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Yetur Gross-Matos Panthers

Why Panthers’ Yetur Gross-Matos Is Poised For Breakout 2022 Season

  • Jack McKessy
  • July 20, 2022
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There’s no time like the present for Carolina Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos to break out. After a couple of years that didn’t feature outstanding production, the Panthers’ young edge rusher is in a great position to thrive in 2022.

First and foremost is the fact that Gross-Matos is finally projected to be a Week 1 starter for the first time since the Panthers drafted him in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, Gross-Matos was stuck behind then-second-year edge rusher Brian Burns and free agent signee Stephen Weatherly. That year, Burns locked himself into a starting role with an impressive nine-sack season. Weatherly, meanwhile, didn’t have nearly as much success and missed the last seven games of the season after needing finger surgery. Gross-Matos got his chance to be a starter in those seven games and put together a solid second half. It was certainly enough to convince the Panthers that their young rookie could be a long-term future solution at the position, and the team cut Weatherly after the season ended.

Unfortunately for Gross-Matos, his time as a clear starter opposite Burns was short-lived. Within the same offseason that they cut Weatherly, Carolina made a splash move for their defensive front by signing another edge rusher, Haason Reddick, to a one-year deal. Gross-Matos was once again relegated to the bench, getting fewer starts in his second year despite playing in more games.

After two years on the sidelines, the Penn State product will finally get his chance to shine in a starting role. Reddick left for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency after his one-year contract was up, and the Panthers didn’t make any significant moves to try to replace him.

Being one of the Week 1 starters at edge rusher no doubt means Gross-Matos will get more opportunities to get after the quarterback than he’s had in his first two years as a pro. Through two seasons, he still hasn’t played even 50% of the Panthers’ defensive snaps in a single year.

If the extra snaps alone weren’t enough, the third-year edge rusher will be pressuring quarterbacks alongside Burns, a 2021 Pro Bowler. Burns will undoubtedly draw extra attention on one side of the line after a year in which he recorded nine sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, and four pass deflections. For Gross-Matos, playing opposite Burns should provide plenty of opportunities to succeed, especially for an edge rusher who has already shown flashes of potential facing an increased role in the defense. Just look at Reddick’s 2021 season, which featured 11 sacks and the eighth-best pass-rush win rate (23 percent) of all NFL edge rushers.

On top of those extra snaps and the opportunities Gross-Matos will have opposite Burns, there’s the added bonus that the young edge rusher plays on a defense with a very talented secondary. Safeties Jeremy Chinn and free agent signee Xavier Woods plus cornerbacks Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, and C.J. Henderson make up a young defensive secondary that has the potential to be one of the NFL’s most talented.

Strong secondary talent often means quarterbacks need more time in the pocket to let plays develop. More time in the pocket means more time for guys like Burns and Gross-Matos to pursue the quarterback. Last year’s Panthers team finished second in the NFL in team pass-rush win rate (51%) only behind the Rams (53%). Burns and Reddick are both super talented up front in beating linemen with their individual skills, but having a strong secondary behind them absolutely helped.

Gross-Matos is finally getting a starting role in the defense opposite Burns and in front of a strong secondary. Putting all those factors together for a young edge rusher that has already shown some nice flashes of potential should mean the third-year defender experiences a nice breakout season for the Panthers. If he can stay healthy all year after a couple of ankle injuries held him back in his first two years, 2022 could be a career year.

Written By

Jack McKessy