Let's start with my opinion:
Pro Football Focus (PFF) is mainly a joke. "Every player, every snap" is their motto. But it's painfully obvious that they don't rate every player on every snap of an NFL game. It's a snapshot, highly historical, and opinionated view of players. QB's are rated on completion percentage, RB's are rated on yards per carry, WR's and TE's on receptions and yards, OL on a few plays and if they obviously give up a sack or pressure. It's absolutely impossible for them to be able to post an accurate grade within an hour or so of the completion of a game.
But, let's just assume their grades are accurate (I type with a chuckle) and see how they've ranked the Carolina Panthers for the upcoming season.
TIER E: LET’S NOT GET OUR HOPES UP
4. Sam Darnold is not a viable starting option.
PFF has Darnold ranked last of all QB's besides the 1st and 2nd year QB's who got their first starts in 2021, or will be starting their first games in 2022. They have a specific Tier F for those guys. This is partially based on Darnold being the worst QB on 3 step drops according to their metric. Hmm, a guy playing behind an OL who's G's and C's get pushed back the depth of a 3 step drop in less than 1.5 seconds doesn't do well on those type of throws?? Well who would have thunk it? I'm not going to defend Darnold any more, we all know he's been behind the overall leagues worst OL's his entire career and nobody knows how he'll perform if he's got a little time, so we'll just take this position grade on the chin and say the Panthers have the worst QB in the league.
TIER 2: GOOD BACKFIELD (VERY GOOD STARTER OR VERY GOOD DEPTH)
8. CAROLINA PANTHERS
Christian McCaffrey earned an 86.5 PFF grade in 2019 — third among qualifying running backs — on over 1,000 snaps. He almost never left the field and was integral to everything Carolina did on offense, ranking eighth in the league in rushing conversions (56) and ninth in receiving conversions (58) across players at all positions. The issue with moving Carolina any higher is that McCaffrey hasn’t played more than 300 offensive snaps in either of the two seasons since that 2019 campaign.
Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman have both proven themselves to be adequate fill-ins if injury strikes again, but the Panthers need a healthy McCaffrey in 2022.
At least PFF knows how good McCaffrey really is. And 8th is a fair ranking based on the fact that CMC has missed all but 10 games the past two seasons. If he stays healthy for the entire season, this ranking is very low. But if he goes down again, Foreman and Hubbard would most likely be ranked around 30 or so.
TIER 3: COULD BE STRENGTH OR WEAKNESS
23. CAROLINA PANTHERS
D.J. Moore fits into a similar bucket as Terry McLaurin — a young receiver who has had a lot of success early in his career despite bottom-of-the-barrel quarterback play. Moore has cleared 1,100 receiving yards and a 75.0 PFF grade in each of the past three seasons. However, things get a little bit more uncertain beyond him on the depth chart.
Robby Anderson’s play has trailed off since his strong start to the 2020 season, and Terrace Marshall Jr. failed to make much of an impact (0.5 yards per route run) as a rookie last year. A tight end group led by Ian Thomas doesn’t move the needle much, either.
This ranking is a testament to DJ Moore. No team ranked below the Panthers have a WR1 that is close to as good as Moore. But several have WR2/WR3/TE1 that are much better than Anderson/Marshall/Tremble-Thomas. The Panthers realistically could have been ranked much lower than 23.
TIER 4: AT LEAST ONE GOOD TACKLE
24. CAROLINA PANTHERS
Projected Starting Lineup
LT: Ikem Ekwonu
LG: Brady Christensen
C: Bradley Bozeman
RG: Austin Corbett
RT: Taylor Moton
This is a conservative estimate for what was one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season — but it's one that is now bursting with potential after multiple offseason moves. Taylor Moton has played more than 1,000 snaps and earned a 76.0-plus PFF grade in four straight seasons. That’s Carolina's building block, and the team added a couple of free agents on the interior to raise the unit's floor. The offensive line's ultimate performance will obviously depend a lot on how quickly rookie Ikem Ekwonu can adjust to pass protecting at the NFL level after he earned only a 78.3 pass-blocking grade last season for N.C. State.
Well damn! I guess adding the #6 overall pick and the best offensive prospect in the 2022 draft, a top 10 Center and a Top 20 Guard doesn't move the needle that much. At least they think there is potential there, bursting with it it seems. Here's another anomaly, Moton has a 76+ grade and is considered awesome, yet Ekwonu has a 78.3 and it's deemed "only" 78.3. This ranking is low, really low. I think high teens as a minimum, with potential for higher.
Bottom Line: Pretty much this entire year hinges on the OL and QB. We all know the OL will be vastly improved this year, which should trickle down to all the other position groups on the offensive side of the ball. This will be the best OL McCaffrey and Darnold have ever lined up behind. CMC running wild behind this OL will aid in play action passing, it will give Darnold (or whoever) vastly more time to feel comfortable, go through reads and deliver the ball more timely and accurately. The Offensive side of the ball has the potential to greatly outproduce last years debacle.