QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Will Grier, PJ Walker (3)
Teddy Bridgewater is your Panthers' QB for the next 2 - 3 seasons. The area of interest, however, will be the ongoing competition between Will Grier and PJ Walker. The only way that we can expect at least two of these QBs to be on the roster in two years is if Teddy is retained for the final year of his deal. Otherwise, Walker/Grier are playing to be the #2 or compete to be the #1 once Teddy is gone and someone else is brought in. The team has already gone out and gotten some familiar weapons for Walker, but they're also high on Grier. It'll be an interesting competition to say the least.
RB : Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Alex Armah (4)
Christian McCaffrey is the best RB in football, so there's that. Bonnafon has sparked and Scarlett is largely a drafted unknown. Scarlett does fit that sledgehammer mold while Bonnafon is most cut like McCaffrey in regards to versatility, so I see these three being our RBs with Alex Armah coming in as the FB. The only other competition to Armah from what it looks is Giovanni Ricci, and I like Armah's versatility + experience to give him the edge there.
WR: Robby Anderson, DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, Keith Kirkwood, Pharaoh Cooper, Seth Roberts (6)
The three starters are of course locks, but two others that I feel are locks due to their ability to contribute on special teams are Keith Kirkwood and Pharaoh Cooper. Kirkwood also played with Walker for Rhule at Temple. This leaves the final spot up between Omar Bayless (a rookie with a 4.6sec 40yd dash), Damion Jeanpiere (a practice squad member from last season), Seth Roberts (a 6yr veteran), and DeAndrew White (who was called up from the practice squad last year and had the first down conversion on the pass from Mike Palardy). Bayless I think is just outclassed here while Jeanpiere also doesn't have the experience the team needs, which leaves the decision to be between DeAndrew White and Seth Roberts. Both have similar measurables, but DeAndrew White has one more year of practice squad eligibility available. I think the team tries to sneak him away while putting Roberts on the main roster.
TE: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Temarrick Hemingway (3)
This position group is probably the thinnest on the roster. We know that Manhertz is a blocking TE that can sometimes play H-back (which Armah can also do). Thomas was coveted by Rhule in college. That leaves a battle between Giovanni Ricci (a TE/H-back in the mold of Armah/Manhertz), Colin Thompson (a former Temple player with 1yr pro exp), and Cam Sutton (a rookie out of Fresno State that has been clocked at running a 4.5sec 40yd dash). With there already being two possible H-backs on the roster, that leaves Ricci out. Hemingway had some flashes from what I could recall last year during the preseason, and is the most "veteran" between him, Thompson, and Sutton.
OL: Russell Okung, Michael Schofield, Matt Paradis, John Miller, Taylor Moton, Greg Little, Dennis Daley, Tyler Larsen, Chris Reed (9)
Okung and Schofield have experience playing next to one another, and the team likely hopes for Little and Daley to learn directly from both of them on how to be coached by their new position coach. Matt Paradis doesn't have any true competition to start at center currently, and John Miller is another veteran interior presence with Chris Reed as a potential heir to either guard position should Daley have to slot at RT. He'd only have to do that though if the Panthers can't pay their best offensive lineman, Taylor Moton, who is due for a payday.
DL: Kawann Short, Derrick Brown, Stephen Weatherly, Efe Obada, Yetur Gross-Matos, Zach Kerr, Bravvion Roy, Chris Smith (8)
If any position needed a total retool after last season, it was the DL. Despite putting up sacks, they were repeatedly gouged by the run and failed to create turnovers. The team has lost contributors like Mario Addison, Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin, Vernon Butler, and Kyle Love. Enter Derrick Brown, Stephen Weatherly, Yetur Gross-Matos, Bravvion Roy, Zach Kerr, and Chris Smith. While these players are nowhere as accomplished as those that left, aside from the 3 drafted rookies, one is a solid contributor and the other two are also competing with the rightfully adored Efe Obada and the guys in the EDGE group. Like the rest of the defensive groups, I'm very interested to see how these guys develop.
EDGE: Brian Burns, Marquise Haynes, Christian Miller (3)
Burns is electric with tons of upside, and Haynes has flashed on occasion. Miller is also able to line up at the Sam LB position or on the edge. All three of these players provide position versatility that Phil Snow covets and while early on I considered looking at situations where Haynes was traded and/or Miller was cut, I'm more and more opening up to all three of them still being on the roster.
LB: Shaq Thompson, Tahir Whitehead, Jermaine Carter, Andre Smith, Jordan Mack, David Reese (6)
There was likely an expected overhaul here at LB with the sudden retirement of Luke Kuechly, but the team clearly trusts the defense in Shaq Thompson's hands and brought in Tahir Whitehead to give the defense experience in how to be coached by Rhule. Jermaine Carter and Andre Smith have been steady special teams contributors and have stepped in when needed admirably. While the team is also looking to move back to a 4-3, it'll likely be in nickel packages most of the team as has become the trend in the NFL. The flexibility of the players in the EDGE group also takes away the need for 7 LBs as we have seen in the past with 4-3 Panthers defenses. Jordan Mack and David Reese were very solid and productive at the college level while also having the size and speed to compete at the pro level. They can cut their teeth on special teams like Carter and Smith have while competing for additional playing time.
