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Final 2021 ratings for the Panthers defense, per Pro Football Focus

Here’s how all of the key players stacked up from the Panthers 2021 defense.

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NFL: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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.

90-100: Elite
80-89: High quality
70-79: Above average
60-69: 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 - Defense

Player POS PFF Grade PFF Pos Rank DEF Snaps DEF Snap %
Player POS PFF Grade PFF Pos Rank DEF Snaps DEF Snap %
DaQuan Jones DT 66.4 36th of 128 DI 641 59%
Derrick Brown DT 64.2 43rd of 128 DI 632 58%
Bravvion Roy DT 48.4 103rd of 128 DI 341 31%
Marquis Haynes DE 72.0 NA 223 21%
Haason Reddick DE 67.1 50th of 113 ED 854 78%
Yetur Gross-Matos DE 63.9 62nd of 113 ED 350 32%
Brian Burns DE 60.8 77th of 113 ED 840 77%
Morgan Fox DE 56.4 76th of 128 DI 563 52%
Frankie Luvu LB 84.8 NA 249 23%
Shaq Thompson LB 72.1 12th of 89 LB 798 73%
Jermaine Carter Jr LB 42.6 72nd of 89 LB 853 78%
Stephon Gilmore CB 77.1 12th of 121 CB 305 28%
A.J. Bouye CB 66.8 40th of 121 CB 403 37%
Donte Jackson CB 61.3 72nd of 121 CB 718 66%
Rashaan Melvin CB 59.2 NA 248 23%
Keith Taylor CB 58.0 89th of 120 CB 450 41%
C.J. Henderson CB 50.7 110th of 121 CB 282 26%
Jeremy Chinn S 70.6 30th of 94 S 1,017 93%
Sean Chandler S 60.7 58th of 94 S 539 50%
Juston Burris S 56.6 79th of 94 S 420 39%
Myles Hartsfield S 47.1 91st of 94 S 473 43%

Defensive tackles

PFF graded DaQuan Jones (66.4) and Derrick Brown (64.2) as having average seasons which, in my subjective opinion, seems a little low. They gave Bravvion Roy a dismal 48.4 “poor” grade in his second NFL season after registering 30 tackles but just just three quarterback pressures, one hurry, and zero sacks.

Defensive ends

Surprisingly, Marquis Haynes led this group with a 72.0 grade in somewhat limited action. The fourth-year pro had a career-high 20 tackles with eight pressures, five quarterback hits, and three sacks.

Haason Reddick’s “average” grade of 67.1, which ranks 50th of 113 edge rushers, seems disrespectfully low after racking up 68 tackles, 11 sacks, 33 pressures, and 12 tackles for loss. He was named a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Brian Burns also had a shockingly low grade of 60.8 - nearly “below average” and ranking 77th at his position, which probably reflects the growing chatter about him being something of a “sack hunter” who isn’t all that interested in defending the run. But still, Burns was named a Pro Bowler with 50 tackles, nine sacks, 31 pressures, and 13 tackles for loss, despite PFF being really down on him. I think PFF just flat out got it wrong with both Reddick and Burns.

Yetur Gross-Matos graded out slightly higher than Brian Burns with a 63.9 “average” season while Morgan Fox had an uninspiring 56.4 “below average” result.

Linebackers

All hail Frankie Luvu! I wrote often in my “Big Mo” series about how he was by far my most pleasant surprise this season. Luvu’s 84.8 grade was the single highest among all Panthers defenders. Despite playing just 249 snaps he racked up 43 tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven pressures, 1.5 sacks, and three fumble recoveries.

Shaq Thompson was his consistently “above average” self with a 72.1 grade. Meanwhile, Jermaine Carter Jr’s grade of 42.6 was the single lowest among all of Carolina’s defensive players and ranked just 72nd of 89 linebackers. The Panthers need a better solution at middle linebacker next season.

Cornerbacks

Stephon Gilmore was as good as advertised and his “above average” 77.1 graded ranked 12th among 121 corners. AJ Bouye (66.8) and Donte Jackson (61.3) fell into the “average” camp per PFF, though Donte’s rating seems low to me. I thought he’d be closer to 70 than 60.

Rashaan Melvin disappointed for a seven-year vet with a 59.2 “below average” grade while rookie Keith Taylor’s 58.0 grade was just fine for a young fifth rounder. The most concerning result is CJ Henderson’s 50.7 grade which bordered on “poor”. Carolina gave up a 2022 third round pick for Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2020 draft, and will need much better performance from him next year.

Safeties

Jeremy Chinn had an “above average” season though his 70.6 grade isn’t spectacular. I think PFF rewards him for his awesome tackling (107 total on the year) and dings him for his sometimes shaky pass defense (105.3 quarterback rating when targeted), which is fair.

PFF wasn’t overly impressed with Sean Chandler (60.7), Juston Burris (56.6) or Myles Hartsfield (47.1). Carolina needs to add some quality to the safety position in 2022, though it’s not the most pressing roster gap the team is facing.

Overall, Carolina’s defense had a weird statistical season. They allowed just 305 yards per game, which was second best in the NFL, but surrendered 23.8 points per game, which ranked just 21st. As a unit the Panthers defense got very little help from Carolina’s offense which was rife with three-and-outs and punting from deep in their own territory. The Panthers D was often playing with their backs against the wall.

Carolina’s strength in 2021 was its defense. As the Panthers continue their rebuilding “process”, they have a solid foundation upon which to build.