Carolina Panthers Training Camp Ranking- 18th
In case you hadn't noticed: Cam Newton changed everything. There's no statement too big to describe the impact he has had on the Carolina Panthers organization in just over 12 months. For the first time in over a decade, the Panthers have an elite offense, so this off-season was devoted to completely revamping the defense and special teams.
Through free agency the team signed noted special-teamers from around the league, and backed that up by taking the best returner in college football, Arkansas' Joe Adams in the 4th round. 2011 was a year that saw the Panthers lose no fewer than four defensive starters, and created a vacuum where week in, week out Carolina were playing sub-par defensive talent
With players returning from injury, and the addition of Luke Kuechly, the Panthers defense will not be perfect but should be far better than last year. On the strength of offense alone, and the two other phases improved, there's no way this team in going 6-10 again.
Carolina Panthers Quarterback Ranking- 11th
Cam Newton established a new ceiling for rookie quarterbacks. Dare I say he even entertained us? Experience should only benefit him this year. His 14 rushing touchdowns get all the attention, but Newton had the pocket presence of a veteran. Carolina added Mike Tolbert to take some of Newton's running off his list, setting him up to do even more passing this year. He could be the biggest riser on this list when it's all said and done.
Carolina Panthers Running Back Ranking - 2nd
What has been billed as Double Trouble in the past becomes Triple Trouble in 2012. The Panthers added RB/FB Mike Tolbert to the backfield to go along with their already lethal tandem of RB DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. In 2008 Williams and Stewart became the first RB tandem to log over 1,100 yards a piece as they juked and stiff armed their way through NFL defenses. Panther fans expect a return to those days as the Panthers hope to strike more of balance between running and passing in 2012. Tolbert is a TD vulture and is expect to carry the rock inside on goal line situations. With the #6 ranked offensive line front of them the Panther running game should be fun to watch in 2012.
Carolina Panthers Tight End Ranking- 22nd
I expected more from Greg Olsen last season with a rookie quarterback and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. This could be a much better year with Jeremy Shockey, who caught 37 passes on 59 targets, out of the picture and Cam Newton vowing to put more burden on his teammates in the red zone. Gary Barnidge could emerge as a pass catcher as well. Ben Harstock is their blocker.
Carolina Panthers Wide Receiver Ranking- 22nd
The Panthers are another one of those teams with a clear star receiver and a bunch of question marks behind him. Steve Smith looked like his best days were behind him until Cam Newton showed up. He had 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns, the first time he topped the 1,000-yard mark since 2008. Rookie Joe Adams adds even more speed to the lineup. Brandon LaFell may be the key to success. He could be in for a breakout in his third season.
Top Option: Steve Smith
Carolina Panthers Offensive Line Ranking- 6th
This is one you probably did not expect to be this high on the list, but it might be the best run blocking group in the league. Cam Newton was only sacked 35 times, and that should drop as he gets more experience. Rookie Amini Silatolu fixes the guard spot.
Carolina Panthers Defensive Line Ranking- 26th
Carolina was roundly criticized for standing by its current group of defensive tackles, a group of players hit hard by injuries. Ron Edwards, who turns 33 this month, is the best of the bunch -- and missed all last season with a torn triceps. Terrell McClain and Sione Fua both ended their rookie seasons on IR last year. The Panthers do have a pair of ends who can get to the quarterback inCharles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Expect bigger numbers from Hardy this season, his third, after he had 33 hurries and eight hits to go with just four sacks last year.
Carolina Panthers Linebacker Ranking- 12th
The Panthers may not have done enough to address needs in the secondary or up front, but their linebackers should be very good this season. That made Luke Kuechly a surprise pick in the first round. Still, nobody doubts his talent, and he looks to have the middle linebacker job sewn up already. A healthy Jon Beason would help considerably. James Anderson will start on the strong side.
Carolina Panthers Safety Ranking- 30th
Carolina has mostly spare parts at safety. The spare part that might surprise is Ravens' castoff Haruki Nakamura. He is competing with Sherrod Martin for the starting free safety role. Better, healthier linebackers could help Charles Godfrey at strong safety.
Carolina Panthers Cornerback Ranking- 28th
Best Player: Chris Gamble
Gamble deserves more credit than he received for his play last year, considering he had almost no help from the other 10 players on the field with him. Captain Munnerlyn is penciled in as the other starting corner, but works best with limited exposure. Fourth-round pick Josh Norman, a Mike Mayock endorsed player, generated buzz in spring practices that he could press for a starting role this year. Cast off by the Patriots, Darius Butler made six starts last year. Brandon Hogan is still recovering from a torn ACL.