Carolina Panthers: Predicting the 53-Man Roster for 2012

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent IMay 14, 2012

Carolina Panthers: Predicting the 53-Man Roster for 2012

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    As the Carolina Panthers head into offseason mini-camps and OTA's in preparation for the 2012 NFL season, their biggest hope is to keep everyone who makes the 53-man roster healthy for the entire 16-game schedule.

    That was not the case last season as the Panthers were decimated by injuries in 2011 on the offensive and defensive lines, as well as at the linebacker positions.

    With 89 players currently listed on the Carolina Panthers' active roster, along with extra bodies in camp trying to make their way onto the offseason roster and into the NFL, the majority of the positions have already been filled.

    However, there is still a lot of wiggle room between now and September 9th when the Panthers travel to Tampa Bay for their first game of the 2012 NFL season.

    Here is my early prediction for the 2012 Carolina Panthers' opening day 53-man roster.

Quarterbacks

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    Quarterbacks (3)

    Cam Newton –  Cam Newton, the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, will be the Panthers' starting quarterback for many years to come. Newton should be even better in 2012 with his first full offseason of OTA's and mini-camps to prepare.

    Derek Anderson – Derek Anderson will reprise his role as the Panthers' backup quarterback in 2012. A former Pro Bowler, Anderson lacks Newton's mobility and arm strength, but he has the experience to be a serviceable No. 2 option.

    Jimmy Clausen – Jimmy Clausen, the Panthers' second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, will not be cut but he could be traded before the 2012 NFL season if the Panthers are able to find a mobile backup who can run the offense they have in place for Newton.

    Notes:

    There are currently no other quarterbacks in the Panthers' camp, though they carried four quarterbacks into the preseason a year ago before cutting Tony Pike.

    The Cleveland Brown's Colt McCoy is a viable option for a QB-swap if the Panthers try to offload Clausen since McCoy is a mobile quarterback likely to lose his starting position to Browns' rookie Brandon Weeden.

Running Backs

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    Running Back (4)

    DeAngelo Williams – The Panthers' starting tailback signed a 5-year deal worth $43-million in 2011 and he is not going anywhere. Expect the Panthers to be a dominant running team in 2012 with Williams rushing for 1,200 yards.

    Jonathan Stewart – The Panthers did not trade their other 1,000-yard back, Stewart, prior to the draft. It looks like they are going to keep the second half of Double Trouble going into his contract year to form arguably the best backfield in NFL.

    Josh Vaughan – Josh Vaughan was on the Panthers' practice squad for most of 2011, but he showed up on special teams and even got a few carries late last season. Vaughan hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Richmond Spiders RB Tim Hightower who has had success with the Cardinals and the Redskins. 2012 could be the season Vaughan finally makes the Panthers' roster.

    Mike Tolbert (FB) – Mike Tolbert is a versatile fullback acquired from Chargers during the offseason. Though he is not the biggest or the best blocking fullback in the league, he provides running and pass catching ability from the fullback position.

    Notes:

    Former Clemson star, James Davis, is currently in mini-camp with the Panthers along with running backs Princeton McCarty, Tauren Poole and Lyndon Rowells.

Wide Receivers

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    Wide Receiver (6)

    Steve Smith – The Panthers' all-time leading receiver and Cam Newton's favorite target will be back for his 13th season after earning a trip to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

    Brandon LaFell – Lafell improved throughout the 2011 season and came on particularly strong in the final few games. LaFell is a productive receiver who will compete with David Gettis for the No. 2 receiver position behind Smith.

    David Gettis – Gettis is a third-year player who missed all of last season with a torn ACL suffered in training camp. Gettis has blazing speed and will complete with LaFell for the No. 2 receiver position.

    Darvin Adams – Darvin Adams was Cam Newton's top target at Auburn when they won the National Championship. Adams was briefly pulled up from the Panthers practice squad as a rookie in 2011, though he is still waiting to catch his first NFL pass.

    Joe Adams (R) – The Panthers selected Joe Adams from Arkansas in the fourth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Adams is the Panthers' likely starting punt returner and he has the quickness and elusiveness to be an effective slot receiver if he can consistently catch the ball.

    Kealoha Pilares – Last year's kick returner will definitely make team. Pilares stood out at receiver during the 2011 preseason and he has a chance to be the NFL's next Victor Cruz, but he will have to outshine rookie Joe Adams to get the opportunity.

    Notes:

    Additional wide receivers on the Panthers' 89-man roster include Seyi Ajirotutu, Brenton Bersin, Armanti Edwards, Jared Green, Wes Kemp and Chris Manno.

    Bersin (R) is a solid route runner who played high school ball at Charlotte Latin and has a shot at making the practice squad.

