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Who will be the Panthers 2022 breakout star?

A couple of young veterans on the defensive side of the ball could blossom from contributors to impact players.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers have seemingly shored up a host of roster gaps this offseason with some solid free agent signings and good draft picks. The offensive line should be better in 2022 when compared to last year and the same should hold true at linebacker and safety. While the roster looks stronger than a year ago after bringing in a slew of new faces, the Panthers also need a few of last year’s returning players to have breakout seasons in 2022.

Here are the leading candidates with “breakout star” potential. Since these are already the most likely players who could make the leap next year, I’m only using three ratings for their breakout potential - “not very likely”, “somewhat likely”, and “highly likely”.

WR Terrace Marshall Jr.

2021 stats: 13 games, 422 offensive snaps (37%), 17 receptions, 137 yards

The 2021 second round pick really struggled as a rookie. He was targeted just 30 times on the season and on those plays Carolina’s quarterbacks had an abysmal 40.7 passer rating. To put that in context, passes targeting Robbie Anderson had a 50.5 passer rating, DJ Moore had a 72.0 rating, and Brandon Zylstra a 117.1 rating. Terrace is an elite athlete but struggled to get open and produce as a rookie. He still might be at least another year away before making a real contribution.

Break out probability: Not very likely

CB C.J. Henderson

2021 stats (with Carolina): 10 games, 282 defensive snaps (26%), 31 tackles, 121.6 passer rating allowed

The Panthers traded their 2022 third round pick and tight end Dan Arnold during the season last year to acquire Henderson from the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 10 games with the Panthers the second-year corner struggled in coverage. He was targeted 29 times and gave up 22 receptions. He allowed a passer rating of 121.6 when targeted which was by far the worst among the Panthers regular corners. By way of comparison, rookie fifth-rounder Keith Taylor allowed a 112.5 passer rating, Myles Hartsfield was at 106.5, AJ Bouye 91.0, Donte Jackson 86.5, and Stephon Gilmore 78.6. The fact that Henderson is a former Top 10 pick is irrelevant after two full seasons. He is what he is at this point - a young corner entering this third NFL season who continues to struggle in coverage.

Break out probability: Not very likely

DE Marquis Haynes

2021 stats: 17 games, 223 defensive snaps (21%), 20 tackles, three sacks, eight pressures

Haynes joined the Panthers as a fourth round pick in 2018 and keeps getting better each year. Over the last two seasons he has racked up 38 tackles, seven sacks, and 18 pressures while playing as a situational edge rusher. His Pro Football Focus grade of 72.0 last year was among the highest on the Panthers defense. Between his improving play and the departure of Haason Reddick, Haynes should have plenty of opportunity in 2022 to not only get more snaps, but to make an even greater impact.

Breakout probability: Somewhat likely

OL Brady Christensen

2021 stats: 16 games, six starts, 480 snaps (45% of team’s total), 62.4 PFF rating

Christensen had a decent rookie season despite getting shifted across multiple positions on the offensive line and never having the benefit of continuity. The 2021 third round pick and former All-America left tackle from BYU will likely move to guard after the Panthers drafted tackle Ikem Ekwonu at No. 6 overall in this year’s draft. Carolina has one starting guard position likely up for grabs, and Christensen could claim it. His PFF grade of 62.4 last year ranked third among all Panthers offensive linemen, trailing only Taylor Moton (77.8) and Matt Paradis (66.9). If Christensen locks down a starting guard spot, gets some consistency, and is surrounded by an overall improved line, he could have an impactful season.

Breakout possibility: Somewhat likely

DE Yetur Gross-Matos

2021 stats: 14 games, 350 defensive snaps (38%), 28 tackles, 3.5 sacks, seven pressures

Will Year 3 be the season Yetur Gross-Matos finally delivers on his potential? The 2020 second round pick has played in 26 career games with 52 tackles, six sacks, and 19 pressures. As a rookie in 2020 he played in 48% of the Panthers defensive snaps and last year that number dropped to 38%. He has been a fine contributor throughout his young career — not good, not bad, just fine — but he now has the opportunity to be an impact player. Yetur is currently penciled in as a starter for 2022 to fill the void left by Haason Reddick. Given his potential and what should be a significantly expanded role this season, 2022 could be the year Gross-Matos makes the leap.

Breakout potential: Highly likely

LB Frankie Luvu

2021 stats: 16 games, 249 defensive snaps (24%), 43 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven pressures

Luvu joined the Panthers last year as an unheralded free agent who went undrafted in 2018 but went on to carve out a meaningful role as a regular defensive contributor in Carolina. Despite playing just 249 snaps (24% of the team’s total) last year, Frankie managed to rack up 43 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, seven pressures, and three fumble recoveries. He seemed to somehow be in the middle of almost every big defensive play. The Panthers signed him to a 2-year, $9 million extension this offseason and he should have a much larger role next year. Don’t be surprised if Frankie Luvu is the team’s breakout player in 2022

Breakout probability: Highly likely

Poll

Who is your favorite to be the Panthers breakout star?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Terrace Marshall Jr.
    (84 votes)
  • 5%
    C.J. Henderson
    (41 votes)
  • 3%
    Marquis Haynes
    (29 votes)
  • 14%
    Brady Christensen
    (109 votes)
  • 33%
    Yetur Gross-Matos
    (254 votes)
  • 32%
    Frankie Luvu
    (247 votes)
764 votes total Vote Now