Nobody can accuse the Carolina Panthers of not attempting to address the quarterback position. In the last two years, the Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, the Nos. 1 and 3 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. A year ago, former No. 1 pick Cam Newton was brought back to Carolina. While Newton is no longer with the Panthers, Mayfield and Darnold are competing to be the starter this season.
The Panthers resisted the temptation to reach for a quarterback early in the 2022 NFL Draft and instead took Ikem Ekwonu, the first offensive lineman taken.
It is only natural to wonder if this will be the final season for coach Matt Rhule to try to get the Panthers trending in the right direction. The Panthers have gone 10-23 under Rhule over the last two seasons and figure to fall somewhere around a five-win team once again in 2022.
Only the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions have a lower probability than Carolina (+12500) among NFC teams in the odds to win the Super Bowl, according to the NFL playoff odds.
- 2021 record: 5-12 (fourth in NFC South)
- Playoff result: Did not qualify.
- Season opener: vs Cleveland Browns, Sept. 11, 1 p.m. EDT
- Playoff teams on 2022 schedule: HOME – Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tampa Bay; AWAY – Cincinnati, Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay
- Key newcomers: QB Baker Mayfield, S Xavier Woods, OL Bradley Bozeman, OL Austin Corbett, LB Cory Littleton, WR Rashard Higgins, DL Matt Ioannidis, WR Andre Roberts, RB D’Onta Foreman, CB Duke Dawson, P Johnny Hekker, OT Ikem Ekwonu (first-round pick), QB Matt Corral (third-round pick), LB Brandon Smith (fourth-round pick).
- Key losses: LB Jermaine Carter, LB Haason Reddick, QB Cam Newton, CB Stephon Gilmore, RB Ameer Abdullah, DT Daquan Jones, DE Morgan Fox, CB A.J. Bouye, CB Rashaan Melvin, OL John Miller. OL Matt Paradis, P Lachlan Edwards.
- Award candidates: Christian McCaffrey, +1400 in the NFL Offensive Player of the Year odds; Matt Corral, +2000 in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year odds; Brian Burns, +5000 in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds.
The attention might be on the trade for QB Mayfield. However, the key to the season could be the health of running back Christian McCaffrey. Since finishing the 2019 season with 1,387 rushing yards and 1,005 receiving yards, McCaffrey has played 10 out of a possible 33 games.
Chuba Hubbard played well in place of the injured McCaffrey a season ago and now the Panthers have added D’Onta Foreman.
With D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall, Carolina has some playmakers at receiver. Rashard Higgins and Andre Roberts were brought in to provide even more options for whoever is the quarterback. Tight end Tommy Tremble had 20 catches as a rookie. Could more work be coming his way in 2022?
Ekwonu isn’t the only newcomer on the offensive line. Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett were signed as free agents. Pat Elflein figures to team with Bozeman and Corbett on the interior of the line.
Taylor Moton, Ekwonu and Brady Christensen give Carolina some options at tackle. The Panthers finished 30th in the NFL in total offense and 29th in scoring offense in 2021.
Darnold and Mayfield had a combined for 26 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions a season ago and that ratio is going to need to change.
Pretty deep ball from @bakermayfield. 🎯
— NFL (@NFL) August 2, 2022
With no second-round pick and utilizing their first- and third-round selections on Ekwonu and quarterback Matt Corral, the Panthers waited until pick No. 120 to address the defense when former Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith was drafted.
The defense lost third-leading tackler Jermaine Carter to the Kansas City Chiefs and sack leader Haason Reddick to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The defensive line will be led by former first-round picks Brian Burns (nine sacks in 2021) and Derrick Brown, although the Panthers do have to replace Daquan Jones.
Linebacker Shaq Thompson has posted three consecutive 100-tackle seasons. Safeties Jeremy Chinn (a team-best 107 tackles a season ago) and Sean Chandler, as well as cornerback Donte Jackson, are players to keep an eye on in the secondary.
Safety Xavier Woods, linebacker Cory Littleton, defensive lineman Matt Iaonnidis and cornerback Duke Dawson were acquired in the offseason.
Johnny Hekker was acquired to do the punting while Zane Gonzalez returns after going 20 for 22 on field goals.
2022 Panthers Outlook
There were times last season when Carolina looked like a team that could compete, even in the tough NFC South, and other times when the Panthers were overmatched. They head into the 2022 season trying to avoid a fifth consecutive losing season.
Carolina was just 2-6 in one-score games in 2021. The season-ending seven-game losing streak included losses by six, eight and eight points.
Opening the season against a Cleveland Browns team that will be missing suspended quarterback Deshaun Watson, followed by a game against the New York Giants, could give the Panthers a chance to get off to a decent start. That is followed by a nasty stretch with games against New Orleans, Arizona, San Francisco, the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and NFC title favorite Tampa Bay.
The regular season expected win total is set at 6½. The Las Vegas odds are at -115 for the Panthers to either go over or under that total.
Something to consider for those who bet online: Carolina covered in the first three games in 2021 but was 2-12 against the spread for the rest of the season.