If Cut, the Panthers Should Look at Sammy Watkins

Yes I know, before anyone tells me, Sammy Watkins is injury prone and inconsistent.

I know. Everyone does.

In four of his six seasons in the NFL, Watkins has missed games due to injuries, and has been on IR multiple times. He even suffered injury problems at Clemson. 

As for the inconsistencies you see people mention, that can be explained with some context (I think). I’d say the main reason comes back to injuries, obviously your numbers won’t be the same when you miss games and can’t get into a rhythm. 

Also, in the past three seasons Watkins has been on offenses ranked 1st, 1st, and 5th in PPG, respectively. This indicates he’s been on some stacked offenses with a lot of weapons to get the ball too. Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, and Mecole Harmon are some of the names he’s shared the field with in that span. On a team like the Panthers, it’s hard to say the offensive cast will be as deep as the Rams or Chiefs were.

Watkins is set to make about $14 million next season with the Chiefs. A restructure or pay cut seems unlikely on Watkins’ side, and as high of an upside as he has, there’s almost no way the Chiefs don’t cut him at that price. So if I had to guess, I’d say Watkins would be a free agent.

Let’s look at some tape on what he could offer the Panthers…

Firstly, we’ll start off with a fun one. Watkins catches the slant, bursts up the field for 60 yards of YAC and takes it to the house. It’s forgotten when you share a field with Tyreek Hill, but Watkins would be the fastest guy on a lot of NFL teams:

There’s a difference between being quick and being fast. Some guys don’t possess both traits at an elite level, Watkins does though. Completely sells his upfield route, plants, and changes directions 180 degrees to create some separation for the easy completion:

Another display of his quick movements here, gets a good release on the seam route but Mahomes just can’t connect with him. Now I do think this a good time to point out one of Watkins flaws, his catch radius doesn’t seem to be quite as large as some top receivers. I’m not blaming this incompletion on Watkins in any way, it could’ve been a better throw, I’m just simply pointing out that he’s not one of those guys that “catches everything thrown his way”. He ranked 88th in the NFL this past season with a true catch rate of 75.4%.

Obviously it helps to have a guy like Patrick Mahomes that can keep plays alive like that and has a cannon, but being able to help extend a play like this and outrun a guy that just won Defensive Player of the Year certainly isn’t a bad thing:

This clip is from his one season with the Rams in 2017, gets the inside release on the go route, explodes up the field, and hauls in a difficult catch:

Let’s take another look at some of Watkins route running skills. His first step on his break into the deep crosser is incredibly efficient, as a matter of fact it looks like his speed increased on the break like he a hit a turbo ramp in Mario Kart:

And lastly, when you have an offense like the Panthers with many guys who have a lot of versatility in roles they can play, Watkins could fit right in if he’s able to be used like this too as well:

So, what role would Watkins have on the Panthers? This past season 437 of his snaps came from the slot, compared to just 233 on the outside, is that how the Panthers would use him? I’m not so sure.

It’s not a secret that Curtis Samuel is the best route runner on the team currently  (and also saw the lowest percentage of catchable targets of qualified receivers at 63%), so he’d stay on the outside regularly.

For DJ Moore, however, despite the breakout year he had would still be best fit in the slot primarily in my opinion. He so strong, both at the catch point and with the ball in his hands, that he’s best used on slants and other quick routes. This is why I think a player like Watkins would be a great fit on the opposite side with Samuel.

Roughly 70% of Samuel’s stats came from the left side last season so I think it’s fair to say he’s more comfortable there. That shouldn’t be an issue with Watkins though, as his left/right splits were nearly 50/50 so he should be fine on either side.

As for what a potential contract would look like, it’s hard to say. If Watkins won’t take a pay cut on his $14 million deal right now, how much lower would he go?

This is supposed to be a deep WR draft which could mean one of two things:

Either it means that all the WR’s on rookie contracts that could be taken lowers Watkins value on the market and the Panthers could get him a little cheaper, or it could mean that the Panthers are one of those teams that see no reason to sign him because of the WR’s in the draft.

It’s way too early to tell what type of cap space the Panthers will be looking at due to Cam Newton’s future being undecided and cuts yet to be made, but if the price right, the Carolina Panthers should absolutely take a chance on Sammy Watkins.***

*** – If Cam Newton remains in Carolina

2019-20 Player Preview: Cody Zeller

Cody Zeller is about to enter his seventh season with the Charlotte Hornets organization, and he only just recently turned 27, but will he fit in with Charlotte’s new youth movement?

