The Season that was….
Written off at the start of the year, the Panthers just kept winning games. Sadly they fell short of winning it all but it was refreshing to see a team come together and have fun playing for each other. Although they missed Kelvin Benjamin on the field, other players took the opportunity to showcase their talents. Panthers fans will be left wondering what the season may have been had Newton had both of his big receivers to throw to in the Superbowl.
The bright spots
Cam Newton – Newton continues to be an offensive machine (45 combined TDs and 4,473 yards of offense) . Whether you like him or not, he can rack up both the passing and rushing yards. It will be interesting to see how Defensive Coordinators adjust to Newton as a player (with an entire offseason to game plan).
Luke Kuechly – Easily one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL (If not the best), Kuechly continued to make big plays week in, week out.
Greg Olsen – Led the team in receptions (77) and receiving yards (1,104), Olsen was easily Cam’s favourite target. While he did not have the long touchdown receptions like Ted Ginn (well when Ginn caught them), he always managed to find a way to get open.
Kawann Short – Led the team in sacks with 11. Short was a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line for the Panthers, constantly living in the oppositions backfield.
Josh Norman – Although he is now gone, Josh Norman was in the discussion as one of the best cornerbacks in the league (well more so in terms of the 2015 season).
Non first round draft pick that was a hit
Devin Funchess – This is based on potential more than anything. Considering in his College career at Michigan he converted from a light tight end to a big wide receiver, he is still learning the position. He proved that he offers Newton another big target and could potentially cause teams difficulty trying to cover him and Benjamin given their height and catch radius.
Second year player who has taken the next step
Kony Ealy – forget the Superbowl coming out party, Ealy managed to work himself into the rotation and make plays for the Panthers. He will have to continue to develop but should see more of prominent role with the retirement of Jared Allen.
Trai Turner – The third round pick started all 16 games and appears to have settled in as part of the interior offensive line. With the reliance on the running game, the Panthers appear to have found themselves a handy road grader.
Tough decisions to make
The secondary – Can they keep winning by not addressing it as a need? GM David Gettleman has already shown a habit of overlooking this position. The coaches or the scheme seem to get the best out of the players. It will be interesting to see if Josh Norman produces in a different scheme.
Kawann Short – They drafted Vernon Butler in the first round of the draft. If Short has another outstanding season, what kind of contract offer will he get? The Fletcher Cox deal surely will have Gettleman worried about the price of a new contract.