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Ratings for the Panthers defense at the bye, per Pro Football Focus

Derrick Brown is a beast!

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NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers are coming off a bye week sitting with a 4-8 record. With well over half the season now in the books, this is a good time to take a step back and see how each player is performing. While there’s no perfect way to grade performance, like it or not, but PFF is the methodology used by most fans. With free, public information available at PFF’s Panthers site, here’s how each of Carolina’s defensive players are faring thus far (min. 25% defensive snaps played):

Panthers defensive grades

Player Pos PFF Grade Position Rank Def Snaps Snap %
Player Pos PFF Grade Position Rank Def Snaps Snap %
Derrick Brown DT 85.5 8th of 125 601 72.41%
Matthew Ioannidis DT 67.6 34th of 125 474 57.11%
Brian Burns DE 65.8 57th of 120 719 86.63%
Marquis Haynes DE 64.4 65th of 120 338 40.72%
Yetur Gross-Matos DE 47.7 109th of 120 578 69.64%
Frankie Luvu LB 75.1 14th of 83 615 74.10%
Cory Littleton LB 70.1 24th of 83 287 34.58%
Shaq Thompson LB 66.4 37th of 83 764 92.05%
Jaycee Horn CB 67.7 38th of 121 650 78.31%
Keith Taylor CB 60.7 65th of 121 215 25.90%
Donte Jackson CB 55.0 84th of 121 442 53.25%
C.J. Henderson CB 50.9 103rd of 121 510 61.45%
Xavier Woods S 63.5 50th of 88 729 87.83%
Myles Hartsfield S 55.5 71st of 88 601 72.41%
Jeremy Chinn S 48.1 84th of 88 357 43.01%

The MVPs

All hail Derrick Brown! The 2020 first round pick was “good but not great” during his first two NFL seasons, but he has made the leap this year. Brown has already registered a career-high 50 tackles on his way to a stellar 85.5 PFF rating and No. 8 overall ranking for interior defensive linemen. He should make his first Pro Bowl this season.

Frankie Luvu comes in second with his 75.1 rating, good enough for 14th among all linebackers. After shining in limited snaps last year, Luvu has emerged as a force as a starter this season. His 76 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and four sacks are all career highs. Frankie just flies around the field wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.

The LVPs

In a discouraging twist, the two lowest-rated defensive players are youngsters Yetur Gross-Matos (47.7) and Jeremy Chinn (48.1). Both players were second round picks in 2020, but unlike Derrick Brown they’ve seemingly regressed this season.

Despite playing 578 snaps, Gross-Matos has just 1.5 sacks and eight pressures. Chinn has really only played in five games this year, but his performance isn’t jumping off the screen like it did during his rookie campaign. Let’s hope they can both right the ship before season’s end.

The pleasant surprise

Linebacker Cory Littleton (70.1) has been solid during his first seasons in Carolina. While he isn’t flashing Pro Bowl potential by any means, the 1-year, $2.6 million contract he signed this past offseason is a steal for the Panthers. Carolina should try to lock him up to reprise the same role next year.

The criminally underrated

Criticizing PFF grades is an industry unto itself, but I flat out scoff at Jaycee Horn’s 67.7 grade. PFF really thinks there’s 37 corners outplaying Jaycee Horn this season? Um, no.

The other is Brian Burns. While he has a tendency to be a “sack hunter” who sometimes fails to keep contain, the dude’s already racked up 53 tackles, 10 sacks, and 25 pressures. PFF has Burns ranked 57th of 120 defensive ends, or essentially league average. That, frankly, is ridiculous.