I think the initial answer for many would be no, and some may even favor Willy Hernangomez over Zeller at this point, but I still believe that Zeller has been underrated for his on the court play. If you want to make the argument about him being too injury-prone to be able to be relied upon, then yes I’d agree as he’s missed 82 games in the past two seasons. However, if we want to be optimistic and say he’ll play 70 or so games this season, then I think he can still add a lot to the team.

Zeller’s best trait that he has is his ability to set and execute screens. His sample size was a little smaller than most other guys I’m sure, but last season he was second in the league with 5.4 screen assists a game, which also put him at second in the league in screen-assist scoring with 12.6. His 49 games were still enough to qualify for the leaderboards, and the only guy Zeller was behind in both categories was Rudy Gobert, so no shame in that.

I’d probably expect those numbers to dip a little this season, screens involve a guy handling the ball as well, and Kemba Walker was one of the best. That’s not to say Zeller and Terry Rozier, or Zeller and whoever else that may be won’t be able to execute, it’s just that none of those guys are Kemba.

Aside from his value in the screen game, Zeller actually posted some pretty good stats all across the board last season. He averaged over 10 PPG (10.1) for just the second time in his career, and he posted a career high in RPG with 6.8. One of my biggest criticism’s of Cody was that he wasn’t particularly imposing on the boards for a big man, so this is promising to see when you consider the Hornets may be playing a lot of small ball this upcoming season where he will be the “five” and the other four guys are all guards or wings.

Looking at his advanced stats, he had another solid year in that regard as well. The most notable thing I noticed from them is that for the first time in his time in his career, Zeller was a positive in OBPM (0.2). He’s always been a positive defensively, and while 0.2 on the offensive end doesn’t seem like much, it does show progress. I don’t ever really see Cody being a force scoring the ball, but he has improved his free throw shooting and extended his range, even if just a little bit. It sounds cliche, but he makes a lot of hustle plays and I think can fit right in with our younger guys this season.

He’s not going to be the type of guy that will complain about his lack of touches, but will still find a way to produce in some shape or form each game. 

I think Zeller, similarly to several other Hornets players, have fallen victim to where they were drafted. Had he been a late first round selection to add as a piece on a good team, he’d be celebrated as a great role player. However, that’s not the case. He was selected 4th overall, but at this point we need to try to look past that and accept the fact that while he will never be near an All-Star, he’s still a solid starting center that doesn’t have too many glaring weaknesses to his game. 

Especially since the Hornets have so many young players, you have to look at it like this: 

Would you rather have Cody Zeller, or a guy like Dwight Howard who, in a vacuum, will score the ball more and grab more boards, but how much is he really going to help a guy like Terry Rozier grow as a shooter out of PnR? Or help a guy like Dwayne Bacon develop into a better passer?

If he can stay healthy, I strongly believe Cody Zeller will be one of the most valuable Hornets players this season.

2019-20 Player Preview: Michael Kidd Gilchrist

It’s hard to believe that this is already Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s eighth season in the NBA. Despite the fact that he’s considered more of a veteran compared to most of the guys on the roster, we’re still unsure of what his role is going to be on this team for the upcoming season.

For just about the entirety of his career in Charlotte, MKG has had pretty much played the same role. Play good on-ball and off-ball defense, be a threat in transition, make the hustle plays, and anything you do on offense is extra. That formula worked fine when he was still considered a young player, but as time has gone on and better players have left, it would be expected that it’s now time to step into a bigger role.

However, if you look at last season, that doesn’t seem like it’ll be the case. In MKG’s first seven seasons, he always averaged between 24-29 minutes a game, and with the exception of one season, had always taken at least seven shots a game and averaged at least nine points a game. Last season, the former Kentucky man was taken out of the starting line up. 

Coach James Borrego clearly felt that MKG’s niche role was more suited for spot play off the bench. It’s not for a lack of trying on his part. To his credit, we’ve all seen that MKG has attempted to expand his game. It doesn’t sound like much, but last season he was shooting and making about 3 three’s out of 7 attempts every 10 games or so, far higher rate than any other full season he had played. The big issue is that his FG% in the midrange game dropped drastically after he had improved in that area the two seasons prior. Even when he does take those midrange and three point shots, it rarely happens in the flow of the game.

