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Panthers 2023 season opener countdown: 97 days to go

We’re counting down the days until the Panthers kick off the 2023 season.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

We’re 97 days away from the Panthers 2023 season opener, so that means today’s countdown piece is devoted to No. 97 on the roster — defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.

This upcoming season feels like a make-or-break year for Yetur. He was drafted by the Panthers in the second round (No. 38 overall) in 2020 and with high draft status comes high expectations.

Yetur’s first two years in the NFL were just okay. He battled some injuries as a rookie in 2020 and played 377 defensive snaps over 12 games with 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 12 pressures. In 2021, his second NFL season, he played in 14 games with 350 defensive snaps with similar results as his rookie year with 28 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and seven pressures. His 2021 PFF grade of 63.9 ranked 62nd of 113 defensive ends, putting him right in the middle of the pack at his position. His development seemed to be on track heading into last season.

2022 was supposed to be Gross-Matos’ breakout year. The departure of Haason Reddick meant YGM would become a clear-cut starter for the first time in his career. But the increased opportunity didn’t result in increased impact. He started all 17 games last year and played 846 defensive snaps but produced just 2.5 sacks and 11 pressures. He struggled to shed blockers and disrupt opposing quarterbacks. His PFF grade of 51.2 ranked 110th of 119 defensive ends, which is more than concerning.

Saying this is a “make-or-break” year for Gross-Matos doesn’t mean this season is going to determine if he belongs in the NFL or not, but rather if he can establish himself as a legitimate, difference-making starter. Through three seasons and over 1,500 defensive snaps he has yet to prove he’s more than a rotational piece with a high draft pedigree.

This upcoming season is also the last year on Yetur’s rookie contract so his play in 2023 will have a massive impact as to where he plays next year and for what dollar amount.

Now, Gross-Matos is still only 25 years old so he should still have some upside. He will be shaped and molded by a new defensive coaching staff led by Ejiro Evero who may be able to finally unlock his potential. The Panthers will also be incorporating a new 3-4 defensive scheme that could allow Evero to put YGM in position to succeed more often going forward than he has in the past.

The hope for the Panthers is 2023 is the year Yetur Gross-Matos finally puts it all together and has a breakout season.