    The Armanti Edwards punt-return experiment of 2011 was a failure and he does not look like a viable option at receiver. The Panthers could either try him at wildcat or backup QB or cut ties with the NC football legend and former Appalachian State star.

    Green is the son of Hall of Fame cornerback and former NFL's fastest man title-holder, Darrell Green.

Tight Ends

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    Tight Ends (3)

    Greg Olsen - One of Newton's favorite targets in 2011, Greg Olsen will continue to be a security blanket for Newton and an important red zone target. Olsen has big play ability.

    Richie Brockel – Brockel is a versatile hybrid player is more of an H-back than a tight end. The former Boise State star scored on the Panthers' famous fumble-rooskie play against the Houston Texans in 2011.

    Ben Hartsock – This veteran tight end is more of a blocker than a pass catcher.

    Notes:

    With the departure of Jeremy Shockey, the Panthers will likely look to add a second pass-catching tight end to the roster sometime during the offseason, and a healthy Dallas Clark fits the bill.

    Clark is an unsigned free-agent who has been injured much of the past two seasons, but after posting 100 catches from Peyton Manning in 2009, the former Indianapolis Colt still has some game.

    Other tight ends on the Panthers' current roster include Gary Barnidge, Tarren Lloyd and Greg Smith.

    Barnidge missed the 2011 season due to injury after playing for Carolina in 2010. He will have an opportunity to get back in the mix in 2012, particularly if the Panthers keep four tight ends.

Offensive Line

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    Offensive Tackle (4)

    Jordan Gross – Gross last made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and he is one of the best tackles in the NFL.

    Jeff Otah – Otah has the footwork, size and skill to be among the best tackles in the game if he can only remain healthy for an entire season.

    Byron Bell – Bell made an impact as a free-agent rookie in 2011, starting in place of an injured Jeff Otah. Bell is a serviceable backup tackle and could also push for a starting position at guard.

    Bruce Campbell – Campbell was a monster at the 2010 NFL combine but did not play much in his rookie year with the Oakland Raiders. The Panthers acquired the former Maryland Terrapins star in a trade for running back Mike Goodson during the offseason and likely look at him as a project player.

     

    Offensive Guard (3)

    Geoff Hangartner – Hangartner started all 16 games for the Panthers in 2011 and will likely start again in 2012.

    Amini Silatolu – A surprise second-round draft pick out of Midwestern State, Silatolu has a reputation for being a crushing blocker with a mean streak. Silatolu will have to adjust to the level of play after playing D-II football, but he will definitely make the team and will have a chance to start.

    Will Blackwell – Blackwell was a second-team All-American at LSU last season. The undrafted rookie free agent will have a chip on his shoulder and he is out to show he belongs in the NFL.

     

    Center (1)

    Ryan Kalil – Ryan Kalil is one of the best centers in the game and the leader of the Panthers' offensive line. Enough said.

    Notes:

    Other tackles on the Panthers' current 89-man roster include Matt Reynolds, Garry Williams and Lee Ziemba.

    Roger Allen, Bryant Browning and Mike Pollak are also listed as offensive guards on the Panthers' active roster.

    Jeff Byers was a practice squad player for the Panthers in 2011 and is the only other center on the Panthers' current active roster.

Kicking Game

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    Kicker (1)

    Olindo Mare – Despite missing a couple of key kicks in 2011, Mare led the NFL in touchbacks last season and he will be the Panthers' kicker again in 2012.

     

    Punter (1)

    Brad Nortman – The Panthers drafted Nortman in the sixth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin. Coach Rivera liked what he saw from the rookie punter in the Panthers' first rookie mini-camp when Nortman routinely punted the ball 60 to 70 yards and had a hang time between 4.8 and 5.2 seconds.

     

    Long Snapper (1)

    J.J. Jansen – Only one long snapper makes the team and Jansen has been the Panthers' guy for the past three seasons.

    Notes:

    Justin Medlock is a Canadian Football League kicker brought in for an extra leg in camp. Panthers are likely to keep only one kicker in 2012 and it will not be Medlock.

    The Panthers signed veteran punter Nick Harris after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars after one season. Harris was the Detroit Lions' punter from 2004-2010 and he was brought in as a veteran to compete with Nortman for the Panthers' punter position.

Defensive Tackle

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    Defensive Tackle (6)

    Ron Edwards - Injured in 2011, the veteran Edwards will be counted on to solidify and shore up Carolina’s interior defensive line.

    Sione Fua – Fua started as a rookie in 2011 until a Week 12 season-ending injury against the Indianapolis Colts.

    Terrell McClain – A rookie starter alonside Fua in 2011, McClain was pushed around by NFL lineman last season.  McClain should see action as part of defensive front rotation, but will likely not start in 2012.

    Andre Neblett - Neblett played well as a starter late in the season alongside Frank Kearse once Fua and McClain were lost to injury. He could be an opening day starter in 2012 playing next to Ron Edwards.

