Last year Brian Burns was the only member of the Carolina Panthers selected for the Pro Bowl. That’s not surprising given the Panthers low national profile, the mid-season trade of Christian McCaffrey, a mid-season coaching change, and the team’s ongoing issues at quarterback.
But heading into 2023 the Panthers have four veterans who are on the verge of following Burns’ path to the Pro Bowl in Derrick Brown, Frankie Luvu, Shaq Thompson, and Taylor Moton. Each of these guys has played at near Pro Bowl levels lately and we’ll see if they break through this year.
(Note: I’ve left off young pups like Ikem Ekwonu and Jaycee Horn who have clear paths to the Pro Bowl in their futures, along with Jeremy Chinn who needs to show more consistency.)
Derrick Brown, defensive tackle
2022 stats: 17 games, 67 tackles, 12 QB hits, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack
The Panthers 320-pound anchor of the interior defensive line was a first round pick in 2020 and has shown steady improvement in each of his three seasons in the league. Last year he made a clear “third year leap” and it wouldn’t have surprised Panthers fans if he had made the Pro Bowl last season. But, alas, he was overlooked as he toiled away for a middling Panthers team that was largely kept out of the national spotlight.
Traditional statistics don’t come close to telling the full story of the impact of interior defensive linemen. Their job descriptions include difficult-to-quantify responsibilities like “eat blockers” and “collapse the offensive line”. Brown filled both of those duties at an exceptional level last year and his traditional defensive stats were impressive, too. Last season PFF ranked him No. 8 of 126 defensive tackles and said he “might be the best pure nose tackle outside of the Giants’ Dexter Lawrence”.
2023 Pro Bowl forecast: He will make the Pro Bowl and push for All-Pro honors
Frankie Luvu, linebacker
2022 stats: 15 games, 111 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks
Entering his third season with the Panthers, 26-year-old Frankie Luvu is also just entering his prime. To call 2022 a breakout season is a massive understatement. In his four previous seasons he had registered 102 career tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks. He basically doubled his previous career stats in one spectacular season last year.
Luvu will be dealing with a lot of changes in 2023, including the hire of new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and the move to a 3-4 defensive scheme, so only time will tell the impact this will have on his role. Evero was the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator last year and two of his linebackers had well over 100 tackles with Alex Singleton with 163 and Josey Jewell with 128, so that bodes well for Frankie.
There are reasons to be extremely bullish on Luvu having a huge 2023 campaign as he has the flexibility to play a traditional linebacker position or rush from the edge. He’s going to be a perfect chess piece for Evero to move around his defensive chess board. If Luvu plays a full 17-game schedule this year and continues to wreak havoc in opposing backfields and rack up sacks, he could get the national attention that’s usually needed for a Pro Bowl nod. Last year a total of nine outside linebackers made the Pro Bowl, and Luvu could crack that threshold if he builds on last year’s success.
2023 Pro Bowl forecast: 50/50, assuming he gets closer to double-digit sacks
Shaq Thompson, linebacker
2022 stats: 17 games, 135 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks
Shaq was a first round pick by the Panthers back in 2015 and has been an impact starter ever since. The eight-year veteran’s first four seasons were overshadowed by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, but each of his last four seasons have been borderline Pro Bowl caliber. He has had over 100 tackles in each of his last four campaigns and last year registered a career-high 135 tackles, which ranked 16th in the league.
Thompson will be dealing with the same changes to his linebacker position as Luvu will encounter, but there’s no real reason why his tackle totals would go down. Shaq is still only 29 and getting better every year, but he seems to be pigeonholed in the “good-but-not-great” grouping of NFL linebackers. While Shaq racks up tackles, it’s rare to see him really take over a game and make multiple impact plays like other elite middle linebackers do (think Fred Warner).
Plus, I doubt Carolina would get two linebackers named to the Pro Bowl, and I’m placing my bets on Frankie Luvu.
2023 Pro Bowl forecast: Not likely, but Shaq’s still a high-end linebacker
Taylor Moton, offensive tackle
2023 stats: 17 starts, 100% snaps played, 69.3 PFF grade (38 of 81 tackles)
The Panthers stalwart right tackle has been the entrenched starter since Carolina selected him in the second round of the 2017 draft. His high level of play resulted in the Panthers extending him in 2021 on a four-year, $72 million contract, making him the sixth-highest tackle at the time. And he was worth it. Heading into the 2022 season PFF noted that between 2019-2021, “(Moton’s) 84.8 PFF grade ranks among the best right tackles in football over that same span.”
But in 2022 Moton seemed to regress ever so slightly despite being surrounded by the best offensive line talent in years. He’s still in his prime as he enters his age-29 season this year. But in 2022 he slipped a bit from “borderline Pro Bowler” to “solid starting right tackle” and he’ll need to reverse that trend to have any hopes of landing his first Pro Bowl selection.
2023 Pro Bowl forecast: Longshot, but there’s still a chance
What do you think, Panthers fans? Which of these four players has the best odds to earn their first Pro Bowl nod in 2023?
Which player is most likely to make his first Pro Bowl in 2023?
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