We’re a little over halfway through the 2017 NFL regular season, and the Carolina Panthers are standing strong with a 6-3 record and two straight divisional wins. It’s been a peculiar season thus far, as Cam Newton has flashed brilliance alongside mediocracy, while the defense has struggled to create turnovers and yet given up the least points in the league. Here’s how the Panthers have performed so far this year.
Cam Newton has had a very inconsistent year. He’s still recovering from shoulder surgery, and that has affected his throwing accuracy. Newton had two absolute masterpieces of games earlier in the season against New England and Detroit, but outside of those two games has struggled throwing the ball. He needs to commit less turnovers and complete more big play throws if the Panthers are going to be serious contenders this year.
Running Backs: C
Jonathan Stewart: D-
J-Stew, the Panthers all-time leading rusher, has been a hinderance on the Panthers offense this year. He lacks explosiveness and has coughed up three fumbles. Stewart needs to pick up his game or he will be phased out of the offense and replaced by Cameron Artis-Payne.
Christian McCaffery: A-
McCaffery has been the most dependable offensive player for Carolina thus far. He is third in the entire league in receptions with 53, behind only Antonio Brown and Jarvis Landry, and his skills as a rusher have begun to emerge. He still is yet to break one off for a big gain, but it’s only a matter of time before he does.
Wide Receivers: C+
Devin Funchess has had a career year so far, and with the departure of Kelvin Benjamin, he’s going to need to step up even more. Outside of Funchess, it’s been really quiet. Curtis Samuel is finally healthy and ready to take on a bigger role as a receiver. I think the Panthers see real potential in him as a smaller, speed receiver in the mold of Antonio Brown or DeSean Jackson. Russell Shepard is a great special teamer, and I think he’ll begin to step up even more on offense.
Tight Ends: C
Getting Greg Olsen back will be the biggest addition the offense could ever ask for. Not that the tight ends have done bad in Olsen’s absence. Ed Dickson has played very well, including blowing up for a monster game earlier in the year. He’s done everything asked of him. Chris Manhertz is not a factor in the run game, but has done okay as a blocker.
Offensive Line: C
They were absolutely horrible against the Eagles on Thursday Night Football, but since then the Panthers offensive line has quietly improved. Tyler Larsen has played well at center in the wake of Ryan Kalil’s absence. Right tackle Daryl Williams has been an excellent pass blocker, and left tackle Matt Kalil has been decent in protection as well. I don’t think Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell have played their best football this year, as they’ve really struggled to run block. But, the week 9 win over the Falcons saw the Panthers go for over 200 yards rushing, maybe signaling a reemergence of the Panthers usually stellar guards.
Offensive Coordinator: C-
Mike Shula has rebounded a little from what I think was a rough couple of weeks of play calling. He was getting too cute on running plays, resulting in the Panthers losing 4+ yards on first down carries all too often. Without Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers have more speed on the field, giving Shula a little more freedom to stretch the field and open up run lanes.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line has been fantastic for the Panthers this year, generating pressures and sacks constantly. Julius Peppers has been a revelation at 37 years old, and the defensive ends opposite him, Mario Addison, Charles Johnson and Wes Horton, have been great as well. The defensive tackles have been stout against the run, and Star Lotulelei has had the best season of his career. This has been the most consistent position group of the team.
The linebackers have been great so far this season, and with Luke Kuechley this is the best group of linebackers in the league. Kuechley has some serious health concerns with his concussion, but when he’s on the field, nobody is better. Shaq Thompson has performed well in his expanded role, covering tight ends and running backs well in the passing game. There are a few times where the linebackers have struggled filling the running lanes, but in recent weeks they’ve done extremely well stuffing the run.
Defensive Backs: B
James Bradberry has solidified himself as a bona fide shut down corner, but opposite him it’s been a little murky. Daryl Worley and Kevon Seymour have split reps at the second corner position, and both have made big plays but also big mistakes. Seymour and Worley will probably battle it out for the remainder of the season unless one can separate himself from the other. Mike Adams has proven to be an excellent free agent pick up, leading the team in interceptions and proving his worth as a tackler. Kurt Coleman is an integral part of the Panthers defense, and while he was away with injury Colin Jones had a tough time filling his shoes. With Coleman finally back, this group gets a huge boost.
Special Teams: A
Graham Gano has been fantastic this year, missing just one field goal so far. It’s good to see him rebound after a horrible 2016 in which he cost the Panthers at least two wins. Michael Palardy has punted well this year, too, and the coverage teams have been stout.
Defensive Coordinator: A
Steve Wilks has done an amazing job in his first year as a defensive coordinator. He’s been aggressive, calling large amounts of blitzes, and its worked well as Carolina is near the top of the league in sacks. The Panthers have allowed the least points in the league this year, and a lot of that is thanks to Wilks. If he keeps doing this well, the Panthers will be down a coordinator next season and Wilks will be a head coach somewhere in this league. He’s that good.