Most Valuable Player
Brandon Croce's Award Winner: Cam Newton
This is a pretty easy selection because Cam Newton is probably not only the Carolina Panthers' MVP but is also the league MVP. He finished the year with 45 total touchdowns and finished tied for second in passing touchdowns (35) and finished tied for second in rushing touchdowns (10). He is the only player this year to score double digit rushing touchdowns that wasn't a running back.
Kenan Goyette's Award Winner: Cam Newton
Working with a mediocre receiving corps and a questionable offensive line, Cam Newton has taken a massive leap forward this season. His physical abilities have been apparent since he was drafted but this year his mental skill has been on display as he has orchestrated the number one scoring offense in the league. With numerous records broken this year and more than a few game-winning drives, SuperCam has certainly earned MVP honors.
Offensive Player of the Year
Brandon Croce's Award Winner: Jonathan Stewart
Since no player can win more than one award, this will go to running back Jonathan Stewart. He did a majority of the heavy lifting this year and was a driving force for this offense. He finished with a career high in rushing attempts (242) and prior to his injury against the Atlanta Falcons had eight straight games with 20+ rushing attempts. The foot injury cut a great season short for Stewart but he should be back healthy and ready for the playoffs.
Kenan Goyette's Award Winner: Jonathan Stewart
The reason the Panthers’ offense worked so well this season was because of the balance they had between the pass and the run, and the emergence of Jonathan Stewart as the lead back solidified that. Stewart provided this team with a big threat in the backfield and helped keep defenses honest and make this offense nearly impossible to defend. He missed the final three games and finished just shy of 1,000 yards (989), but Stewart was the biggest key to the success of this offense.
Defensive Player of the Year
Brandon Croce's Award Winner: Kawann Short
There are a number of high profile players on this defense that includes Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly but the one player who has played the best down the stretch has to be defensive tackle Kawann Short. He is one of only three defensive tackles to finish with double digit sacks (11) and accounted for a quarter of the Panthers' defense total sacks (44). He made life very difficult for opposing offenses and his pressure allowed the rest of the defensive players make plays.
Kenan Goyette's Award Winner: Josh Norman
Panther fans knew Josh Norman was on the rise after his impressive finish to last year but this season he burst onto the scene making a name for himself as one of the premiere corners in the NFL. Norman consistently shut down number one receivers and made this secondary a force to be reckoned with. With four interceptions (two for touchdowns) and the lowest quarterback rating when targeted at 54.0, Norman deserves serious consideration for DPOY. Even with Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short having tremendous years as well, Norman gets the nod here.
Most Improved Player
Brandon Croce's Award Winner: Trai Turner
The second year right guard has taken the next step in his career and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. Turner has been a key to the offensive line's improvement over the past year and half and Pro Football Focus rated him as the fourth best right guard in the league this year. He has made the most strides in his run blocking improving from 0.6 to 15.6 and has played pivotal role in the offense finishing second in rushing yards.
Kenan Goyette's Award Winner: Kurt Coleman
This is just his first year in Carolina but, Coleman deserves recognition for the impact he had on the Panthers defense. Coleman came in as a journeyman safety looking to contribute in any way possible but quickly forced his way into the starting lineup and never looked back. He finished the season with 90 total tackles and seven interceptions, good for second best in the league. Beyond the stats though, Coleman gave this defense a heavy hitter and a high flying safety who turned himself from a situational backup to a high impact starter.
Rookie of the Year
Brandon Croce's Award Winner: Devin Funchess
Last year, the Panthers' relied heavily on their rookie class with upwards of seven rookies playing at one time. This rookie class hasn't had that same kind of impact, at least early on. Rookie wide receiver Funchess has played much better over the second half of the year and has shown a knack of getting in the end zone. He finished the year with five touchdowns over the final nine games. He showed enough to have people excited about the idea of him and Kelvin Benjamin on the field at the same time in 2016.
Kenan Goyette's Award Winner: Devin Funchess
This 2015 Panthers rookie class saw a lot of raw talent show promise in limited roles but wide receiver Devin Funchess was arguably the best of the bunch. Funchess started off slow as an unproven but talented receiving threat but came on strong in the latter half of the season. He finished with 31 receptions for 473-yards and five scores and ended the regular season on a high note with his best outing yet. Looking ahead, Funchess should only improve and give Newton and this offense another big threat in the pass game.
Brandon Croce's Award Winner: Graham Gano
The one player who didn't get as much credit as he might deserve was kicker Graham Gano. He finished the year setting a franchise record in points (146) and had two game-winning field goals, against the Indianapolis Colts and the NY Giants. He actually had to make two field goals in the overtime win against the Colts with the game winner being from 52 yards.
Kenan Goyette's Award Winner: Offensive Line
Arguably the biggest question mark for the Panthers coming into this season was Michael Oher at left tackle and the state of the offensive line. Needless to say, they outdid themselves. This group of mainly undrafted free agents and cast offs (with Ryan Kalil manning the middle) turned themselves from a question mark to an exclamation point, ranking as one of the best units in the league. They gave up just 33 sacks on the year and produce two Pro Bowlers in Kalil and Trai Turner. No attention is good attention for offensive linemen and this group was undoubtedly the unsung hero of this team.
Game of the Year
Brandon Croce's Game of the Year: Week 12, at Dallas Cowboys
There were countless storylines entering this game from the Panthers playing for the first time on Thanksgiving, the first game against Greg Hardy or the fact they were entering the game as underdogs even though they had a much better record. This wasn't the prettiest game but it proved, on a national stage, that the Panthers' are not reliant on one part of their team. The offense struggled in this one but the defense made huge plays by intercepting Tony Romo three times, and returning two for touchdowns. This was a defining game for this team because of everything surrounding it and is the one that will stand out most from the regular season this year.
Kenan Goyette's Game of the Year: Week 13, at New Orleans Saints
Many look to Week 6 against Seattle as the Game of the Year for the Panthers but possibly the most important was in Week 13 when they survived the shootout with the Saints in New Orleans. Not only did Newton lead a game winning drive that capped off one of his best games of the season but it also showed that when this Panthers defense struggled, that the offense could shoulder the load, put points on the board and carrying this team to victory. This matchup proved that the Panthers were now a legitimate offensive threat.