The Carolina Panthers had an 11-5 record in 2017 and looked to improve in 2018. After a 6-2 start, the Panthers lost seven straight games, ending with a 7-9 record. Cam Newton, while solid during his 2018 season, struggled with minor injuries during the season and was lost for the final two games of the regular season.

There were some high spots for the team, however. Christian McCaffery improved greatly in his sophomore season, showing he is one of the best running backs in the NFL and Luke Kuechly continued to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Carolina drafted Florida State Seminole Brian Burns with the 16th overall selection in this past draft. The team continued to boost their defensive line by signing Gerald McCoy from division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Other than that, the team did not make any huge splashes in the offseason.

Here is my breakdown of the 2019 offseason roster along with my projected starters, backups, and preseason cuts.

Quarterbacks

Credit: Getty Images
  • Starter: Cam Newton
  • Backups: Taylor Heinicke, Will Grier
  • Preseason Cuts: Kyle Allen

As long as Newton is healthy, the Panthers will be in contention. Newton will look to bounce back after an injury-riddled 2018 season. A 6’5″ mobile QB with a rocket arm? He’ll be under center for the Panthers for years to come.

Heinicke is a veteran that’ll likely be the main backup to Newton in case of injury. The team drafted Grier in the 3rd round and looks to be the future backup to Newton and maybe eventually replacement for him years down the road. For now, he’ll be the 3rd QB.

Running Backs

Credit: Ron Schwane/Associated Press
  • Starter: Christian McCaffery
  • Backup: Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield, Alex Armah
  • Preseason Cuts: Cameron Artis-Payne, Reggie Bonnafon

McCaffrey improved greatly in his sophomore season and showed he is one of the best all-around backs in the league. He’ll continue his role as the lead back. I have both rookies Scarlett and Holyfield making the roster to backup McCaffery but playing time may be limited due to Carolina using Newton and McCaffery in the backfield. Armah makes the roster as the only fullback, which the team uses from time to time.

Artis-Payne, while a veteran, I believe won’t make the cut. Scarlett, 5th round draft pick, and Holyfield could beat him on the preseason for carries.

Wide Receivers

Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  • Starters: D.J. Moore, Chris Hogan, Curtis Samuel
  • Backups: Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright, Terry Godwin
  • Preseason Cuts: Damion Jeanpiere, Andre Levrone, Jaydon Mickens, Aldrick Robinson, Rashad Ross, DeAndrew White

Moore took a bit to develop but looked better towards the end of the season. He’ll be the lead man in the position group while Hogan will start beside him. Samuel will also start as the slot wide receiver.

Smith and Wright are veterans that’ll provide depth to the younger guys while Godwin, a 7th round selection, will contribute on Special Teams.

Tight Ends

Credit: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer
  • Starter: Greg Olsen
  • Backups: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz
  • Preseason Cuts: Temarrick Hemingway, Cole Hunt, Jason Vander Laan

Olsen, at one point, was one of the top tight ends in the NFL but injuries have hampered that. Look for him to bounce back this season while Thomas is a young player that proved to be a solid option in the offense last year. Manhertz is a veteran who will provide good depth and Special Teams as the third tight end.

Offensive Line

Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
  • Starters: Taylor Moton, Greg Van Roten, Matt Paradis, Trai Turner, Daryl Williams
  • Backups: Greg Little, Taylor Hearn, Tyler Larson, Dennis Daley
  • Preseason Cuts: Parker Collins, Kofi Amichia, Brandon Greene, Kitt O’Brien, Norman Price, Dillon Gordon

The offensive line has been the problem for Carolina the past few seasons. The interior of Van Roten, Paradis, and Turner are solid starters. Williams needs to be healthy in order to keep his starting spot. Moton and Little will battle throughout training camp for the left tackle position.

Hearn, Larsen, and Daley will provide good depth.

Defensive Line

Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images
  • Starters: Bruce Irvin, Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy, Brian Burns
  • Backups: Kawann Short, Vernon Butler, Mario Addison, Bryan Cox Jr., Kyle Love
  • Preseason Cuts: Marquise Haynes, Efe Obada, Woodrow Hamilton, Bijhon Jackson, Destiny Vaeso

The defensive line is a huge strength for Carolina. The defensive tackles are great here with new signees McCoy and Poe will be the starters while Short, Butler, and Love will rotate in.

Burns and Irvin are solid options for defensive ends. Addison, Cox Jr., and Haynes are also solid backups. Overall, Carolina’s defensive line will be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines.

Linebackers

Credit: Jeremy Brevard/U.S. Presswire
  • Starters: Shaq Thompson, Luke Kuechly, Antwione Williams
  • Backups: Christian Miller, Jared Norris, Jermaine Carter Jr.
  • Preseason Cuts: Jonathan Celestin, Jordan Kunaszyk, Andre Smith, Sione Teuhema

Kuechly is one of the best linebackers in the NFL and no doubt he starts here. Thompson has been a solid starter for the team.

There will be a preseason battle for the last linebacker spot between Williams and Miller. Norris and Carter Jr. will provide depth and Special Teams ability.

Cornerbacks

Credit: Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports
  • Starters: James Bradbury, Donte Jackson
  • Backups: Ross Cockrell, Kevon Seymour, Corn Elder
  • Preseason Cuts: Cole Luke, Lorenzo Doss, Javien Elliott, Quin Blanding

Bradberry and Jackson are young corners that I think will improve with another offseason under their belts. Cockrell and Seymour will battle for the nickel back position. Elder will likely make the team due to his Special Teams ability.

Safeties

Credit: Matt Rourke/AP
  • Starters: Eric Reid, Rashaan Gaulden
  • Backups: Tre Boston, Quin Blanding, Colin Jones
  • Preseason Cuts: Corrion Ballard, Kai Nacua, Damian Parms

I have the safties on last year’s team being the same as this upcoming season. Reid and Gaulden will likely be the starters while Blanding and Jones will provide very good depth and rotate in certain packages. Boston was recently brought back after a two-year stint away from the team. He’ll be the top backup if either Reid or Gaulden go down with an injury.

Specialists

Credit: Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports
  • Kicker: Graham Gano
  • Punter: Michael Palardy
  • Long Snapper: J.J. Jansen
  • Preseason Cuts: Joey Slye

A solid group of specialist here and much like the previous teams’ mentioned so far, the squad from last year will likely be on the roster once again in 2019.

Carolina is in a tough division. They’ll fight for the division crown against the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. With those team being slightly better, I think they’ll likely fight for a Wild Card spot.

That being said, Newton’s health is the biggest question here. When healthy, Newton is a top QB in the league and with McCaffery improving, that’ll be a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield.

The defensive side of the ball will be solid on all three levels, particularly on the defensive line with that deep tackle and end rotation.

Overall, a solid squad in Carolina and if their stars stay healthy, they’ll compete for a playoff spot.

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