After releasing their 2022 Football Outsiders Almanac (click the link to purchase), Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders was kind enough to answer five questions about the Panthers’ expectations heading into the 2022 season.
You can read his answers to said questions below.
Assuming he wins the starting job, how many more wins should the Panthers expect with Baker Mayfield at quarterback over Sam Darnold?
Our projections had the Panthers with the second-lowest win total in the league with Darnold, averaging 7.1 wins in our simulations. Mayfield should raise that floor. We haven’t run a full new set of simulations yet with Mayfield as the Panthers quarterback, but I’d expect them to be outside the bottom five, if not much better than that. That would translate to somewhere in the neighborhood of about 7.7 wins on average. Our projections tend to group towards .500, as even poorly projected teams sometimes end up with solid seasons in simulations, so a half win is a significant jump. It’s just that Carolina was so low to begin with.
With the addition of Ben McAdoo to the offensive coaching staff, will Panthers fans finally get to see Ian Thomas become a true No. 1 tight end?
We actually have Tommy Tremble projected with a better statline than Thomas – Tremble’s at 29/300/2.6, with Thomas at 16/171/1.4. Part of this is due to the fact that McAdoo doesn’t generally use multiple tight ends — in his two years as head coach in New York, the Giants only had multiple tight ends on the field 7% of the time. That should make for an interesting style clash with Matt Rhule, and we’ll see how that pans out, but we shouldn’t expect to see more tight end usage in 2022. And with Tremble and Thomas producing roughly equal numbers last season, we like Tremble to take the next step forward as he enters his second season. Yes, McAdoo was apparently instrumental in Thomas getting a three-year deal worth $5.5 million a year, so they presumably have big plans for him. Yet we’ve yet to see anything that would really justify a contract anywhere near that level from Thomas through four full years in the league. We’d bet on Tremble.
Do you think Robby Anderson’s 2021 season was an aberration, or is he just not that good?
Yes to both? Anderson shouldn’t be as bad as he was in 2021, simply because doing so would be next to impossible. A receiver in Anderson’s situation would have been expected to catch 66.1% of their passes last season; Anderson was at 50%. That’s almost unheard of; his -17.0 receiving plus/minus (receptions below expectation) was the fourth-worst in our database. Anderson’s had problems with drops before, but never to the scale he had in 2021.
That being said, Anderson has also never had a positive receiving DVOA, even before he was saddled with Sam Darnold at quarterback. At his very best, he’s been a serviceable second receiver. He’ll be better in 2022, but he’s also someone the Panthers should look to upgrade in the near future.
With the additions of Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett in free agency and Ikem Ekwonu in this year’s draft, do the Panthers finally have a solid offensive line in front of whoever plays quarterback this year? Why or why not?
Let’s say that they have the potential to have a solid offensive line, which is better than they’ve had in a few years. It will probably take some time for Ekwonu to pick up the level of polish needed to be a good starting tackle, but he has the potential to develop into a bookend for years to come. Bozeman’s versatility, able to play any interior line position, is going to come in handy for a team breaking in new starters across the line. Corbett should be an upgrade as well, although a minor one - his 38.6 snaps per blown block were worse than any Panthers interior lineman other than Dennis Daley last season. I think it will be a line that looks better in December than it does in September as everything gels, but it should be a significant improvement over what Carolina had last year.
Where do you think the Panthers rank in comparison to the rest of the NFC South? Obviously the Buccaneers are the cream of the crop, but where do the Panthers sit among the other two teams (Falcons and Saints)?
Our projections have the Saints as a wild-card team; the Panthers aren’t in that neighborhood. Comparing them to the Falcons is more interesting. The addition of Mayfield probably pushes them past Atlanta for 2022; Atlanta had holes all over the roster while Carolina should have a respectable defense at the very least. But Atlanta seems to have a clearer plan for what lies ahead as they work their way out of the cellar; we’re still waiting to see Matt Rhule’s Jay-Z-esque plans come to fruition. If you’re looking for wins this season, you’d rather be a Panthers fan than a Falcons fan. I’m not so sure that holds up for the long term, however.
Many thanks to Bryan for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re interested in more content from Football Outsiders you can purchase the 2022 Football Outsiders Almanac by clicking here, and you can purchase a subscription to FO+ by clicking here.