By Brentley Weissman
The Carolina Panthers have been an interesting team to follow. Widely expected to be among the league's worst teams heading into the season, the Panthers have had a rough 2020 sitting at 4-10 with two games left to go. I mention how the Panthers have been an interesting team to follow because even though they have a poor record, when I watch them, I definitely don’t think I am watching a bad football team.
Under first-year head coach Matt Rhule, the Panthers have shown tremendous heart, toughness, and physicality. Rhule has proven himself to be worthy of the hype he received as a sought-out head coaching candidate when he was at the University of Baylor. Of the Panthers' 10 losses, eight have come in one-score games. The Panthers have been competitive in almost every game this season, and with the mix of young talent on offense, but especially on defense, there is a lot of cause for excitement and optimism moving forward.
The Panthers' offense has an abundance of playmakers. Star running back Christian McCaffrey is one of the best at his position but dealt with multiple lingering injuries that essentially cost him his season. Wide receiver D.J. Moore is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, and free-agent acquisition Robby Anderson has proved to be well worth the contract he received this offseason. Free-agent-to-be Curtis Samuel also has had a strong season in his slot/hybrid role. While the team’s skill positions are set, the offensive line and quarterback leave a lot to be desired. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the main issue for the Panthers, but he certainly isn’t the long-term solution either.
While the offense has some good building blocks, I believe it is the young talent on the defensive side of the football that should have Panthers fans extremely excited about the future of this football club. After drafting literally all defense in the 2020 NFL Draft—a feat that has never been done before—this team has infused a ton of quality young talent throughout this defense.
The Panthers now have three key young stars on the defensive side of the football, who together have a chance to grow and develop into one of the best defenses in the NFL. Second-year defensive end/outside linebacker Brian Burns, rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown, and fellow rookie linebacker/safety hybrid Jeremy Chinn have all established themselves as top young players in their respective positions, and players that the Panthers can build around for years to come. Below I’ll dive deeper into what I have seen from each of these three that has me so excited about their future.
Burns is one of my favorite players in the NFL. Period. His unique style of rushing the passer, utilizing his freakish blend of speed, length, and quickness is awesome. Burns is truly one of the league’s best and most dangerous pass rushers, and the tape and stats back it up. Burns has racked up eight sacks this season, while also adding 20 quarterback hits, seven tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. An explosive speed rusher with long limbs, flexibility, and a rare inside spin move, Burns presents a massive challenge for opposing offensive tackles. Burns is also improving in the run game, where he demonstrates a good ability to set the edge and plays with outstanding effort in pursuit. He projects to be a double-digit sack guy for the Panthers for the next half-decade.
The seventh overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Brown has more than lived up to his pre-draft reputation. Brown, who many were quick to write off early this season as he wasn’t stuffing the stat sheet, had his best game as a professional in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers. He logged two sacks—the first two of his young career—two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. This type of production is nice to see, but Brown has been playing very well all season long, even if the stat production took a bit of time to follow.
Brown was drafted to be a difference-making defensive tackle for this Carolina defense where he can use his outstanding size, power, and violent hands to stop the run and also provide some interior pass rush. If you have watched Carolina at all this season you have seen big No. 95 control his gaps, show an outstanding ability to hold the point of attack, and disengage and make the play on the ball carrier. It is also important to note that defensive tackle is one of the hardest positions for young college players to transition to in the NFL. He is a bully in the middle of this defense who is only going to get better. Based on what I have seen this season from Brown I think he will be a top-five defensive tackle by the end of Year 3.
Last but certainly not least, Panthers do-it-all linebacker Chinn has been one of the best stories in the NFL. The Panthers traded up in the second round to select Chinn, and he has quickly developed into the best player on this defense and leader of this football team. Chinn has the size of a modern-day outside linebacker, but the range, instincts, and athletic ability of a free safety. He is moved all over the defense and has played in the box, at deep safety, and even has reps outside at corner. This type of versatility is rare, but even more rare for a player this young and inexperienced at the NFL level.
What’s even more special about Chinn is his production matches his freakish traits. Chinn currently leads all rookies in tackles with 101 and has also stuffed the stat sheet in other ways by contributing a pick, a sack, two forced fumbles, and two touchdowns. In a league that has never been more about matchups and spreading the ball out, Chinn is the Swiss-Army knife that all NFL teams are coveting to man their defense. He is firmly in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and I believe he will be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year in future seasons.
With plenty of cap space in 2021 and a projected top-five pick in the draft, the Panthers are in a prime position to continue to add talent to this roster. Rhule has proven to be a good coach and has the ability to instill a culture that should allow the team’s young players to continue to grow and reach their max potential. With building blocks on offense and defense, I am buying the stock of this Panthers organization.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022