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2021 NFL Team Preview: Carolina Panthers

TAMPA, FL - SEP 20: Christian McCaffrey (22) of the Panthers celebrates a touchdown during the regular season game between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 20, 2020 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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After a 2020 season that saw them finish with a disheartening 5-11 record, the Carolina Panthers hope to stay the next step in their rebuilding phase this season. Veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater played pretty well last year but he was traded to Denver in the offseason (Baseline Times). Former New York Jet Sam Darnold will be the Panthers’ new starting QB in 2021.

Can second-year head coach Matt Rhule keep this team progressing this season? The Panthers’ schedule should be much easier to navigate than last year so there’s a reason for optimism. Here’s a closer look at the 2021 Panthers.

2021 Offense

A fresh start is exactly what Sam Darnold needs after a rough three-year stretch with the Jets. Darnold has plenty of ability but the Jets just couldn’t seem to put enough playmakers around him. The former USC star has the arm strength to be a good NFL QB but he must find a way to cut down on his interceptions.

Panthers All-World running back Christian McCaffrey was dogged by two nagging injuries in 2020. The former Stanford standout was limited to just three games last season, but all reports say he is healthy and ready for a big year. Carolina is hoping that McCaffrey can get back to his 2019 form when he scored 19 total touchdowns (15 rushing, 4 receiving).

The Panthers receiving corps needs to add some more depth. D.J. Moore is the only proven playmaker of this unit. Moore has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons and will probably be a favorite target of Darnold’s this season. Carolina did bring in two talented wideouts from the draft in Terrace Marshall from LSU and Shi Smith from South Carolina. Both of these young kids should be able to contribute immediately.

2021 Defense

Carolina’s defense was halfway decent at times in 2020 and they hope to be even better in 2021. Derrick Brown is a beast of a man at the defensive tackle position. Brown and DaQuan Jones are the team’s two best run stuffers on the defensive line.

The secondary should see a big improvement this year. First-round draft pick Jaycee Horn is a lockdown corner who will start right away for Carolina. The former South Carolina star has 4.4 speed and good size at 6-1 and 205 pounds. AJ Bouye comes over from the Broncos and should also help out this unit in 2021.

2021 Special Teams

Joey Slye returns for his third season as the Panthers starting kicker. The former Virginia Tech Hokie hit 29 out of 36 field goal attempts last year.

Joseph Charlton comes back for his second year as the Panthers starting punter. He averaged 46.3 yards per punt in 2020.

David Moore will see some action in both the kick return and the punt return game in 2021. Moore racked up 111 punt return yards in 2020. Expect rookie Shi Smith to also get some playing time on special teams.

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