Carolina Panthers Last Season Performance
To begin the 2021 season, Sam Darnold was red-hot leading the Panthers to a 3-0 start. On the win streak, Darnold threw for a combined 888 yards with a 98.9 QB rating. The Carolina hype began. Darnold found a destination where he would flourish after struggling with the Jets. The Panthers were on their way to competing for the NFC South along with a playoff spot.
The lofty expectations were quickly flipped following a four-game losing streak from Week 4-7. Christian McCaffrey went down with a hamstring injury in Week 3 and did not return for over a month. Darnold struggled with seven interceptions and an abysmal 28.05 QBR during the stretch. The offense went downhill, finishing 29th in points per game (17.9). Carolina finished the season at 5-12, good for last in the South.
It was a disappointing season, especially when considering the fast start. A 2-12 stretch following a 3-0 start is inexcusable. Matt Rhule found himself on the hot seat after the failed Darnold experiment. Several Panthers had great years, like D.J. Moore with 1,157 receiving yards and Brian Burns with nine sacks and a Pro Bowl appearance.
Carolina’s future is uncertain. Rhule’s job feels insecure as he looks to prove himself. Plus, the QB situation is far from solid as Darnold and Baker Mayfield battle for the starting spot.
Carolina Panthers Key Additions
The Panthers made upgrades on the offensive line. Austin Corbett agreed to a three-year, $26.25 million deal coming off a solid year with the Rams. Bradley Bozeman fills in as starting center after signing a one-year, $2.8 million contract. In the draft, Carolina took the talented left tackle Ikem Ekwonu at sixth overall. Ekwonu has superstar potential with his fluid athleticism and raw strength paired with a mean streak.
Darnold is halfway out the door after Carolina added QB help. Mayfield was acquired in exchange for a conditional 2024 pick. Also, Matt Corral — who threw for 3,349 yards and 20 touchdowns with Ole Miss — was drafted in the third round.
On defense, safety Xavier Woods signed a three-year, $15 million contract. Woods is a solid pairing with Jeremy Chinn. Linebacker Damien Wilson joined the Panthers after recording a career-high 106 tackles in 2021. Carolina also upgraded on special teams, signing punter Johnny Hekker to a three-year, $7.62 million contract.
Carolina Panthers Key Subtractions
Several major defensive pieces left Carolina in free agency. Haason Reddick had a great season with the Panthers, posting 11 sacks, 18 QB hits and 68 tackles. The Eagles acquired Reddick’s pass-rushing presence with a hefty three-year, $45 million contract.
Carolina made trade deadline waves after sending a 2023 sixth-rounder for veteran corner Stephon Gilmore. Initially, it looked like the Panthers would lock up the five-time Pro Bowler with a long-term deal. Instead, talks fizzled and Gilmore signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Colts. Gilmore has struggled to stay on the field since 2020, which lessens the blow. The Panthers decided to use that money on a three-year, $35.18 million extension with CB Donte Jackson.
Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones was another notable loss. After a great season with Carolina, the veteran tackle signed with Buffalo on a two-year, $14 million contract.
Outside of a few defensive losses, the Panthers upgraded their roster.
Carolina Panthers Head Coach Analysis
As mentioned, Rhule’s future is uncertain. No one expected much from Carolina in his first season, as they finished 5-11. If the Panthers stayed competitive, missing the playoffs last season would have been acceptable. However, Carolina was one of the NFL’s worst teams in the final 14 games.
The Panthers quickly became irrelevant after beginning 3-0. The offense sputtered as Darnold struggled and McCaffrey dealt with nagging injuries. The defense managed to make strides, ranking second in yards allowed per game (305.9 yards).
If it wasn’t for the defense, Carolina could have finished the season 0-14. Rhule was lucky to stay around. Instead, the attention was directed toward finding an Offensive Coordinator. The 2022 season is a make-or-break year for Rhule.
Carolina Panthers Injured Players at the Beginning of the Season
Backup tight end Ian Thomas is dealing with an ankle injury through camp. In addition, second-year defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos is battling a hamstring injury. Both can be long-term injuries that require a lot of recovery time. Thomas and Gross-Matos are expected to be ready for Week 1.
Since 2020, superstar tailback McCaffrey cannot stay healthy. Each season has been filled with various injuries. Two years ago, it was a high-ankle sprain, a shoulder injury and a quad problem. Last year, it was a hamstring injury followed by another ankle sprain. Carolina found some success on the ground with rookie Chuba Hubbard totaling 612 rushing yards. Look for the Panthers to lighten McCaffrey’s load, giving more touches to Hubbard.
Furthermore, cornerback Jaycee Horn had a great start to his rookie season. However, Horn’s season abruptly ended after breaking three bones in his foot during a Week 3 battle vs. Houston. Horn made a full recovery and projects to start opposite of Jackson.
