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After free agency and the draft, are the Panthers still a bottom-tier team?

I’m starting to get cautiously optimistic about the Panthers roster. The national media doesn’t share my sentiment.

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Minnesota Vikings v Carolina Panthers Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

This is the time of year when I tend to get overly optimistic as a Panthers fan.

As new players join the Panthers roster through free agency and the draft I start talking myself into how the upcoming year will be better than last year.

For example, as things stand now I’m hopeful Carolina’s offense can take a big step forward with the additions of center Bradley Bozeman, guard Austin Corbett, and rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu to revamp what was a porous line. Christian McCaffrey should be healthy and back to his All-Pro ways. If quarterback Sam Darnold can be just 10 percent better in Year 2 in Charlotte than he was last year, this represents at least a modest upgrade from the Darnold-Cam Newton-PJ Walker fiasco from a season ago.

Last year the Panthers offense scored just 17.9 points per game which ranked 29th of 32 teams. I’m hoping with these roster improvement Carolina’s offense in 2022 could be somewhere closer to the league average of around 23 points per game.

It could happen! Right?

On the defensive side of the ball I lament the departure of Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore but rationalize away his exit because the Panthers went just 2-6 over the eight games he played, so they can’t do much worse without him. Plus, 2021 first round rookie corner Jaycee Horn barely played last year and should be able to fill most of Gilmore’s void.

Losing defensive end Haason Reddick and his 68 tackles, 11 sacks, and 33 pressures is a huge blow, but I’m starting to talk myself into Yetur Gross-Matos making a leap in 2022, his third NFL season, now that he’s likely to inherit the starting spot.

Via free agency the Panthers upgraded the linebacker corps with Cory Littleton and Damien Wilson while also improving at safety by signing Xavier Woods. New addition defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis should compensate for the loss of DaQuan Jones, who quietly had a solid season last year for the Panthers.

In 2021 Carolina’s defense surrendered 23.8 points per game, which ranked 21st in the NFL. The Panthers defense was below average but not abysmal, especially considering the lousy support they got from the the team’s inept offense. I’m starting to think the Panthers 2022 defense could be close to at least league average.

It could happen! Right?

Well, perhaps not. Despite my rose-colored glasses, most of the updated NFL Power Rankings still have the Panthers among the league’s cellar-dwellers coming out of the draft. Pro Football Network is among the more bullish publications by having the Panthers at No. 25 in their power rankings, which is the same ranking as NFL.com.

NBC Sports ranks the Panthers 27th overall.

USA Today has the Panthers at No. 28, which is the same spot as the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.

CBS Sports currently ranks the Panthers at No. 30 in the league, above only the Texans and Falcons.

In the end, when I optimistically look at the Panthers 2022 roster compared to last year’s, I’m starting to talk myself into a team that’s just slightly below average. Not a good team, but not a bad team, either. The national media clearly sees the Panthers as a bad team though, usually placing them among the five worst in the league.

There’s still a lot of time between today and the beginning of the 2022 season and things can still change. But for now, I’m more optimistic about the Panthers being closer to an average team than a bad one, even with Sam Darnold leading the offense.

It could happen! Right?

Poll

How do you see the Panthers roster?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Among the best
    (21 votes)
  • 19%
    Above average
    (220 votes)
  • 49%
    Average
    (576 votes)
  • 24%
    Below average
    (277 votes)
  • 5%
    Among the worst
    (59 votes)
1153 votes total Vote Now