An interesting thing about MKG is that over the course of his Hornets/Bobcats career, the team has been better when he’s on the court vs. when he’s off the court. That speaks to his ability to do those little things and play his role well, but that’s another issu. More often than not, those guys who “do the little things” and, as I previously mentioned, have a “niche” role tend to be more effective around better players that can help hide their weaknesses and allow them to focus on their strengths. It’s not that the Hornets have had any “great” teams since 2012, but talented offensive players like Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, and even a Gerald Henderson may have played a role in helping MKG be able to play like that. 

That’s not the Hornets anymore. Kemba Walker is gone and the team has a lot of question marks. We can take gusses, but we don’t know who will be the best player or top scorer. Reality is, the majority of the team is neither head and shoulder above nor below the rest of the team. With that being the case, I honestly don’t know how effective MKG’s role will be. 

He doesn’t either. At Hornets media day on Monday he said he “wasn’t sure” where he fits with the young guys, and that Borrego hasn’t told him either. This is the last year of his contract, and I just don’t see him coming back.

I think MKG’s playing time and numbers will be similar to last season with maybe a slight dip, but it feels like his role would be best maximized on a team like Toronto where’d he would only need to worry about being himself.

2018-19 Season Review: Dwayne Bacon

Most of the time when you’re a rookie in the NBA you’re playing with house money in a sense. Anything you do well gets celebrated, but nobody is ever really too concerned with your mistakes since you’re a rookie after all, growing pains are expected.

That was basically the case with Dwayne Bacon last year. When he played it was great to see him show flashes of potential, but there were still no expectations. Going into year two is where you really start to expect players to begin having an efficient impact on the court, and Bacon did that in basically every single facet.

At the start of the season Bacon’s playing time wasn’t very consistent and it began to seem like he was just the odd man out of the rotation. It was strange to see that because when he did play at any point prior to the final 18-game stretch to end the season (in which he played in every game), he was scoring the ball well at the very least.

In a very small sample size over the first twenty five games he played, he shot 52% from both the field and beyond the arc. These obviously weren’t sustainable numbers, but to be able to do that with inconsistent run is still worth noting. For a team that struggles to get consistent scoring from anyone not named Kemba Walker, it was only a matter of time until Bacon was given a bigger role.

Here’s how Bacon’s numbers looked over that last 18-game stretch, which uncoincidentally came right before Nic Batum started seeing his minutes decrease:

Those are pretty impressive numbers for a guy playing in a meaningful role for basically the first time in his NBA career. Remember, despite not making the playoffs, this Hornets team didn’t get eliminated from contention until the last day of the season.  It’s not as if Bacon was out there playing in garbage time minutes while the team was trying to lose.

Much of the talk about Bacon amongst Hornets fans is about his ability to score the ball, and rightfully so, but my favorite moment from Bacon this season came on the defensive end.  

Up 112-111 against the Washington Wizards on March 8th with 11 seconds remaining, Coach James Borrego decided to sub Cody Zeller out for Dwayne Bacon.  He made the right choice.

With the clock winding down, Bacon was matched up with All-Star guard (and future Hornet…), Bradley Beal. Beal drove from the baseline with seconds remaining, spun into the lane, and went up for the shot. Except Bacon was there, in his face the entire time, and forced a miss to seal the win.

We’ve now seen Bacon can score, but if he becomes a plus-defender as well he will be able to take his game to another level.

What Was Most Impressive

When you look at Bacon’s season in its entirety, the most impressive thing about it absolutely has to be how he shot the ball from beyond the arc. In his rookie campaign, he shot 25.6% from the three. His second season? 43.7% (38/87), which was the best percentage on the team.

Over the course of an entire season of consistently playing I would expect that clip to drop some, but I’d be very surprised if Bacon became less than a 35% three-point shooter.

Unlike last season as well, where 100% of his threes came off assists, that number was 73.7% this season (second lowest on the team behind Walker).  To clarify, there’s nothing wrong with making threes off assists, it just adds another dimension to Bacon’s game if we’re beginning to see that he can also create on his own.

Some guys spend their entire careers trying to develop a shot from range, so for Bacon to be able to significantly improve in that area in just one season should leave Hornets fans excited, even if slight regression is imminent.

