Who are the five Carolina Panthers players to look out for as we head into the final part of what has been an offseason filled with ebbs and flows?
In terms of players coming in it’s been a largely positive offseason for the Panthers. They addressed needs at numerous positions including Left Tackle, Linebacker, and of course Quarterback. As for off the field, it’s been less than impressive. David Tepper has once again shown his naivety as an NFL owner with the Panthers new training facility down in Rock Hill, South Carolina, looking a long way from what the former hedge fund manager promised fans.
There are a few interesting caveats for the Panthers as they are less than a week away from reporting to training camp on the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The most talked about is of course the reported competition between incumbent starter and the Panthers’ recent acquisition, former Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. In all reality, calling it a competition is a stretch as Mayfield is a far superior player and should win the job.
We will certainly see some interesting position battles arise. Can first-round pick Ickey Ekwonu get to the required level so the Panthers feel comfortable starting him against Myles Garrett in week one? Who will emerge as the WR2 behind DJ Moore? Can Christian McCaffrey stay healthy, and of course most importantly, who will win the job at long snapper?
Let’s get into five Carolina Panthers players to watch throughout training camp.
Robby Anderson Carolina Panthers WR
There’s rarely a lack of news when it comes to Robby Anderson. The former Temple man is certainly a character, to say the least. After earning an extension following a career year in 2020 we saw a stark regression from Anderson in 2021, while the player must accept some responsibility we can’t ignore the shocking QB and sub-par offensive line.
Anderson was twice seen expressing his anger on the sidelines during the 2021 season. First being seen berating then WR coach Frisman Jackson after he rightly said the Philadelphia Eagles Cornerbacks were sitting on his routes. He was later in the season captured telling Sam Darnold to “tighten up” after the former USC man threw three picks in a loss to the New England Patriots.
Robby and Sam. pic.twitter.com/RIZLzoZZLr — John Ellis (@1PantherPlace) November 7, 2021
It’s been something of a tumultuous offseason for the former New York Jet. He hit headlines in April when he voiced his displeasure on Instagram at a rumor that the Panthers were looking to trade for Baker Mayfield, he then even took to Twitter to hint at retirement.
Anderson who again skipped the voluntary portion of OTA’s was hampered by a hip injury so while present during mandatory minicamp he didn’t participate. The talk coming from the media who attended OTA’s was that 2020 second-round pick Terrace Marshall JR was a real standout. Marshall drafted out of LSU 59th overall in 2021 was the star of the Panthers’ preseason a year ago but a combination of injuries and poor Quarterback play meant that Marshall had little impact.
If Anderson doesn’t show improvement during camp after a strange offseason and a down year in 2020 it’s certainly feasible that Anderson finds himself further down the depth chart once the season rolls around.
Ikem Ekwonu Carolina Panthers OT
The first five picks of the 2022 NFL draft could not have gone much better if you were a fan of the Carolina Panthers. When the New York Giants selected Kayvon Thibodeaux with the fifth pick it meant to many people’s surprise the Panthers had every offensive player available to them to take at six
To fans’ relief, the Panthers took a Left Tackle, a position the franchise had neglected since 2013 when former All-Pro Jordan Gross retired. Since then, the Panthers have had somewhat of a revolving door at the position. Hopefully, that has now changed after selecting NC State’s Ickey Ekwonu who some had as the number one player in the draft, with the Panthers looking to sure up the position for the next decade.
If Ekwonu is the starter in week one it doesn’t get much tougher as Ekwonu will potentially be lining up opposite Myles Garrett a completely dominant force off the edge. Despite his lofty draft selection Matt Rhule has made it clear the Charlotte Native Ekwonu must earn the job.
2021 third-round pick Brady Christensen who flashed in a limited sample size at Left Tackle in 2021 was taking a lot of the first team reps during OTA’s and may be given the start in week one. Rhule commented on the fact that Ekwonu needs to shift some weight ahead of training camp. Pictures posted on social media showed the sixth pick working with renowned Offensive Line coach Duke Manyweather and the player already looks like a beast.
Jaycee Horn Carolina Panthers CB
So much was expected of Jaycee Horn ahead of the 2021 season, and to be fair the former South Carolina Gamecock through the two and a half games we saw of him, was a shutdown corner giving up just one reception and a passer rating of 39.6. Unfortunately for Panthers fans, the season was cut short in week three when he broke his foot on the road in Houston ending his season.
This is a big season for Horn. Despite only being in his second year, Horn will enter the 2022 season as CB1 on the depth chart, which is a lot of pressure leveled on Horn’s shoulders. As we’ve seen in the offseason videos posted to social media of Horn putting the work in and the player looks back to his best, however, Horn needs to show it once the pads come on.
One thing that could be said against Horn in 2021 is that during his first games in the league the level of receiver he was matched up with was not at a very high level. With Corey Davis being the premier receiver he had to cover. That changes early in 2022, with the week one matchup Horn finding himself against multiple-time pro bowler Amari Cooper, and in week two potentially a matchup with former OPOY Michael Thomas.
Derrick Brown Carolina Panthers DT
This is nothing short of a huge season for Derrick Brown. The former number seven overall pick out of Auburn is entering potentially a make-or-break year, his play this season will determine whether or not the Panthers decide to pick up Brown’s fifth-year option, judging his play in the league so far that is not a given, Brown has been at best solid if not spectacular.
Brown is a solid player and at times anchors the defensive line well, however, he is sometimes limited by his lack of pass rushing ability. Brown only has five sacks in his first two years, the signing of former Washington Commander Matt Ioannidis may help to alleviate some of the pressure on Brown.
The former Temple Owl has the ability to get after the passer, notching seven and a half and eight and a half sacks in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019. If Ioannidis can find anywhere near that level of play it may decrease the pressure on Brown in that department.
However Brown is still under pressure to perform, in college he was touted as a beast against the run. In his three years as a starter, he notched 31.5 tackles for loss. With the Panthers at times struggling against the run, it’s key that Brown shows from training camp he is setting the tone under new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni.
Thomas Fletcher Carolina Panthers LS.
No seriously, I am including a long snapper in here, you’ve all seen the video of Matt Rhule calling the Alabama long snapper to tell him he was being drafted back in 2020.
Despite spending a sixth-round pick on Fletcher he was unable to beat out long-time starter J.J. Jansen in camp. If it weren’t for a season-ending hip injury in the preseason that saw him placed on IR Fletcher more than likely would have been cut.
Fast forward 12 months and surprisingly Jansen signed a one-year extension back in February meaning that down at Wofford we’ll see Fletcher and Jansen battle for the starting job under the watchful eye of new Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor.
While the viral video of Fletcher losing his mind at the time was good-natured if again he fails to beat out Jansen and is likely cut, it will mean the Panthers wasted a pick on a long snapper who never saw the field in competitive action.
Just a final thought, Fletcher was the 222nd overall pick in 2021. Taken at 226th overall was all-rookie guard, Trey Smith, of the Kansas City Chiefs.