Moving companies made quite a bit of money in the Charlotte area this spring. Especially if they specialized in moving football players. The Carolina Panthers were not shy in parting with some of their long-time players. Of course, it's not always the team that looks to upgrade or get younger but also players might seek out greener pastures. The Panthers experienced quite a mediocre season, following a 12 win 2008 campaign. They were very quiet in free agency but the draft brought them a selection of interesting prospects for the future. Let's dive in and see what transpired since the end of the season.
I need to mention that DE Julius Peppers was their biggest loss. The defense will be affected by his leaving in free agency. His skill set and productivity will not be easily replaced. Concentrating though on offensive skill position losses, quarterback is what we'll look at first. Jake Delhomme has been the leader of the offense for the last seven seasons. He has thrown for 120 TD's and over 19,000 yards as a Panther. It was a really good run but over the last 3 seasons he has really regressed. He has played in only 30 out of the last 48 regular season games. His yards per game have dropped below 210 the last 3 seasons and in the last two seasons his completion percentage has dropped below 60 percent. The new starter will most likely be Matt Moore, while the two rookie quarterbacks develop. He showed flashes of brilliance and leadership as the starter in the final five games of 2009. He led them to wins in four of them and threw for a TD:INT ratio of 8:1. Moore will not have to shoulder the load completely with the running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. I project Moore for 3100 yards, 24 TD's and 6 INT.
Leaving for the second time is WR Muhsin Muhammad. He has been a very reliable player for the Panthers throughout his career. The second time around he capably filled the receiver role across from Steve Smith, after the Panthers attempt to fill it with others met with failure. Last season, "Moose" caught 53 passes for 581 yards. Right now it seems like Dwayne Jarrett will be the second starter. He was drafted in the second round in 2007 but has not had the breakout season the Panthers have been expecting. He has not even gone over 200 yards for a season, which is really not a positive sign. Watch training camp to see if someone else emerges as their second WR. Jarrett looks like he could go for 34 receptions, 300 yards, 2 TD's.
Carolina also let quarterbacks A.J. Feeley and Josh McCown and kicker Rhys Lloyd walk. Feeley will probably backup Sam Bradford with St. Louis, while Lloyd was signed by Minnesota to be their kickoff specialist.
Even though Matt Moore is projected as the starter, Carolina looked to the draft for depth and potential for the future with two quarterbacks. With their first pick in the draft, they selected Jimmy Clausen out of Notre Dame. Some thought he might go in the first round but he fell to them at the 48th pick. He can make all the NFL throws but really lacks a big-time arm. He has been compared to Drew Brees, which is pretty interesting but I don't see it. The Panthers didn't stop there, adding Tony Pike in the sixth round out of the University of Cincinnati. He was projected to go much higher, like second round higher. He shows great ability to throw with accuracy. He reminds some of Joe Flacco, it will be interesting to see how this will play out with him and Clausen.
If Dwayne Jarrett falls flat or fails again, Carolina protected itself by drafting three wide receivers. In the third round, they took Brandon LaFell from LSU. He has shown strong hands to grab the ball out of the air with authority. Another quality is his ability to accelerate to full speed quickly. One of his comparisons is to Malcolm Floyd. LaFell looks like he could reach 29 catches, 350 yards, 1 TD. Also in the third round, they took Armanti Edwards from Appalachian State. He is probably most remembered for the mammoth upset at Michigan in 2007. He is an excellent athlete with good speed and elusiveness. He might be used in multiple ways: the Wildcat, receiver and a return man. Keep an eye on him. Lastly, they picked David Gettis in the sixth round from Baylor. He is tall and has good size (6-3, 217). Though he doesn't have too much explosiveness to separate from defenders. He will no doubt start on special teams.
In free agency, the Panthers picked up some depth with RB Josh Vaughn and WR Wallace Wright.
I really appreciate what Carolina did in the draft. The results may not be evident this season but the players they chose bare watching. The players they lost on the offensive side of the ball will not be missed much on the field. Look for the Panthers to experience some growing pains, not just because of their youth, but because of their lack of experience and leadership. Clausen and Pike would be good choices to stash in dynasty leagues.
Let me know what you think of their off-season moves in the comments and poll below.