What Needs to be Improved

Bacon’s FG%, 3P%, eFG%, TS%, Player Efficiency Rating, all of it, improved from season one to season two.However, one area that still needs improving is mid range shooting. When Bacon came into the league, some people had mentioned that he tended to lean towards taking contested twos vs. threes, which just isn’t always an efficient way to play.

He had the best shooting percentages on the team both at the rim, and beyond the arc, but only shot roughly 30% in the middle ground. It’s difficult to tell if Bacon simply isn’t great at shooting from mid range, or if it’s the inefficient mid range shots bringing that percentage down, but either way, that’s the main thing Bacon needs to work on to continue becoming a complete scorer.

Overall Grade: A-

Given what Bacon was asked to do and the role he was thrust into, it’s hard to justify giving him a lower season grade than this one. Hornets fans are buzzing to see him play next season and my personal hot take that I will leave you with is this. If Kemba Walker leaves the Hornets in Free Agency, Dwayne Bacon will lead the Hornets in scoring next season.

2018-19 Season Review: Devonte’ Graham

The four year University of Kansas product, Devonte’ Graham, arrived in Charlotte last offseason by way of the 34th overall pick in the NBA draft. This pick was originally held by Atlanta, but Charlotte acquired it for a couple second round picks, to select their backup point guard of the future.

In the NBA, many guys drafted in the second round tend to quickly become after thoughts and sometimes just look like they will never be consistent at an NBA level, but for the second season (Dwayne Bacon in 2017) in a row, it seems the Hornets have hit on a second round pick.

Devonte Graham fulfilled –and exceeded– most expectations you would’ve had for a guy that started the season as the 3rd string PG, he was practically considered the 4th string PG at one point with Malik Monk getting PG minutes early on and then Shelvin Mack being added to roster late in the season. Graham was assigned to the Greensboro Swarm 10 separate times in order to further his development.

Graham gave the Hornets just about everything you’d expect out of a 4-year college point guard. High basketball IQ, stays under control, great passing, all of it. This isn’t to say things came easy to him right away, of course, the improvements he made throughout the season from his time in the G-League cannot be understated.

In 13 games with the Swarm, Graham averaged 23.3PPG / 4.7 RPG / 4.6 APG / 1.6 SPG on 44% from the field and 38% from 3. Some people may say “Well shouldn’t an NBA Player be dominating in the G-League?”, and they would be correct, but anyone that watched the Hornets knows Devonte’ looked like a different player before and after all of his G-League trips.

Before and during his trips to Greensboro, Graham had logged 33 NBA Games under his belt.  In those he averaged 4.5 PPG, 2.2 APG, and 0.7 TOPG while having a +/- of -3.5. In his 15 games after he had played his last game for the Swarm, he averaged 5.4 PPG, 3.8 APG, 0.6 TOPG while having a +/- of 1.2.

As you can see, certain areas like his passing and overall positive impact improved while others were just marginally better, but it’s beyond just those stats where Graham showed his growth.

He was playing consistent, meaningful, minutes on a team desperately fighting for a playoff berth. He wasn’t just playing because the Hornets were up a lot or down a lot, or because another guard was injured. He was being trusted to play during critical moments down the stretch of the season.

Tony Parker went through a stretch of either being inactive or just DNP’s throughout the last month of the season. Some of those he probably had a minor injury, but for the most part you got the feeling that the team didn’t feel a sense of urgency to get TP out there in a backup role because they could trust Devonte’.

What Was Most Impressive

The most impressive thing, to me, from Graham this season was his incredible assist to turnover ratio. He finished the season with 121 assists and 30 turnovers, putting it at 4.03. Of all players with at least 100 assists on the season, this put him at 5th in the league.

Of rookies in NBA history to have had as many assists as he did in his first season, nobody else did so while committing as few turnovers as he did.

What Needs to Be Improved On The Most

It was his first season and at times he played sparingly without being able to always get in a rhythm so it may not become a big issue, but Graham’s shooting numbers need to improve. He’s shown flashes of being a quality shooter but his 34.3% from the field and 28.1% from 3 are well below average.

His role throughout his career in the NBA will never see him cast as the primary scorer of a unit so he doesn’t need to become a scoring juggernaut, but if he can add a consistent shot from beyond the arc at the NBA level that’ll keep defenders from just assuming he’s only a facilitator I see no reason he won’t be rotation player for the foreseeable future.

