That said, the NFL is designed to give every team a fighting chance, thanks to the NFL draft. As such, even the rebuilding Carolina Panthers have a few things going for them in 2021. Here are five strengths and weaknesses for the Carolina Panthers heading into 2021.
Carolina Panthers strengths
#1 - Christian McCaffery
Christian McCaffery has been the star of the Carolina Panthers for years. In 2018 and 2019, McCaffery earned over 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, McCaffery also scored 13 total touchdowns and caught 107 balls for 867 yards.
In 2019, McCaffery scored 19 total touchdowns and caught 116 balls for 1,005 yards. Put simply, the Carolina Panthers missed him in 2020 when he went down with an injury. However, fully healthy, the Panthers' offense should be that much better in 2021.
#2 - Robby Anderson
Robby Anderson was one of the bright spots for the New York Jets and has been even better for the Carolina Panthers. Last season, Anderson caught 95 balls for 1,096 yards and three touchdowns. Anderson should be in for a similar season in 2021.
#3 - Sam Darnold-Robby Anderson connection
Sam Darnold is a new arrival for the Carolina Panthers. However, he will have a familiar face breaking open down the sideline. Robby Anderson and Sam Darnold played together for the New York Jets, which means the pair are likely to have some chemistry that should boost the Panthers' offense in 2021.
#4 - NFC South is weaker than last season
While the top of the division is likely unbeatable with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the rest of the division has gotten weaker. The New Orleans Saints lost Drew Brees to retirement this offseason and Julio Jones has a new home in Tennessee. These are two huge losses for the division, but a big gain for the Carolina Panthers.
#5 - A top cornerback in the draft
With the eighth pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers selected rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn. The Panthers expect him to be a top-two cornerback this season.
If he is as good as his draft position indicates, he could be a lockdown cornerback by the end of the season. If this happens, the Panthers will be set at CB for the next five to ten seasons.
Carolina Panthers' weaknesses
#1 - Tough division
While the division got easier for the Panthers between February and today, it is still one of the toughest divisions to win. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the reigning Super Bowl champions and have one of the best quarterbacks ever in Tom Brady.
The Saints have a chance to fix Jameis Winston with Sean Payton working with him. Also, the Atlanta Falcons are still a sneaky team that can catch teams offguard. Put simply, the Carolina Panthers ar in for a dogfight.
#2 - Sam Darnold
There is a reason the Jets wanted to part with Sam Darnold, who's coming off a season in which he threw for more interceptions than touchdowns. Darnold has never had a breakout season like other rookie quarterbacks.
Only three years after spending a top pick on Darnold, the Jets were willing to use a top draft pick to start over with Zach Wilson. This should set off plenty of red flags, and it sets them up for a season rife with disappointment.
#3 - Head coach's record
Matt Rhule is a charismatic coach whom players love playing for. However, his only season in the NFL saw him go 5-11. By default, most losing teams tend to lose the following season as well. Will Matt Rhule's Carolina Panthers buck the trend and take off in their second season?
#4 - Potential problems at center
Matt Paradis is the Carolina Panthers center, but he will turn 32 this season. While his play has been decent over the last couple of seasons, it seems to be spiraling downward.
In 2018, Paradis earned an 81.4 PFF grade. By 2020, Paradis' play slipped to 63.4 overall. If the quality continues to drop, he will be a liability this season.
#5 - Tight end
According to ESPN's depth chart, the top tight end for the Panthers going into 2021 is Dan Arnold. Last season, Arnold had 31 catches for 438 yards and four touchdowns, earning a 61.7 PFF grade. Looking at tight end stats for starters, one would hope to almost double Arnold's production. The Panthers still have a need at tight end.