Team Capsules: Carolina Panthers

August 16, 2023

A look at every NFL franchise heading into the 2023 season

© Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After firing their head coach midseason and limping to a 7-10 finish, the Carolina Panthers will look to get on the winning path in 2023. Owner David Tepper ripped the band-aid off last year, trading with the Chicago Bears to acquire the No. 1 overall pick to select Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, and hiring Frank Reich, the first QB in Panthers history, as new head coach.

Carolina hasn’t played a playoff game since the 2017 season, the last time the franchise finished a season with a winning record. Don’t expect the Panthers to magically become championship contenders overnight, but the offseason shakeup has them on the right path, especially with the current state of the NFC South.

As of this writing, the Panthers are +180 to make the playoffs and -220 to miss the playoffs during the 2023 season. Furthermore, they are +360 to win the NFC South behind only the New Orleans Saints, who are priced at +125. Let’s see what Reich and his rookie QB can do this season.

What to like about the Panthers…

  • The Panthers traded a ton of draft capital to move up and draft Bryce Young, and for good reason. A Heisman Trophy winner, Young was considered the best QB in the draft following a 23-4 record as the starter for the Crimson Tide. Young has incredible upside; he’s a versatile player capable of throwing from the pocket, while also being shifty around the field. Young plays the position the right way with three-level passing ability, good accuracy in the pocket and on the move, high football IQ and tremendous athleticism. While there are questions about his height, he has every trait and characteristic teams look for when drafting a franchise QB. He’s well-rounded as a player, intelligent, has a strong competitive drive, and has played in plenty of high-intensity games during his college career with Alabama.
  • While things did not work out for Frank Reich in Indy, the Panthers saw an opportunity to pair their new QB with an offensive-minded coach with a track record of success. Reich is best known for his time as offensive coordinator in Philly, where he helped lead them to a victory in Super Bowl LII with Nick Foles as his starting QB. Reich dealt with a lot of adversity during his tenure with the Colts. Not only was it his first gig as an NFL head coach, but he had to deal with the unexpected retirement of Andrew Luck, the COVID-19 pandemic and a slew of old, run-down QBs in Phillip Rivers and Matt Ryan. Reich is a widely respected offensive mind in the NFL and comes to Carolina with a blank slate. Furthermore, he tossed the first touchdown pass in franchise history back in the 1990s. Reich has the right mind to get this franchise back on track; let’s see what he can do.
  • The NFC South is probably the weakest division in the NFC on paper. Tom Brady is retired, and New Orleans and Atlanta are middle-of-the-pack teams, at best. Sure, New Orleans has some talent, but their win total is 9.5, so it’s not like their expectations are sky-high. Are the Panthers the best team in the division right now? Probably not. Are they far from it? No, not at all. Who is to say that Young and Reich don’t click right away? It’s not like the Panthers have a massive uphill climb that teams in the NFC West, AFC West to AFC North do. A winning record might be good enough to be in the postseason hunt, which does not seem impossible for the Panthers.

What not to like about the Panthers…

  • Carolina has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball in 2023 and beyond. While they cleaned house in the coaching department and added former Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, there is still plenty of TLC required to get this unit up to speed. Carolina ranked 22nd in yards allowed per game (350.2) and 19th in points allowed per game (22). There will be growing pains on offense with a new QB, coach, and scheme, meaning the team will likely lean on the defense throughout the game. Evero was solid in Denver, but he had much more talent to work with. Keep an eye on this Carolina D.
  • Part of the trade package that enabled the Panthers to draft Bryce Young was wide receiver D.J. Moore. At just 26 years old, Moore should still have his best football in front of him, and despite the chaos that surrounded Carolina last season, he managed to haul in 63 receptions, for 888 yards and seven touchdowns. His seven TDs more than doubled the next person on the list; replacing him won’t be easy. Carolina did add veteran Adam Thielen, but he’s not the same player he was a few seasons ago. Outside of that, the Panthers wideouts consists of D.J. Chark Jr., Jonathan Mingo and Laviska Shenault Jr., not exactly the best WR corps in the league for a young QB to work with.
  • We talked about the defense and WR group. The weight of the franchise is on the shoulders of 22-year-old QB. Yes, that comes with the territory of being a top pick, but he plays the one position that can influence the game’s outcome more than the rest. The one question about Young coming out of Bama is his height. He’s listed as 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds – roughly the same height as fellow No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. More undersized QBs have experienced success in the NFL, notably Drew Brees (6-foot-0) and Russell Wilson (5-foot-11). Still, it’s fair to ask how Young might adjust to the big leagues from college. Also, getting tackled in the NFL is a considerably different than in the college ranks. The SEC is the best conference in college football, but these NFL players hit different; one big hit could rattle the young buck. Between his height, WR room, and pressure of being “the guy” it’s fair to wonder how Young might perform out of the gate this season.

Steve Quinne’s Pick: Bryce Young to win Offensive Rookie of the Year (+400)

While the questions surrounding Young are legitimate, he was still the No. 1 pick and the consensus best QB in the draft for a reason. He can count his CFB losses on one hand, has all the intangibles to be a great player, along with a division that has a soft landing for him. The Panthers first two games of the season are against Atlanta and New Orleans; a good start could go a long way here. Interestingly enough, the only player currently ahead of Young to win the award is Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (+250). If the Panthers are a decent team, Young will likely be the biggest reason why. He’s used to the big stage from his time at Alabama and has all the brand equity one could need to gain attention for an award like this. Expectations are high for Young, and if he can live up to, or exceed them, he will be in prime position to win the OROY award. Might as well grab him before the odds shrink.