And as I said, it was just his first season, so while he needs to improve at scoring the ball it shouldn’t be an issue unless it doesn’t improve through the end of his rookie deal.

Overall Grade: B – I feel comfortable speaking for all Hornets fans when I say Devonte’ has helped provide us with a lot more hope for the future from our young core than we had expected at the beginning of the season.

Carolina Panthers Positional Unit Review: Defense

Last week I took a look at the offensive side of the ball for the Panthers. Outside of the offensive line and a possible major health issue at QB, the offense is in pretty solid shape.  The defense however, is a completely different story.

You can make an argument that the defense ranked as a bottom five defense during the last half of the year I think most would agree with you. They looked poorly coached, old, slow, and like the game had just passed them by. Let’s start with the most disappointing unit of all.

Defensive Line

Had you asked me prior to the season beginning where I would’ve ranked all of the teams units, the defensive line would have been either first or second behind Quarterback.  

I was completely wrong.

For a unit who as a whole, takes up nearly a quarter of the teams cap space, and had two of the four highest cap hits, this season was abysmal.  The team ranked 27th in sacks, and 31st (only ahead of the Oakland Raiders) in QB hits.

Kawaan Short still performed well on the year and we all know it’s difficult to succeed when those around you aren’t up to par, but he still wasn’t quite the elite player that many of us had expected him to be.

Dontari Poe was the big signing many of us were excited for and he turned out to be a complete flop this season.  I heard his name called on penalties and that’s about it. Neither Julius Peppers nor Mario Addison are capable of being “number 1” guys on the EDGE right now, and Vernon Butler is one of the teams biggest draft busts in recent memory.

Efe Obada had his one great game and outside of that it’s still difficult to tell whether or not he will be anything more than just a guy.

Outside of Short, who still fell a little short (ha ha) of expectations, the only guy on the line I was overly impressed with was Kyle Love.  Yes, he still just a backup tackle and probably nothing more, but he had 1.5 sacks, 3 FF, and 2 Fumble Recoveries which is pretty good production from a backup DT.  

A player I failed to mention was Marquise Haynes who was just a complete swing and miss in last years draft,. This years draft, defensive line has to be the highest priority on the defensive side.

Just like their offensive counterparts, games are won and lost in the trenches, and the Panthers are in dire need of some help there.  

Final Grade: D

Linebackers:

When your line was as bad as the Panthers was it’s hard to not look bad yourselves at times, and occasionally our LB’s fell victim to just that. Overall though, I thought they were solid given the circumstances.  

Luke Kuechly of course is on another level.  He was selected to his FIFTH All-Pro 1st team, finishing the year 6th in solo tackles with 93 (130 combined) and tied for 3rd in TFL with 20.  Oh yeah, by the way, he was the only non-defensive lineman in the league that was top 10 for TFL.

Thomas Davis missed the first four games due to suspension and came back and had some impactful plays in certain games, had more combined tackles than he did last season in three less games, but is still nearly 36.  The future with TD is in doubt, I don’t want to ever see him wear another uniform, but we just cannot afford to keep putting too much money into old vets.

Shaq Thompson is an enigma.  Sometimes he will make a great play that makes you think “Wow! I know why we drafted this guy in the first round”, and then sometimes you could watch and entire game and not be sure if he played or not.  Could this be inconsistency on his part? Thomas Davis still being considered above him? Probably a mix of a few things.

With him randomly being placed on IR towards the end of December and his rookie contract expiring it’s hard to tell what the team will do with Shaq. Funchess is almost definitely gone but I feel Shaq will be re-signed unless he just commands too much money.

We know David Mayo and the rest of the backups will never be anything except for backups, and it wouldn’t hurt to add another decent LB somehow with TD either gone or just too old, but Shaq’s play if he comes back will really be the determining factor on how this unit performs going forward.  We know that Kuechly is a 1st ballot Hall of Famer.

Final Grade: B

Secondary:

I think a lot of people initially looked at how bad this team was against the pass and just assumed the secondary was the biggest problem, it wasn’t. When a team cannot generate a pass rush without blitzing, or just get to the QB at all, the secondary will always be the ones that get stuck looking bad.

Granted the secondary wasn’t elite, and maybe they weren’t even “good” this season, but I don’t believe they were anything worse than average.

Donte Jackson occasionally gets too aggressive, but the sky is clearly the limit for this guy, and Bradberry may never be the number 1 CB we had all hoped but he showed up in all the divisional games this season, now he just needs to show up a little more in the others.

