The Panthers wrap up their preseason on Thursday night against Pittsburgh in what should be a spectating event for most of the roster locks and regular contributors. For those that will play, it will be their final chance to state their case to be on the roster for the coaching staff and front office. Cut day is Saturday and just like Winter, it’s coming/here.
Here’s my take on what the 53 man roster will be after cuts have been made:
Quarterbacks (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb
Business as usual here. A lot of fans want DA out or would like Webb promoted up to the backup slot. It won’t happen. Webb is the perfect #3 QB and is a great contributor on special teams and at wide receiver when he’s called upon. Given DA is a UFA after this season, this will likely be his last ride with Carolina.
Running Backs (4): Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whitaker and Cameron Artis-Payne
After Carolina drafted McCaffrey in April, my initial thought was that CAP’s spot on the roster was in jeopardy, but he has played well enough to deserve a spot on the roster. He also serves as the best replacement for Stewart in case of injury. Whitaker has been a staple for a couple of seasons, but in my opinion, he is the most at risk of getting cut due to personnel at his position and on special teams.
Fullbacks (1): Darrell Young
I went back and fourth on this one. Panthers are one of the few teams in the league that use a fullback so it would make sense that they retain one at the position. Other option would be to have a fourth tight end Richie Brockel type, but that is unlikely. Alex Armah has flashed in camp as a rookie, but given that he’s still so raw, practice squad seems likely for him leaving Young. Young’s experience in the league makes him serviceable.
Wide Receivers (5): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel, Russell Shepard and Damiere Byrd
Rivera has enough receiving versatility with McCaffrey and Joe Webb on the roster to get away with only keeping five wideouts on the 53. Curtis Samuel being healthy again also helps justify Ron building up depth elsewhere. Byrd makes the team as a vertical threat and special teams threat. Brenton Bersin and Kaelin Clay would be vying for the 6th spot if there was one available.
Tight Ends (3): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz
Olsen is an elite tight end and Dickson is a solid backup / best blocking tight end on the roster. Those two are solid. The third tight end spot is shaky at best. Manhertz beats out Scott Simonsen primarily because the latter has been injured, but this could be a group that sees a new addition added after cuts are made.
Offensive Line (9): Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell, Matt Kalil, Daryl Williams, Taylor Moton, Tyler Larsen, Gino Gradkowski and Chris Scott
Extremely solid group. Matt Kalil has looked solid at left tackle this preseason and Taylor Moton has a really bright future. Larsen will be Ryan Kalil’s primary backup at center while Scott and Gradkowski will fill in as interior depth.
Defensive Line (9): Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers, Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall, Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler, Eric Crume
Again, this is an extremely solid group with a great mix of veteran leadership and young talent. Short and Star are arguably the best interior tackle duo in the league and once Vernon Butler gets healthy, he will only make that group stronger. Daeshon Hall will most likely take the back seat to Horton on game days initially, but I like his potential. Kyle Love gets cut due to health reasons, but Eric Crume has been a nice surprise in games so far.
Linebackers (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, David Mayo, Jeremy Cash and Ben Jacobs.
Best group in the league and it’s not close. David Mayo looks to be an even better version of AJ Klein as the primary backup. Ben Jacobs edges out Jared Norris for the final spot due to special teams ability, but it’s close.
Cornerbacks (6): James Bradberry, Darryl Worley, Captain Munnerlyn, Teddy Williams, Zack Sanchez and Corn Elder
Zack Sanchez’s game against Jacksonville showed me enough improvement to warrant a roster spot. That being said, a big reason why he makes the team is due to Corn Elder’s injury. Elder looks to be on the mend so it’ll be interesting to see how things shake down once he makes his return to the field, but given that he’s a rookie it will take time to integrate him into the rotation. Teddy Williams will continue to lead the charge on special teams.
Safeties (4): Kurt Coleman, Mike Adams, Colin Jones and Dezmond Southward
This is another group that could see a new addition once cuts have been made. Jones is a “special teams ace” so his spot seems safe. Southward has had a nice preseason so I think he makes the team Saturday, but he will be the first to go if the front office finds an upgrade on the market Saturday night.
Specialists (3): Graham Gano, Andy Lee and JJ Jansen
According to media reports, Jansen is the only lock here at long snapper. I do think that Rivera will ride with Gano for one more season over Butker, but if he misses a few to start the season, the leash will be extremely short. The punter battle between Lee and Palardy has been widely publicized, but given Lee’s skill, experience and contract situation, it just makes sense to keep him.