wide receivers as the running backs.
Wide receiver (6): DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr, David Moore, Shi Smith, Keith Kirkwood
Draft picks and veterans are the story here. The bottom of this depth chart is highly competitive, but they didn’t keep Kirkwood through his concussion (that lasted most of camp) to give that roster spot to another player who hasn’t impressed. The truth of the rest of the wide receiver depth chart this camp is that they haven’t impressed, so Kirkwood gets the nod.
Offensive line (9): Matt Paradis, John Miller, Deonte Brown, Taylor Moton, Brady Christensen, Pat Elflein, Dennis Daley, Cameron Erving, Trent Scott
There are a couple of guys who the team would love to squeeze on the roster, but this is the best and most versatile combination of linemen. We’ll talk about the practice squad for the other guys.
Tight end (4): Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Colin Thompson
With no fullbacks, four tight ends make the roster for both run blocking and special teams purposes.
Defensive end (4): Brian Burns, Morgan Fox, Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes
These are easily the top four guys. There is room for some movement in this defensive roster based on the last game and special teams value.
Defensive tackle (4): Derrick Brown, DaQuan Jones, Daviyon Nixon, Bravvion Roy
Outside linebacker (4): Shaq Thompson, Haason Reddick, Frankie Luvu, Julian Stanford
Middle linebacker (3): Jermaine Carter, Clay Johnston, Paddy Fisher
Johnston and Fisher are here because the team needs bodies on special teams and I couldn’t justify predicting the team to keep more defensive and offensive linemen. As great as a beefy special teams unit would be to watch, the team needs to carry linebackers. Watch these two to see if either ball out against Pittsburgh. Otherwise expect some movement as other rosters get trimmed.
Cornerback (6): Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, A.J Bouye, Rashaan Melvin, Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, Keith Taylor
Safety (4): Jeremy Chinn, Juston Burris, Sam Franklin, Kenny Robinson
Special teams (4)
Kicker (1): Joey Slye
Slye has the yips. There is no other way around it, but between him and the guy they signed off the streets, I think the team is going to stick with the devil they know—and who they know has a cannon of a leg—,banking that they can get him sorted out. Don’t be surprised, however, if they find a new guy in the chum of another team’s cuts. Keep an eye on Jake Verity, currently in Baltimore, who they got an extended look at during their joint practices.
Punter (1): Joseph Charlton
Long snapper (1): J.J. Jansen
The Panthers are a brand new team under Scott Fitterer and Matt Rhule. I don’t think they would repeat the Harrison Butker-Graham Gano fiasco. I also don’t think that Thomas Fletcher is better, yet, than the aging Jansen. Long snapper is a position that you don’t mess with if you don’t have to. It’ll be interesting to see if Fletcher makes the practice squad.