Private Munnerlyn, yeah he got demoted, was a disaster this season and should not take the field for this team again, meaning there’s still a gaping hole at nickel to be filled and I don’t think that answer is on this roster.  At some point in the draft a CB or nickel will need to be selected, and a safety when the opportunity arises as well.

Picking up Eric Reid early in the season was a good decision and I hope the Panthers are able to re-sign.  He’s much better than Colin Jones (clearly) and said he’d like to be back. I’m sure as long as he’s not asking for elite money we will get it done to try to stabilize the revolving door at safety for the past decade.  

Mike Adams probably will be headed to the retirement home with Munnerlyn and I’d like to see what Rashaan Gaulden can do, but that doesn’t mean we should be comfortable with him just yet.  

If we draft or sign some younger guys and they still end up not being productive then so be it, but anything is better than watching some old veterans running around and not being able to keep up.

We need a hungry defense and I like that Action Jackson brings that energy. If he can slowly begin proving to be a CB1, I like where our CB situation is headed, safety is still pretty shaky.  

Final Grade: C

I didn’t mention this for any of the 3 units specifically, but the defense as a whole was awful at forcing turnovers over the back half of the season, and while turnovers aren’t sustainable, it’s what made the defense great in ‘15 so they must find a way to get back to that.

I hope you enjoyed reading about this defense and didn’t get too upset thinking back on the season, special teams was also slightly above average on the year as well, let me know if you guys agree (or don’t) with these grades.

Carolina Panthers Positional Unit Review: Offense

Let’s keep the story short, we all know how disappointing this season has been for the Panthers.  The promising start, the terrible losing streak, the final win that many didn’t want to affect draft position, the whole nine yards.  

It’s hard to tell where some of these positional units stand, between injuries, aging vets, the young guys, but it’ll be critical for management to fill holes properly where need be.

So, where do each of these units stand? Let’s start with the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterback:

Um, I don’t know really? I mean, if Cam Newton is actually able to get healthy over the course of this off-season, I would consider it an “A” at worst.  

There is a very, very short list of QB’s that could’ve added as much value to the Panthers as Cam Newton has throughout his career.  He has reinvigorated receivers careers, helped make offensive lineman look better than they actually are, and stimulated the Panthers ground game.  If he gets back to 100%, especially with the skill positions now up to par with Cam and the potential emergence of Kyle Allen as a backup, there are no worries here.

However, what if that doesn’t happen?  What if Cam needs the Andrew Luck treatment, or what if his shoulder is just never the same? That affects him as a passer and runner.  If one of these is the case, there could be trouble.

We’ve already seen that it doesn’t take long for non-Cam Newton quarterbacks to get injured behind that line.  Kyle Allen showed a lot of promise, but suppose he headed into the season as a starter I don’t believe playoff hopes would be high.  

In the end, I really don’t know how to grade this unit on its own, it could be anywhere between an A-F.  This position really is TBD.

Running Back:

What more can I say about Christian McCaffrey that hasn’t already been said? He was our best offensive player this season, should have eclipsed 2000 yards from scrimmage, and has proven to not be injury prone like a certain running back that got drafted four picks ahead of him.

McCaffrey finished the season 6th in rushing yards and 10th in yards per attempt, not bad for a supposed “receiver playing running back”.

I do think that this position was better off before C.J. Anderson was cut, though.  As much of a workhorse as CMC has proven to be, it’s so easy for backs to wear down quickly from being overworked.  Anderson should have been used more, and would have been the perfect guy to take the ease off of McCaffrey. Also, CMC is not very good is pass protection and it became a problem as the season wore on, a guy like Anderson would have been much more useful in those situations, but I do understand that it is hard to take a guy who’s always an emergency option in the air off the field.

Now the Panthers are sitting with Cameron Artis-Payne at second string, not exactly the guy you would want to rely on would McCaffrey need to miss any time in the future.  In my opinion, it would be smart to look to for a back on day three of the draft or possibly sign an UDFA. One thing the team may be able to do is utilize Moore and Samuel’s ability as runners like they did at times this season if they cannot pick up another trustworthy back.

Overall, I’d say this unit is sitting at a B+.

Receivers/Tight Ends:

Without getting into specifics yet, already night and day better than we were at this point last off-season.  

