At the end of the 2014 season, I took a look at the Carolina Panthers’ top positional needs which can be read here. Now that the bulk of the offseason moves are complete, it is a good time to review how the team addressed these needs.
The left tackle position was identified as priority number one, especially with Byron Bell likely not coming back. There was no viable options on the roster to start at left tackle and the free agent market lacked many options who could be considered starters.
The San Diego Chargers’ quickly locked up the top free agent option by re-signing King Dunlap but the Panthers were able to sign Michael Oher, who had the most experience at the position on the free agent market. Oher became available when he was released after one lackluster, injury-riddled season with the Tennessee Titans.
He isn’t the only player the team brought in to address the position as they also claimed Jonathan Martin off waivers, who has experience at the position. While neither player is a sure-fire upgrade, the hope is that competition between the two will identify one who can fill the position.
There is no question the Panthers have their number one wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin but the concern was the depth behind him. This offseason the team brought in three new wide receivers, two in free agency and one in the draft.
The first move the front office made was to bring back Ted Ginn Jr., who had a successful season with the Panthers in 2013 but left in free agency for the Arizona Cardinals. The season was a struggle for Ginn and the Cardinals found a younger, cheaper option in John Brown, which made Ginn expendable. Now that he is back in Carolina, he provides the team with a speed threat as well as giving them an experience return man.
The Panthers also signed Jarrett Boykin, who is a young player with a ton of upside. The former Green Bay Packer had an incredible six game stretch in 2013 when he replaced an injured Randall Cobb. He was expected to be the team’s number three wide receiver in 2014 but was surpassed by rookie Davante Adams. He is one player who could be a surprise and end up winning the number two job across from Benjamin.
The one player who will give Boykin his toughest competition for that spot is second round pick Devin Funchess. The former Michigan Wolverine is a huge target for Cam Newton who can play both on the outside as well as inside out of the slot. Funchess should be able to have the biggest impact early in his career in the red zone and could be a touchdown machine because of his size.
This wasn’t a huge need as the team’s secondary was good enough towards the end of the 2014 season with Bene Benwikere on the outside and Colin Jones as the team’s nickelback. While both players can play these positions, it isn’t necessarily there strongest positions. A move inside to nickel for Benwikere with a strong cornerback on the outside would be the best move.
To make this happen, the Panthers signed veteran free agent Charles Tillman. The 13-year veteran at one time was a top cornerback however injuries have been an issue the past two seasons. He has been held to only 10 games over that stretch due to two injuries to his tricep.
If Tillman is able to stay healthy over the entire 2015 season, this will end up being a great move for the Panthers. He has experience in this defense playing for Ron Rivera in Chicago when Rivera was the defensive coordinator.
Unfortunately, that is a big if but if Tillman is not able to play every game the defense will be forced to go back to the secondary they finished the year with, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.
The team released Thomas Decoud at the end of the season, who was the starter at the beginning of the 2014 season but was replaced by Tre Boston against the Minnesota Vikings. That is not the position of concern but the question is just how much veteran Roman Harper has left in the tank.
Similar to the team’s other moves this offseason, the Panthers signed a player who has been inconsistent but produced at a high level at one point in his career. Kurt Coleman, played at a high level for the Philadelphia Eagles but struggled a bit and found a home in Kansas City last year.
He is a perfect fit for this defense because at the very least he provides depth at both safety positions. However, he has the talent to compete and win the starting safety position and potentially create a platoon with Harper.
The Panthers wanted to get younger and free up some money tied to the position this offseason. They were able to accomplish that with the release of longtime Panther DeAngelo Williams. The team did bring back Fozzy Whittaker and signed free agent Jordan Todman, however neither seem to be the type of player to replace Williams.
The Panthers seemingly found that player in the NFL Draft with the selection of Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne, who is similar to featured back Jonathan Stewart. Both players are built to run between the tackles and have the quickness to hit the holes. However, neither player has that top-end speed to break away from defenses for long touchdown runs.
The Panthers offense is the right fit for players like Stewart and Artis-Payne, where they plan to rely on the run to wear down opposing defenses and use the passing game for the big plays.