It’s not a stretch to refer to the Panthers’ 2016 campaign as a disappointment. Even with all of our scientific evidence at hand, no one could have predicted Cam Newton’s MVP to mediocrity stumble. He wasn’t even on the cover of Madden! How could anyone predict that? Okay, okay. It wasn’t all his fault. We must also take a look at what happened to the defense, and fix that, if they want first place.
They have, of course, taken steps to improve on both sides of the ball. The addition of Matt Kalil on the OL is something that the team hopes can help Newton and Stewart (not to mention McCaffrey) out a little bit. This is, after all, a $55 million investment.
We don’t need to worry much about the likes of Greg Olsen, but it’s the other pass catchers we must rely on. Funchess and Benjamin should be solid-at-least starters, but the like of youngsters behind need to continue to improve. Giving Newton quality targets will help him increase his output from last season. For Cam to lead the team back to first, they’re going to need someone to surprise.
Speaking of quality targets, though, the constantly mentioned Christian McCaffrey has been earning every bit of his first round selection. He has provided a nice spark on offense, and runs great routes in the defensive backfield. From screens to wide slots, McCaffrey can make a difference for this team right away. It seems like hyperbole, but he can be enough to change the offense to a first place contender, at least.
Let’s also briefly mention other new additions this year in their second round steal in Taylor Moton at guard and the beefy “fullback” Alex Armah. Both of whom were a better value than their picks.
The defense has seen a few improvements as well. Still anchored by Kuechly and Johnson, the D added two alums in Captain Munnerlyn and Julius Peppers mostly to provide some veteran leadership. The rest of the group tasked with the turnaround is a relatively young group that either has to prove they can keep improving, or start improving. Individually there was plenty of cause for excitement, they just never brought it all together due to injury.
The biggest issue holding them back might be on the sidelines. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks is tasked with bringing the 21st ranked D back into the top 10. He’s been on staff and gets high praise, so it’s far from impossible. More importantly, potentially, are the changes at the top. After losing president Danny Morrison, GM Dave Gettleman was also let go. You have to wonder how much the loss of Josh Norman effected this decision, even so long after. Interim GM Marty Hurney has his work cut out for him, if the Panthers expect to pull a quick turnaround in a devision that used to be a revolving door, but now seems to be owned by the Atlanta Falcons.