Carolina Panthers Offense
Producing points is Carolina’s biggest worry. Who will win the QB battle between Darnold and Mayfield? Starting Mayfield is safer with more upside. Darnold has consistently experienced mid-season slumps with too many turnovers. Mayfield has three seasons with over 3,500 passing yards, which Darnold has not achieved.
Carolina has a solid wideout group with Moore, Robbie Anderson, Terrace Marshall and Rashard Higgins. McCaffrey has a better chance of staying healthy with less workload. Hubbard’s production and touch count will be key. The offensive line should improve with new additions.
The Panthers have talent on paper, but can they put it together? While Mayfield comes off his worst season, he was playing through a shoulder injury. It is far too early to write off Mayfield, while Darnold’s future as a backup seems certain. Carolina’s offense will improve with Mayfield starting and a healthy McCaffrey.
Carolina Panthers Defense
To start the season, the Panthers had one of the NFL’s best defenses. Losing Horn had a huge impact on the secondary. Carolina attempted to address the loss by trading for Gilmore, but it didn’t work out.
Losing Reddick and Jones leaves big holes on the defensive line. Gross-Matos must have a big second season to alleviate pressure off Burns. The defensive line must answer questions about depth and rushing the passer.
Carolina’s defense will at least be solid. Chinn, Horn, Jackson, Shaq Thompson and Burns are great players leading the unit. With better offensive output, the defense could flourish. The unit could stay fresh, which is a tremendous help for a pass rush.
Carolina Panthers Special Teams
The Panthers added stability at punter with the signing of Johnny Hekker. Joseph Charlton averaged 46.3 yards per punt in 2020. Last year, Charlton had a poor season averaging only 39.1 yards per punt in five games with the Panthers.
Hekker comes in as a five-time All-Pro. Recently, his production has declined, but Hekker is still averaging well over 40 yards per punt. As a 31-year-old punter, Hekker has plenty of seasons ahead.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez kept his starting job after converting 90.9% of kicks in 12 games with the Panthers. Gonzalez struggled in 2020 making 72.7% of field goal attempts. There’s no guarantee Gonzalez can replicate his terrific 2021 season.
Carolina Panthers Prediction for the 2022 Season
The season’s success will depend on quarterback play. If Darnold starts, Carolina could be tanking for an elite QB prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. If Mayfield starts, the Panthers could be competitive.
The offense has enough weapons. Of course, a healthy McCaffrey would take Carolina’s production to the next level. Elite play from Ekonwu at left tackle would open up the passing attack. Wideouts like Moore will have more time to meticulously pick apart opposing DBs.
The Panthers’ defense has promising players too. Horn will be a big factor; there’s a real chance he could become a lockdown No. 1 corner. Plus, Burns and Thompson add a presence to the front seven. Look for Gross-Matos to be the X-factor of the defensive line. As a former first-rounder, Gross-Matos has elite upside with an unnatural bend for a 6-foot-5 frame.
Carolina will fall short of the playoffs in 2022. While the NFC will have a down year, the Panthers will lack consistency. Even if Mayfield starts, the offense still has its problems. McCaffrey staying healthy feels unlikely and the offensive line is suspect.
Carolina Panthers Final Thoughts
Outside of the NFC South, the Panthers will face the Browns, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, Bengals, Ravens and Broncos. Carolina is a young team that struggles with consistency. Playing experienced teams with star power will not end well.
If healthy, the Panthers will not be one of the worst teams in the league. There are bright spots on the roster with players on the verge of a breakout year. Elite seasons from Ekonwu, Moore, Burns or Horn will leave fans with hope.
Overall, Carolina’s roster has too many holes. Securing a franchise quarterback is the biggest need. For that to happen, Mayfield will need a monster season or Corral will need to excel in limited opportunities.
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Carolina Panthers FAQs
Have the Panthers won a Super Bowl?
Carolina has an 0-2 all-time record in the Super Bowl. In 2003, the Panthers lost to the Patriots, 32-29. In 2015, Carolina fell short (24-10) against the Broncos.
What happened to Cam Newton?
Cam Newton looked like the NFL’s next superstar QB after an incredible 2015 MVP season. He led Carolina to a Super Bowl appearance after throwing for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns. Newton’s passer rating plummeted in the following season, going from 99.4 to 75.8. Since, the former Auburn Tiger struggled with accuracy. He started one season for the Patriots in 2020 and played a few games in Carolina after Darnold hit the Injured Reserve list. Newton remains an unsigned free agent.
Will the Panthers fire Matt Rhule?
Rhule was nearly fired following the 2021 season. He will need to secure his position with a successful year. If the Panthers underachieve again, Rhule will be on his way out of Carolina.
When was the Panthers franchise founded?
Carolina’s franchise was founded in 1993, becoming the NFL’s 29th team and first expansion team since 1976. About one month later, the Jaguars were also announced as an expansion team. The Panthers debuted in 1995 with a 7-9 record. Carolina’s peak has been two losses in the Super Bowl.