We no longer need to be afraid about the future without Greg Olsen, because regardless of if Olsen comes back next season or not, Ian Thomas should be the starter.  After being in the doghouse for helping cause two (nearly) costly interceptions in week 5 against the Giants, Thomas burst back onto the scene in the past five or so weeks of the season to show he has a spot on this team.

He caught 25 of 32 targets for 246 yards and two TD’s over the last 5 games of the season, and is much more athletic at the point of catch and after the catch than Olsen will ever be again. The main flaw in his game is his blocking, which still needs to improve.

Onto the receivers, the future should also be very bright there.  DJ Moore has so much talent with the ball in his hands that I still think he could be used as a running back just as much as a receiver. Curtis Samuel has near Tyreek Hill-esque speed and is the most nuanced route runner on the team. Jarius Wright turned out to be a solid third down receiver who was shifty enough to get open on key plays and dependable at the point of catch.

Losing Devin Funchess is all but a done deal and while I had my issues with him, his route running will be missed on the outside as I still believe the young DJ Moore will be more effective as a slot receiver for the next season or two.  

Carolina’s cap situation leaves the Panthers hands tied a bit, but it would be nice if someone like Chargers receiver, Tyrell Williams, could fall into our hands this off-season. But if not, something will still need to be done to add someone with a little more height and experience.  Despite the need, don’t draft a receiver unless you believe a steal is there late in Day 3, as there are way too many other holes on this roster.

The receiver position is far from my biggest concern about the offense as a whole.  It’s still not an elite WR core but I would grade it out around a B-. I expect Curtis Samuel to lead the team in receiving yards next season.

Offensive Line

I don’t know where to start with this group.  In an attempt to not sound overly negative I will say that the right side seems to be in great shape.  Trai Turner is good as always, and Taylor Moton was an incredible find and it’s a shame he (along with Ian Thomas) suffered from the classic Ron Rivera syndrome of only getting to play when a vet gets injured.  

The Daryl Williams situation is a big question mark, but if he’s back do not pay him too much money and more importantly do not move Moton from RT.  I believe Williams is good but his All-Pro season feels like it’s more of a result of Cam Newton.

Anyways, the left side is a disaster.  Chris Clark is worse than Matt Kalil (no, I’m not trolling). Whether it’s Greg Van Roten or Newhouse at LG, neither should ever be the answer as a starter.  Then at the center Ryan Kalil is now retiring which leaves a massive hole.

Matt Kalil’s contract situation makes it feel a little impossible to do too much to improve everything outside of the draft which isn’t good considering no starter not named Cam Newton could make it through an entire game with them this season.

Bend but don’t break works for defensive game plans but not for an offensive line.  The line tends to bend all the way into the tightest horseshoe possible where the QB might not get sacked, but he also can’t even think about stepping into his throw.  Cam throwing deep was an issue pretty much all season but the line contributed just as much to that as his shoulder did.

The best hope is that Daryl Williams can be signed to a team friendly deal and he takes over at LT and just be average at best.  I grade this unit at a D that can look like a C with QB1 out there healthy. O-Line should be the highest priority in the draft on the offensive side of the ball.

I hope you enjoyed the review of our offensive positional units and let us know how you feel about potential pickups, or players already on our roster. Defensive side is coming soon.

Hornets Sluggishly Fall to Utah, 119-111.

The Charlotte Hornets dropped a good chance to take hold of a winning record as they fell to the Utah Jazz 119-111, on Friday night. 

The story of this came down to the perimeter defense, well, just the defense in general.  Going into tonight, the most 3-point field goals the Hornets have given up in a game on the season was 16, tonight they gave up 18 threes on 40 attempts (45%).

Basically the entire game had a similar storyline.  The Jazz would build up a decent sized lead, the Hornets would cut it down to one possession or so, and then the Jazz would pull away and build it right back up.

A big reason for the defense struggling could be attributed to Cody Zeller having to leave the game early in the first half.  He’s no juggernaut on defense but he still adds value to the lineup, being forced to play small at times against Rudy Gobert leads to having to have extra help to account for him, which in turn opens things up on the perimeter.  We are unsure of the severity of Cody Zeller’s injury, but it would be devastating to lose him for any amount of time.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation from this game was the emergence of Jae Crowder as the next Ray Allen.  The most threes he had made in any game over the course of his seven year career was six, so naturally he decided to match that tonight against the Hornets.  

