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NFL 2024 Team Breakdown: Carolina Panthers


Despite some crucial front office mistakes over the past few years, the worst team from last season has some surprising upside heading into 2024. After missing out on three first round picks - between trading for the top pick in 2023 by giving up two first rounders, and declining a Brian Burns trade with the Rams to net two more first rounders, the Panthers have done a solid job restoring the foundation of this roster.


Let's take a look at how the 29th ranked team will perform in 2024.


Photo: Butch Dill/Associated Press

 

Strengths


  1. Improved Offensive Line

  2. QB-Guru Head Coach

  3. Derrick Brown


In 2023, Bryce Young was pressured on 40.7% of his drop backs, which ranked 7th most of all QBs. To add insult to injury, he had a 27.6 passing grade when under pressure, which was the worst in the NFL. Signing Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis was paramount, and is a massive upgrade from Bradley Bozeman and Chandler Zavala from a season ago.


To add more help for Bryce, the Panthers hired Dave Canales, who was part of the resurgence for Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield over the past few seasons. Bryce clearly struggled more than any other #1 overall QB over the past decade of draft classes, so bringing in someone who's brought middling QBs up to Pro Bowl level play was a major addition.


I typically try to keep strengths to a group, but Derrick Brown might be the most underrated player in the league, so he gets his own shoutout. He was one of the best run stoppers in the NFL last season, as he recorded 53 stops + TFLs, which led all interior defenders, and has recorded at least 40 pressures in each of the past two years. The Panthers added depth along the entire defensive front, which should allow them to plug and play Derrick wherever they need him.


Weaknesses


  1. Tight End Room

  2. Wide Receiver Depth

  3. Lack of True Pass Rush Talent


Sorry, but no team will feel threatened by Tommy Tremble, JT Sanders, or Ian Thomas. If Canales can scheme them open, that's the only way they will consistently damage defenses. Tommy has the best chance to pop off given his history of production when utilized correctly, but even that chance is slim (and I like Tommy!).


The pairing of Diontae, Thielen, and Legette is solid, but after that, no one will be a difference maker on a snap-by-snap basis. Jonathan Mingo was underwhelming in his rookie year, Terrace Marshall Jr hasn't found his footing, and David Moore Jr is good for only one or two solid games a season. If one of those leading three goes down, and/or if Legette doesn't pan out, the passing game will look eerily similar to last season.


As far as pass rush goes, most teams rotate at least six bodies across the defensive front. If we take this and apply it to the Panthers, you may have an interior of Derrick Brown, Shy Tuttle, and A'Shawn Robinson as the three big boys getting after it, and an edge attack of Jadeveon Clowney, DJ Wonnum, and K'Lavon Chaisson screaming off the ends. Over the past three seasons, they have a combined pressure rate of 7.94% - with 5.54% on the interior, and 10.17% off the edges. It's one of the lowest combined rates in the league, and if we're being completely honest, Jadeveon and Wonnum played for teams that constantly schemed up pressures, rather than letting their front four get busy on their own. Additionally, rookie Jaden Crumedy posted a 6.09% pressure rate through his final three years of college, so he's not projecting to move the needle much either.


Key Additions


  1. Dave Canales - Head Coach

  2. Diontae Johnson - Wide Receiver

  3. Robert Hunt - Guard


I mentioned early how Canales restored the careers of Baker Mayfield and Geno Smith, and I have some numbers to back it up. Dave served as the Seahawks QB coach from 2018 to 2022, and those first three years were some of Russell Wilson's strongest passing seasons. In 2021 and 2022, Geno played his best football on a snap by snap basis, with the latter clearly being the best year of his career. In 2023, Dave became the Bucs Offensive Coordinator, and Baker had his best season to date, revitalizing his career. After Canales was done with them, the two gunslingers inked themselves 3 year deals, combining up to nearly $200 million. If he can do that with QBs that were considered washed, just imagine what he can do with a young QB who is still moldable.


What better way to help out your young QB than getting one of the best route runners and separators in the league? Diontae has his faults, but getting open isn't one of them. While his production numbers don't reflect great receiver play, he ranks in the 80th percentile or higher for getting open against man, zone, and press coverage. Now, with a QB who is probably the most accurate he's ever had, we can see a real 1 + 1 = 3 effect with Diontae and Bryce.


To put the cherry on top, the Panthers added some much needed beef up front to keep Bryce clean, and Robert Hunt was their big get. He did miss some time in the back half of last season, but over the past two years, he's allowed just 29 pressures on over 1,104 pass block snaps, while only allowing 5 pressures on 376 pass block snaps last season. He's also a good run blocker, as he's posted a 74+ run block grade in three of his four pro years.


Dark Horse


Bryce Young - Quarterback


I've talked all blog long about what the Panthers did the help Bryce out, and now it's his time to shine. It's no secret I had CJ Stroud as my top QB in last year's draft class, but I still had Bryce as a top 10 player overall as well, and he showed moments where he can be a damn good QB in this league during his rookie campaign.


I've also never seen so many people out on a QB after one season where he had virtually no help outside of a 33 year old Adam Thielen and his second best pass protector in Ikem Ekwonu - who allowed 44 pressures and 11 sacks. Hell, from a percentage standpoint, his best pass blocker was his center, and even he allowed a 4.38% pressure rate, which is horrible considering he has help on most pass block snaps!


For reference, Cardinals center Hjalte Froholdt, who played just 385 pass block snaps through the first four years of his career heading into 2023, allowed a 3.39% pressure rate on 679 pass block snaps this season. He nearly tripled his career volume in one season, and was still allowed nearly a full percentage point less of pressure than Bradley Bozeman. I'm belaboring the point, but it still stands, Bryce is poised to breakout this year.


Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press


Record


7-10


Despite a low overall ranking, I think the Panthers have a relatively easy schedule. Seven of their games are against teams I have ranked in the bottom 10, and only three games are against top half teams. If they can win most of those seven aforementioned games, and they steal another divisional win or two elsewhere, this team has a solid chance to win seven contests. This is absolutely their ceiling, but I think they reach it.

 

Final Notes:


Bryce Young is the driving force of this team heading into 2024, and the front office did a great job finding him help in the short and long term. The key for his continued success beyond 2024 will be adding another receiving threat and continuing to bolster the defense to get the offense on the field more.

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