We’re 55 days away from the Panthers 2022 season opener, so that means today’s countdown piece is devoted to No. 55 on the roster — linebacker Cory Littleton.
Littleton entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent from the University of Washington in 2016. He spent his first four seasons with the Rams and had a dramatic career arc during his tenure there. First, he defied the odds as an undrafted rookie to make the 53-man roster and appear in all 16 games (one start) while registering 20 tackles.
In 2017 he appeared in all 16 games once again (three starts) and registered 36 tackles with one sack. Again, not bad for a second-year UDFA.
In 2018, his third NFL season, his career unexpectedly took off as he rocketed from an occasional contributor to one of the best linebackers in the league. He started all 16 games, racked up 125 tackles, 4 sacks, 13 passes defended, and was voted second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. He followed up his outstanding 2018 season with another great one in 2019 registering 134 tackles and 3.5 sacks though he wasn’t given any All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors.
In 2020 he signed a 3-year, $36-million contract with the Raiders. In two seasons with the silver and black he played in 31 games (27 starts) and recorded a total of 180 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and 4 passes defended. While those are good numbers Littleton didn’t have the Pro Bowl-level impact the Raiders were counting on so they released him after the 2021 season.
This allowed the Panthers to sign Littleton this offseason to a bargain-basement 1-year, $2.6 million contract. At age 28 he’s the same age as Shaq Thompson and still squarely in his prime. Littleton could easily outperform his cap hit by a significant amount in 2022. Signing him was the ultimate “low risk, high reward” offseason move made by the Panthers front office.
Or, conversely, he could just be bad. Littleton’s 2021 PFF grade of 47.8 is distressingly low and ranked 62nd of 87 linebackers last year. There’s a reason he was available for $2.6 million just two seasons removed from a 134 tackle campaign. The website Ourlads projects Littleton to be the No. 2 strongside linebacker behind Frankie Luvu, which could be a perfect fit for an experienced veteran with 100-plus tackle upside.
Cory Littleton won’t be asked to duplicate the 125-plus tackle seasons he had with the Rams a few years ago, but he clearly has the potential to be an impactful situational linebacker in 2022.
What do you think, Panthers fans? Can Cory Littleton recapture his prior Pro Bowl mojo, or will Carolina get the low production they paid for with a $2.6 million salary? Tell us in the comments!