DB: Tre Boston, Juston Burris, Eli Apple, Donte Jackson, Jeremy Chinn, Kenny Robinson, Troy Pride, Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, Corn Elder (9)
Despite the departures of James Bradberry, Eric Reid, Ross Cockrell, and Javien Elliot, the DBs as a whole are looking pretty good. I use DB here instead of CB, S, FS, SS, etc because in Phil Snow's virtual presser he stressed that he calls them DBs. He expects them to line up anywhere in the backfield and be able to defend the pass as well assist in run defense. Tre Boston is seen as the leader of the group, and 2nd round pick Jeremy Chinn is going to get some time at the nickel position as well as safety. The team is very high on Juston Burris, is returning a starter in Donte Jackson, and just brought in former 1st round pick Eli Apple to start. This group is going to allow the other three DBs that the Panthers drafted recently to rotate in and develop, with a final spot being up for grabs between several other DBs. Corn Elder has starting experience and it could come between him and Cole Luke, but I'm partial to Corn as the better player.
Special Teams (3)
LS: JJ Jansen (1)
This is a peace offering to Chase Blackburn. He's losing a lot of guys that he was developing, as well as some that were brought in specifically to give special teams some stability. Jansen has a year left on his contract, and has been a stalwart on the special teams squad for seasons upon seasons. His open roster spot the following season can go towards a practice squad member competing to be on the 53.
K: Joey Slye (1)
This was a tough one. Do we go with what we know, or do we look towards the future? The team is in a position where they don't have to wait and see if Gano's leg healed well following the femur fracture, but Joey Slye also didn't show the consistency you'd like to see from your kicker. Slye being on a one year deal will allow them to see if he's gotten over his yips while also getting out from under Gano's contract.
P: Mike Palardy (1)
I mean... is there any question/doubt here?
RB: Rodney Smith (1)
RB is a bit loaded despite it not being a logjam, and that's what allows all-purpose back Rodney Smith out of Minnesota to slip on to the practice squad. If the team happens to have one of its three primary RBs go down, expect Smith to get promoted from the practice squad sooner rather than later.
WR: DeAndrew White (1)
White has one more remaining year of practice squad eligibility. Between Damion Jeanpiere, Omar Bayless, and DeAndrew White, I believe that White is clearly the better player with higher upside.
TE: Cam Sutton (1)
TE group is rather thin, and I considered taking both Cam Sutton and Giovanni Ricci here but I just couldn't see the justification for a 3rd H-back on the roster when Alex Armah and Chris Manhertz both fulfill that role. Armah also has very limited experience at TE while also being a full fledged FB, so that versatility along with Brady's offense relying more on 3 WRs and less on 2 TEs means that Cam Sutton is the one that gets stashed. I know folks assume that Colin Thompson is the guy since he went to Temple, but you can't teach speed and Cam Sutton has that.
OL: Mike Horton, Sam Tecklenburg, Frederick Mauigoa (3)
The team looks like it's due for some turnover at the interior positions on the OL. If Dennis Daley has to start, the team will need a new swing lineman to be that 6th man for the OL. Sam Tecklenburg has experience all over the OL and Rhule believes enough in him to have brought him out of retirement. I can't help but believe that he expects him to be more than a camp body. Mike Horton's college career started on all cylinders before losing momentum, but he has 32 consecutive starts as a right guard. Mauigoa was in a spread offense at Washington State but showed solid promise and had 39 consecutive starts. All three of these players were 5-year college players as well. They've got a lot of quality starting experience in the college ranks and could develop into solid pros as depth pieces or potential starters.
DL: Myles Adams (1)
A heady DE that spent a majority of his college career at DT, Myles Adams fits that intelligent, hard-working character that Matt Rhule looks for. Not only that, but Adams was a player-elected team captain during his senior year and was known for his resilience, attention to detail in film study, and focus on technique. He can line up in multiple spots along the defensive front and could develop into a quality rotational piece for the line.
LB: Sam Franklin, Chris Orr (2)
Sam Franklin is not just earning a practice squad spot due to his Temple ties. He's earning a spot because he fits that mold of the hybrid LB/S type player that teams are beginning to covet. Though he doesn't have the athleticism that Isaiah Simmons or Jeremy Chinn has, he is an intelligent player with hustle. Chris Orr, while a bit undersized to play ILB in the pros, was the quarterback of the Wisconsin defense. The Panthers' new regime covets not only speed, versatility, and hard work, but intelligence as well. The team needs to restock the LB position, and with Tahir Whitehead on a one year deal there will be opportunities for the main roster.
DB: Derrek Thomas (1)
Thomas followed Rhule from Temple to Baylor when he took over, and then signed with Seattle after leaving college. He went into training camp with Pittsburgh as well, but was cut and spent the remainder of the season waiting on a team. He has all three years of practice squad eligibility and provides Rhule with familiarity for the DB group. There are several other players like Cole Luke and Quin Blanding that could push here, but I think Thomas ultimately gets the nod.