Kemba Walker (21 pts, 7 rebs, 4 asts), Jeremy Lamb (24 pts, 5 rebs), and Tony Parker (20 pts, 9 asts) took turns throughout the game  attempting to keep the team in it, but it just wasn’t meant to be tonight.

The Jazz were executing well, the defense was lethargic, and Cody’s absence on the offensive end threw them off just enough to prevent them from being able to keep up with the Jazz.

The Charlotte Hornets are now 11-11 (and all things are perfectly balanced in the universe), and will next face the New Orleans Pelicans at home on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Oh wait, one positive from the game is that Miles Bridges had another massive dunk, go ahead and put your bets in for him as dunk contest champion now!

Panthers fall in a heartbreaker to Seahawks, 30-27.

Sunday afternoon the Carolina Panthers dropped their 3rd straight game, this one to the Seattle Seahawks, 30-27.  

Considering that Carolina punted just once the entire game, you would probably think 27 points seems like a pretty low amount, and you’d be correct.  After forcing Seattle into a quick punt to start the game, Carolina got the ball deep into the red zone. Four straight runs, however, led to a turnover on downs.

Once again, Carolina’s defense forced another quick punt from Seattle, and the offensive series started much the same.  Two long pass plays of a combined 50 yards had Carolina right in the red zone again. It was only logical, however, that after passing the ball right up the field it would be smart to run the ball up the gut three straight times (making that seven straight red zone runs overall).  

Graham Gano made a short field goal to put the Panthers up 3-0. However, anyone that has ever watched a Carolina game knows that these“missed opportunities” would come back to bite the team.

The teams traded punches for the rest the of the first half which included a touchdown from Curtis Samuel, and another Gano field goal as time expired in the half (another drive that most feel should’ve finished in a TD). Going into the locker room, the score was 13-10.

If you thought that a 25% TD conversion rate in the red zone was bad, then you were even more disappointed when a fifth Carolina red zone trip turned up empty at the start of the 3rd quarter.  Cam Newton dropped back and threw a pass off of his back foot to Chris Manhertz in the back of the end zone. Bradley McDougald jumped up for the 50/50 ball with Manhertz, tipped it to himself, and picked it off. Considering Manhertz had just one catch all season and was in triple coverage, it seems like a bit of an ill-advised throw (and play call).  Again, missed opportunities reigned supreme over those who consider themselves Panthers fans. 

As is the Carolina way, we paid for the turnover and Seattle took their first lead of the day when Wilson threw a dart to Tyler Lockett.  Yeah, those first two stops for the Carolina defense were an anomaly for the day (actually, for the season). Part of this can be attributed to rookie stud Donte Jackson missing all but the first play with an injury, leaving James Bradberry, Corn Elder, and Captain Munnerlyn as the only other corners active on Sunday. Elder, playing to his namesake, was not very quick on his feet against Seattle.

When it felt like Carolina finally had the game at their grasps with about three minutes to go, they let up a 4th and 10, 35-yard bomb from Wilson to Moore to tie the game at 27.  Who was guarding Moore, you might ask?

None other than Panthers’ legend Corn Elder.

This isn’t an attempt to single out one player.  Captain Munnerlyn belongs in a retirement home; he gave up a 43-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett with less than a minute to go (on third down, as well).  This is just after Graham Gano missed a 52-yard field goal to give the Panthers a lead.

Yes, you read that correctly, Gano missed another big field goal.

I could see where you may think I was talking about the one he missed in the Super Bowl, or the one he missed in a Wild Card game last year, or even the one he missed last week. No, Graham Gano missed another field goal, and it was just after Charles Davis, who was commentating the game for FOX Sports, was talking about how great Gano has been over the past two seasons.

Anyways, after that long completion for Seattle, over.  Janikowski kicked an easy 31-yard field goal for the win (after some bad clock management by Carolina) and sent the Panthers to 6-5.  

When your offense misses 4 touchdown opportunities in the red zone, pass rush is nonexistent without blitzing, and the secondary is burnt toast, that’s not a recipe for success.

It would take a miracle to turn this season around, but the silver lining is that Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore were each phenomenal.  McCaffrey finished with 125 rush yards and 112 receiving yards, while Moore finished with 91 receiving yards.

The future may be bright in Charlotte with those two, but it will require a lot more accountability within the organization and coaching staff to succeed at an expected level.