Burke: Antoine Cason, CB
Even if the Panthers’ front seven remains the same dominant unit that helped guide this team to the postseason last year, someone has to rise to the occasion in the secondary. During that surprising NFC South title run, it was Captain Munnerlyn leading the way. He departed this offseason to sign with the Vikings, and the Panthers responded in part by inking Cason to a one-year deal.
Now Cason, coming off a year in which he struggled to even carve out playing time in Arizona, may take over No. 1 corner duties by default. The gap between that Cardinals secondary and this Carolina one is vast, both in terms of talent and depth.
Cason does have a headstart, having played under current Panthers head coach Ron Rivera when Rivera was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator. Every little bit will help.
Farrar: Kelvin Benjamin, WR
With Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn out the door, the onus is on a new bunch of players to pick up the slack. The top man in that equation is Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s first-round pick out of Florida State. At 6-5 and 240, Benjamin can absolutely dominate in the red zone, which he proved by leading the ACC in receiving touchdowns. However, it’s a lot to put on a rookie to be a team’s primary target, especially when Benjamin still has a lot to learn regarding catch mechanics, ball security and route awareness. Benjamin should make several impressive touchdown grabs in his rookie campaign. The Panthers will be far better for it if he can also be reliable with yards after catch on the slant-and-go and the right angle on the deep post.