The 2020 season for the Carolina Panthers was less than stellar with the injury to elite running back Christian McCaffrey, which hampered their offense much of the season. The Panthers had a 5-11 record in 2020, but five of those eleven losses were only by five points or less. The Panthers needed some upgrades on both sides of the ball. So let’s see how their off-season shook out.
Round 1, Pick 8 – Jaycee Horn (CB, South Carolina)
Jaycee Horn is the son of former Pro-Bowl wideout Joe Horn. At 6’1 and 210 lbs Horn has the size and frame for playing cornerback in the NFL. In his three-year career for the South Carolina Gamecocks, he was a two-year starter at corner in the SEC, accumulated 24 pass breakups, and was voted second-team all-conference by coaches in the SEC. Horn’s game seems fearless and should be an asset to the Carolina defensive backfield.
Round 2, Pick 59 (from CLE) – Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR, LSU)
At 6’3 and 200 lbs, Marshall has the prototypical size that teams look for in a wide receiver. In 2019 Marshall was the third option in the LSU Tiger high-powered offense behind names like Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. In 2020 he made the most of his opportunity, averaged over 100 yards receiving per game, and had double-digit touchdowns. Marshall has all the ingredients to be a solid NFL wideout.
Round 3, Pick 70 (from PHI) – Brady Christensen (OT, BYU)
Brady Christensen lined up at left tackle for the Cougars’ offense. Although Christensen has average overall athleticism, he did a good job handling edge defenders in the conference. He plays with a high level of football intelligence required to play multiple positions; however, his athletic limitations may be an issue at the next level. Christensen could be better suited at right tackle or guard. He has redeeming value in his size, strength, and football IQ but would likely struggle against athletic rushers in the NFL if he remains at left tackle.
Round 6, Pick 193 – Deonte Brown (OG, Alabama)
A starting guard for the better part of three seasons, Brown is broad, strong, and built low to the ground with a natural leverage advantage. While he shines as an in-line power blocker, teams might also take note of his solid technique and reactive quickness. Brown worked exceptionally well with center Landon Dickerson on double teams and twists. His lack of length and physical traits, and possibly his weight and body type, will turn some teams off. Yet Brown is steady and powerful and has the potential to become a starter for a power-based rushing team that doesn’t adhere to strict traits standards.
Sam Darnold (via trade)
Sam Darnold was the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft. The belief is that a change of scenery would benefit Darnold. In his first three seasons as a New York Jet, Darnold completed almost 60% of his passes, including 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. This Carolina offense would be the most talented offensive roster Darnold has had as an NFL quarterback, with players like DJ Moore, Christian McCaffery, and familiar wide receiver Robby Anderson. It will be up to Darnold to prove that he can be an NFL starting quarterback.
OT Cameron Erving
The Panthers signed Erving in the off-season with a two-year deal after starting five games last year for the Dallas Cowboys. According to Pro Football Focus, out of the 151 offensive linemen who played 1500 snaps since 2018, Erving ranked dead last at 151 (44.4). In his last year in Dallas, his grade improved to 58. The Panthers believe that he can be the same, if not better, in their blocking scheme for 2021.
OG Pat Elfein
Pat Elfein comes to the Panthers from the New York Jets. In a similar comparison with Cameron Erving, Elfein was ranked 147th in the same class of linemen who played 1500 snaps. Elfein started only seven games in 2020, and Carolina hopes he can get back to the form from his rookie season, where Pro Football Focus had him graded at 66.6.
TE Dane Arnold
Arnold started five games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2020. He had 31 receptions, which was 28th among tight ends, and led his group in Arizona. Arnold will be reunited with coach Joe Brady, who was an offensive assistant with New Orleans while both there in 2017 and 2018.
DE/LB Haason Reddick
Reddick was signed away from the Arizona Cardinals, where he posted a career-high 12.5 sacks. This gives Carolina a great pair with Brian Burns. Burns and Reddick are looking to eclipse the team record of 28 sacks for a pass-rushing duo. The record was set by hall of fame linemen Kevin Green and Lamar Lathon back in 1996. Reddick should help a defense that only had 29 sacks as a unit in 2020.
DE Morgan Fox
Fox comes to Carolina from the LA Rams. In 2020 Fox had a career-high six sacks. Carolina hopes that pairing him along with Reddick and Burns will provide additional pressure along their defensive front. The additions of Reddick and Fox give some much-needed ammunition for a unit that didn’t get much pressure upfront in 2020.
Recap and Predication – 3rd in NFC South
The Panthers are in a tough division with teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. It’s hard to envision this team eclipsing either of those teams in 2021. The additions on defense with free agency and the draft will improve a formerly decent unit in 2020. The pick-ups in the offensive line were a bit questionable. With McCaffrey back from injury, the offense will be better, but will Darnold be much of an upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater? Darnold may open up the deep passing game, but with that comes his propensity for tossing interceptions. This team may push for an NFC Wild Card birth, but it’s hard to imagine the Panthers making more noise than that in 2021.