The good people at Pro Football Focus spend enormous amounts of time breaking down every player’s performance on every individual play throughout the season. In the end, players can then be given a final rating somewhere between zero (poor) and 100 (elite). If you want to learn more about their methodology, you can read PFF’s Player Grade overview.
Most of us as fans view PFF ratings this way: “If the grade fits my opinion of a player then it’s credible, but if the grade conflicts with my conclusions then PFF is stupid garbage and should never be trusted.” I’m not advocating for PFF, rather I’m just providing one set of data that’s at least interesting. Here’s generally how to interpret PFF grades.
80-89: High quality
70-79: Above average
50-59: Below average
Below 50: Poor
Based on free, public information available at Pro Football Focus here are the 2021 final ratings for the Carolina Panthers key offensive contributors. Note, for player positional rankings PFF only includes players who cross a certain snaps threshold, therefore some players with lesser snap counts will show “NA”.
Final PFF grades - Offense
|Player||POS||PFF Grade||PFF POS Rank||G||Off Snaps||Off Snap %|
|Player||POS||PFF Grade||PFF POS Rank||G||Off Snaps||Off Snap %|
|Sam Darnold||QB||55.2||37th of 39 QB||12||771||67%|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||80.3||12th of 61 HB||7||272||24%|
|Chuba Hubbard||RB||64.9||46th of 61 HB||17||465||40%|
|Ameer Abdullah||RB||62.4||53rd of 61 HB||11||265||23%|
|D.J. Moore||WR||77.1||27th of 132 WR||17||992||86%|
|Brandon Zylstra||WR||63.8||88th of 132 WR||13||333||29%|
|Robby Anderson||WR||60.6||98th of 132 WR||17||978||85%|
|Terrace Marshall Jr||WR||53.3||125th of 132 WR||13||422||37%|
|Tommy Tremble||TE||55.2||62nd of 73 TE||16||521||45%|
|Ian Thomas||TE||52.1||69th of 73 TE||17||703||61%|
|Matt Paradis||C||66.9||17th of 39 C||9||568||49%|
|Pat Elflein||C||50.1||37th of 39 C||9||534||46%|
|John Miller||G||52.1||71st of 84 G||10||656||57%|
|Dennis Daley||G||51.9||72st of 84 G||15||573||50%|
|Michael Jordan||G||50.8||74th of 84 G||11||703||61%|
|Trent Scott||G||40.7||84th of 84 G||14||335||29%|
|Taylor Moton||T||77.8||22nd of 84 T||17||1,149||100%|
|Brady Christensen||T||62.4||63rd of 84 T||16||480||42%|
|Cameron Erving||T||56.0||75th of 84 T||9||589||51%|
Sam Darnold and Cam Newton were equally ineffective leading the offense with PFF grades in the mid-50s, or “below average”. This passes the eye test. Darnold had the second worst grade among all 39 qualifying quarterbacks. The reality is almost any quarterback would have struggled behind this shoddy offensive line and undefined offensive scheme. Their teammates didn’t give them much help, but Sam and Cam didn’t do much to help themselves, either.
Christian McCaffrey performed at a “high quality” level per PFF, but that doesn’t help when he played less than one-quarter of the team’s snaps. Chuba Hubbard and Ameer Abdullah graded out as perfectly average for their position, which feels about right. That’s pretty good for a fourth-round rookie (Hubbard) and a seldom used career backup (Abdullah).
DJ Moore graded out as solidly above average and 27th overall at his position, but the rest of the wide receiver corps left much to be desired. This is especially true for Robby Anderson whose 60.6 rating was just a whisker away from a “below average” grade. Terrace Marshall struggled like many rookie wide receivers do, but we would’ve like to have seen a ranking better than 125th of 132 qualifying receivers from the second round pick.
The Panthers continued their post-Greg Olsen struggles at tight end. Tommy Tremble, the No. 83 pick (third round) in the 2021 draft, had his moments and gained some valuable experience despite his unimpressive 55.2 “below average” grade. Ian Thomas’ 52.1 grade nearly registered as “poor” and after four years it’s safe to say the Panthers should move on now that his rookie contract is up.
This is just a football abomination. Center Matt Paradis graded as a perfectly average starter and 17th overall at his position, and he was by far the best performer among guards and centers.
Guards John Miller (52.1), Dennis Daley (51.9), and Michael Jordan (50.8) graded out on the low end of “below average”. Trent Scott (40.7) was graded deep into “poor” territory and ranked dead last in the league at his position (84th of 84). As fans we knew this unit was a mess, and PFF validates this assessment.
First, the positive. Taylor Moton’s 77.8 grade was on the higher end of “above average” which isn’t surprising for the consistent, stalwart right tackle who has yet to make a Pro Bowl. He’s worth every penny of his four-year, $71 million extension that kicks in starting next season.
Next, the befuddling. The Panthers desperately need a solution at left tackle and they invested the No. 70 pick (third round) in the 2021 draft in Brady Christensen. Despite playing left tackle his entire life, Matt Rhule stubbornly did everything possible to shift the former BYU All-American to guard while starting veteran journeyman Cameron Erving at left tackle.
Erving started seven of the Panthers first nine games at left tackle, missing Weeks 5 and 7. In Week 5 Matt Rhule moved Moton from right tackle to the left side and started Christensen at right tackle, meaning neither player was at his natural position. In Week 7 Christensen finally started at left tackle.
Then things got frustrating. Erving didn’t play in Weeks 10-13 and Coach Rhule decided to start Dennis Daley at left tackle over Christensen. In five games between Weeks 8 and 12 Brady Christensen, a promising rookie, played a total of 74 offensive snaps. So much for player development. Following a Week 13 bye Erving was reinstated as the starter at left tackle for Weeks 14 and 15. Christensen started Week 14 at right guard (because why play him at left tackle when the season’s in the toilet and you’ve got a healthy Cameron Erving?) then Brady inexplicably didn’t play a single snap in Week 15.
Outside of Brady Christensen’s Week 7 spot start at left tackle, he didn’t start there again until Weeks 16-18. And how did he perform in those three games against pretty stiff competition from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice) and the New Orleans Saints? His average pass block grade in Weeks 16-18 from PFF was a solid 73.
PFF’s grades proved out what the eye test showed: Brady Christensen was better than both Cameron Erving and Dennis Daley. Christensen’s 62.4 grade is a low-end average starter. Erving’s 56.0 grade is “below average” while Daley’s 51.9 grade was nearly “poor”.
While Christensen’s 62.4 PFF grade was fine — not great, just fine — he should’ve played far more than 42 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and all of it should’ve been at left tackle instead of shifting across the offensive line. If Brady Christensen can develop into a league average left tackle and competently hold down that position, it would make a world of difference for the Panthers rebuild. He doesn’t need to be a Pro Bowler. He just needs to be consistently competent.
Instead of accelerating Christensen’s development at a crucial position of need, Matt Rhule spent most of the season investing valuable left tackle snaps in Cameron Erving, a struggling seven-year vet, and in Dennis Daley, a third-year late round pick who has yet to distinguish himself. We don’t know if Brady Christensen is the long-term answer at left tackle but we do know Coach Rhule wasted a lot of opportunities this year to find out. Panthers fans already have plenty of reasons to lack faith in Matt Rhule, and decisions like these only exacerbate it.
The Panthers offense was terrible in 2021, and PFF’s grades agree.