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Final 2023 ratings for the Panthers defense, per Pro Football Focus

It’s all about Derrick Brown and Frankie Luvu

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Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The good people at Pro Football Focus spend enormous amounts of time breaking down every player’s performance on every individual play throughout the season. In the end, players can then be given a final rating somewhere between zero (poor) and 100 (elite). Panthers players who did not receive a position rating in 2023 by PFF will show as “NA” in the table below.

If you want to learn more about PFF’s methodology, you can read their Player Grade overview.

Most of us as fans view PFF ratings this way: “If the grade fits my opinion of a player then it’s credible, but if the grade conflicts with my conclusions then PFF is stupid garbage and should never be trusted.” I’m not advocating for PFF, rather I’m just providing one set of data that’s at least interesting. Here’s how PFF graded and ranked the Panthers primary offensive players.

2023 PFF Grades - Defense

POS Player Grade POS Rank Snaps % Snaps
POS Player Grade POS Rank Snaps % Snaps
DI Derrick Brown 90.1 4th of 130 940 89%
DI Nick Thurman 63.4 48th of 130 367 35%
DI LaBryan Ray 54.6 84th of 130 355 34%
DI Shy Tuttle 52.9 91st of 130 549 52%
DI DeShawn Williams 50.0 104th of 130 444 42%
Edge Brian Burns 74.1 36th of 112 814 77%
Edge Yetur Gross-Matos 65.4 61st of 112 466 44%
Edge DJ Johnson 50.4 NA 231 22%
LB Frankie Luvu 78.5 12th of 82 990 94%
LB Deion Jones 67.9 36th of 82 313 30%
LB Kamu Grugier-Hill 48.6 78th of 82 403 38%
CB Jaycee Horn 84.1 NA 276 26%
CB Donte Jackson 64.3 64th of 127 903 86%
CB Troy Hill 62.4 73rd of 127 494 47%
CB C.J. Henderson 45.4 121st of 127 407 39%
S Xavier Woods 80.3 12th of 95 796 75%
S Vonn Bell 63.9 61st of 95 778 74%
S Sam Franklin 58.0 NA 289 27%
S Jeremy Chinn 57.7 NA 286 27%

Interior defensive line

All hail Pro Bowler Derrick Brown! For the second straight year Derrick Brown had the highest PFF grade of any Panthers player. His 90.1 grade is elite and ranked fourth of 130 players at his position. He was an absolute monster in the middle and as I wrote many times throughout the season, if Derrick Brown played for a competitive team that appeared regularly on national television, he would have been an All-Pro.

Nick Thurmon performed surprisingly well in limited action and was rated 48th of 130 interior defensive linemen. Shy Tuttle got off to a rocky start in the first year of his 3-year, $19.5 million deal with the Panthers and ranked just 91st at his position. Veteran DeShawn Williams was a one-year rental at $1.75 million and ranked 104th at his position while registering the lowest PFF grade among Panthers defensive players at 50.0.

Edge rushers and linebackers

Brian Burns took a modest step backward in 2023 after two straight Pro Bowl seasons. His PFF grade of 74.1 ranked 36th at his position and puts Burns in the “good but not great” category. The Panthers picked up his fifth-year option in 2023 and the two camps could not agree on a contract extension last year. Burns will likely be back in 2024 on the franchise tag or by working a long-term deal with new GM Dan Morgan.

Yetur Gross-Matos played in just 12 games but set new career highs with 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. His 65.4 PFF grade put him right at league average among edge rushers as he played out the final year of his rookie contract. Meanwhile, rookie DJ Johnson, the No. 80 pick in the 2023 draft, recorded a PFF grade of 50.4, the second lowest among Panthers defensive players.

Among the linebackers, Frankie Luvu was once again brilliant with 125 tackles and 5.5 sacks and was rated as the 12th best linebacker by PFF. Frankie Luvu is a gem and deserves to be a Pro Bowler. He arguably wears the crown of “the NFL’s best linebacker nobody has ever heard of”. He puts up elite production while toiling away in the football wastelands of Carolina.

Deion Jones played surprisingly well in limited action with a 67.9 PFF grade which ranked 36th among linebackers. Jones played on a 1-year, $1.2 million deal in 2023 and it couldn’t hurt for the Panthers to re-sign the 29-year-old. Kamu Grugier-Hill, on the other hand, earned a 48.6 grade from PFF during his 1-year contract in Carolina which was the single lowest mark among Panthers defensive players.


Corner continues to be a position that bedevils the Panthers. Jaycee Horn is brilliant when he plays, as evidenced by his stellar 84.1 PFF grade, which ranked second on Carolina’s defense. The problem, as you well know, is that Horn officially carries the “injury prone” label after playing in just six games in 2023 and 22 games over his first three NFL seasons.

Donte Jackson was the exact middle of the road for cornerbacks as PFF rated him 64th of 127 at his position. Carolina needs more from Jackson and his 3-year, $35.2 million contract. D-Jax has a $15.8 million cap hit in 2024, the final year of his contract, but the Panthers have also pushed an additional $7.6 million of his cap hit into future years through 2027. The Panthers have a lot of money and salary cap tied up in Donte Jackson and need better than NFL average production from him.

Veteran Troy Hill was a nice one-year addition whose play was on par with Donte Jackson’s but done on a 1-year, $1.3 million contract. Meanwhile, CJ Henderson was ranked among the lowest performing corners in the league for the third straight season. In 2023 he was ranked 121st of 127, in 2022 he came in at 109 of 122, and in 2021 he ranked 110th of 121 at his position.


Xavier Woods had a solid season in the final year of his 3-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. Over 14 games he recorded 61 tackles, two interceptions, and seven passes defended en route to PFF ranking him as the 12th best safety in the league. Well done, Xavier.

Vonn Bell, Carolina’s other starting safety, didn’t fare as well after PPF ranked him 61st of 95 safeties. This is the one defensive grade I think PFF got wrong, but that’s just my opinion. In 13 games he had 69 tackles and one interception while allowing a passer rating of 79.2 when targeted which ranked 8th among safeties, per Football Reference. My opinion is Woods is a better than average NFL safety, not among the bottom two-thirds at his position where PFF ranked him.

Lastly, Jeremy Chinn’s career continues to trend in the wrong direction. After back-to-back 100-tackle seasons in each of his first two NFL seasons (2020 and 2021) he has struggled with injuries and consistency over his last two campaigns. In 2023 he appeared in 12 games but recorded just 30 tackles and surrendered two touchdowns on 14 targets, per Football Reference. His 57.7 PFF grade is not how he or the Panthers envisioned him finishing out his rookie contract in Carolina.