A Carolina Panthers mailbag — with no Cam Newton questions?
It’s almost unthinkable, but given this time of year, it shouldn’t be that shocking. Newton has yet to play in the preseason, and while he will make his debut against New England on Thursday night, his status as the team’s franchise quarterback and undisputed leader isn’t up in the air.
Meanwhile, a number of other positions are. It makes sense, then, that many questions this week focused on the nitty-gritty of final roster decisions and positional battles. Of course, it’s also time for annual fantasy football drafts, and that’s where we’ll start this week’s mailbag:
Help me prep for my fantasy draft—how do you expect Curtis Samuel’s numbers this season will compare to DJ Moore’s?
A disclaimer: I’m not a fantasy-football expert (which my nine buddies from a college league will be glad to see me admit).
Basically, this question comes to down which receiver — if either — can be considered the team’s true No. 1.
And the short answer to that is no. The Panthers have intentionally signed and drafted players that complement one another, rather than bringing in a single Julio Jones-type target that will command 15 looks a game. That isn’t how Norv Turner wants his free-flowing offense to look. Instead, the trick to its effectiveness is the idea that on any given play, the ball could go to any target.
I know that’s not the answer you were hoping for, so I’ll say this: Samuel is absolutely worth taking a round earlier than any of your friends will. He’s been the most explosive and consistent player in Panthers training camp, and doing both at once isn’t easy. I wouldn’t be very surprised if neither he nor Moore reach 1,000 yards this season; not because of their talent, but because of the number of weapons at Newton’s disposal. Still, both have true WR2 potential and should be good for at least 800 yards and five touchdowns.
How big is the support for Eric Reid in the locker room?
The short answer: A lot.
Reid was in the spotlight last week for his comments about Jay-Z and the rapper’s new partnership with the NFL. I won’t get into the weeds of that here, mostly because Reid is one of the most steadfast people I’ve ever been around, and if he has an issue with something, there’s almost definitely a good reason for that.
But within the Panthers’ locker room, players love Reid. Not only has he stepped up into a new leadership role this year, but he’s continuing to improve as a player after joining Carolina midseason in 2018. I’d go so far as to say that Reid should be in the conversation to be a defensive captain this year, both for his on-field and locker-room impact. The idea that his signing would be a distraction had some credibility at the time, but looking back a year later, the outcome couldn’t be further from the truth.
People respect people who lay it all on the line for what they believe in.
Top 3 players that aren’t getting enough attention that we should watch?
A number of guys deserve could warrant a mention here, but I’ll go with:
▪ Marquis Haynes (DE/OLB): Last season was basically a redshirt year for Haynes, who left Ole Miss as the common-era college sacks leader. His get-off speed is right there with first-rounder Brian Burns, and getting to play from a standing position in the team’s new 3-4 defense is a significant benefit for him. He’ll see regular snaps opposite Burns as a second-team pass-rusher, with potential to sub more regularly as his production comes.
▪ Dennis Daley (G/T): Coach Ron Rivera loves positional versatility on the offensive line, and Daley embodies that. He’s listed at right guard on the depth chart, but coaches have moved him everywhere along the front throughout the summer. Alongside second-rounder Greg Little, Daley has potential down the line to develop into a valuable utility lineman.
▪ Terry Godwin (WR): The final receiver spot on this Panthers roster is still up for grabs, but Godwin is doing everything he can to stake his claim to the role. In addition to impressive hands throughout the spring and summer, he’s flashed at punt returner despite limited prior experience. Rivera has said a player’s worth on special teams may be the deciding factor for that last spot, and if Godwin can put together a few more nice returns before the preseason ends, he may be in the driver’s seat for that job.
Who is your biggest surprise and disappointment so far? It doesn’t have to be a single player — it can be an entire position group.
Surprise, I’ll go with the backup running backs. Christian McCaffrey is as much a star in this league as any runner, but there were legitimate questions about who could competently replace him. But Cameron Artis-Payne has continued his yearly streak of impressive preseason performances, and both rookies, Jordan Scarlett and Elijah Holyfield, have been better than expected. Cutting a back is going to be one of the tougher decisions Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney have to make.
Biggest disappointment, as much as fans won’t want to hear it, has to be the backup quarterbacks. Kyle Allen has certainly impressed more than Will Grier and Taylor Heinicke, but none of the three has truly stood out as the clear No. 2. I’d bet on Allen entering the season as Newton’s backup, but as was the case going into last year, this team’s chances could take a drastic nosedive with Newton out of the lineup.
Which is more likely: the Panthers making the playoffs but struggling within the division, or making the playoffs thanks to having an edge over division rivals? In the past, it’s usually been the former.
Interesting question, especially before the season gets going, but I like the idea it plays on.
The Panthers haven’t won the NFC South since their Super Bowl season in 2015, even though they earned a wild-card spot in 2017. Last year, the New Orleans Saints were an abysmal missed pass interference call away from becoming the third divisional team in the Super Bowl in the last four seasons.
But given the upgrades the Saints and Atlanta Falcons have made this offseason — and don’t discount a scrappier Tampa Bay team led by Bruce Arians — I think it’s difficult to project the Panthers to win the division. The Saints offense is a tough matchup for Carolina’s secondary, and the Falcons could play the same script if necessary. I still think the Panthers are at least a 10-win team if Newton’s shoulder holds up — and I would be surprised if they missed the postseason — but as you point out, I think the former of the two scenarios is more likely to play out.