    Frank Kearse – Kearse came on strong late in the 2011 season and helped strengthen the Panthers’ run defense.

    Ogemdi Nwagbuo – Nwagbuo played for Ron Rivera with the San Diego Chargers before joining the Panthers in Week 6 last season. He provides additional depth along front-four.

    Notes:

    The other defensive tackles on the Panthers' current roster are Nate Chandler and Jason Shirley.

    I am not convinced the Panthers are settled on their current roster of defensive tackles and they are likely to bring in a few more veterans to compete between now and training camp.

Defensive End

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    Defensive End (5)

    Charles Johnson – The Panthers' sack leader in 2010 and 2011, Johnson is the Panthers' best defensive lineman. He was also the highest paid player in the NFL last season according to ESPN: The Magazine's "Money Issue."

    Greg Hardy – Hardy had 4.0 sacks as the Panthers' other starting defensive end in 2011 and he needs to increase his productivity in 2012.

    Frank Alexander – The Panthers' first fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the former Oklahoma Sooner will make the team.

    Antwan Applewhite – Applewhite is a locker room leader and an intense player on the field.

    Thomas Keiser – The Panthers found a diamond in the rough last season when they promoted the undrafted rookie out of Stanford to the active roster midway through the season.

    Notes:

    The other defensive tackles on the Panthers' current roster are Eric Norwood, Jyles Tucker and Ryan Van Bergen.

    Norwood has been unproductive in his first two NFL seasons, but the former South Carolina great has one more opportunity to prove he belongs as an NFL pass-rusher, either with the Panthers or another team.

    Tucker is another guy from Rivera's days with the Chargers. With a name like Jyles, the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon could be the next Bojangles' spokesman if he makes the Panthers' 53-man roster.

Cornerback

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    Cornerback (5)

    Chris Gamble – Gamble had perhaps his finest season in 2011 when he ranked as the fourth-toughest cornerback to complete a pass against in the NFL, allowing just a 45.0-percent completion rate.

    Brandon Hogan – Hogan was the Panthers' fourth-round draft pick in 2011 despite having an ACL injury at West Virginia. Hogan spent most of last season on the PUP list, but he is an agressive cornerback who will have a chance to battle Josh Norman for starting spot.

    Josh Norman – Norman is a big, physical cornerback drafted in the fifth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Coastal Carolina. Norman will likely be a backup but will have a chance to battle for the starting No. 2 cornerback position.

    Captain Munnerlyn – Munnerlyn allowed an NFL-high 73.8 percent completion percentage when his man was targeted in 2011, and he will give up his starting position to Brandon Hogan or Josh Norman. However, Munnerlyn will continue to see the field in nickel and dime packages as he did in his first two seasons. The Captain is a special teams stalwart.

    Darius Butler – Butler will compete with Munnerlyn for the nickel cornerback position.

    Notes:

    Brandon Hogan is a fierce tackler with good ball skills and punt return ability.

    I believe the Panthers would have selected a cornerback in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft if they were not confident in Hogan's abilities.

    The other cornerbacks on the Panthers' current 89-man roster are R.J. Stanford, Reggie Sullivan and Josh Thomas.

Linebacker

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    Linebacker (6)

    Jon Beason – Jon Beason is the captain of the Panthers' defense and he will return to his starting middle linebacker position after tearing his Achilles in Week 1 of the 2011 season against the Arizona Cardinals.

    Thomas Davis – Thomas Davis will be the Panthers' starting Sam linebacker if he recovers fully from the ACL tear he suffered in Week 2 of the 2011 season. Davis is attempting to become the first NFL player to successfully return to competition after tearing the same ACL three times in his career.

    James Anderson – James Anderson ranked sixth in the NFL in tackles with a career-high 145 total stops in 2011. He will battle the Panthers' first-round draft pick, Luke Kuechly, for the starting Will linebacker position, though the Panthers will likely incorporate a four-linebacker defensive scheme often throughout the season.

    Luke Kuechly – Kuechly, the ninth overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, is a tackling machine who will not be kept off the field.  He is currently taking reps at the Will linebacker position and could also see time as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

    Jordan Senn – Senn is an undersized NFL linebacker who plays with heart and fire. A leader on special teams, Senn is a sure tackler and a solid backup linebacker.

    Kenny Onatulu – Onatulu was brought in mostly for his prowess on special teams but the Panthers will rotate him into the defense as a situational player or to spell another player.

    Notes:

    Linebacker is the Panthers' most talented and, arguably, the team's deepest position.

    Jason Williams, Jason Phillips and Kion Wilson are the other linebackers on the Panthers' current roster.

Safety

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    Safety (4)

    Charles Godfrey – Godfrey is the big hitter in the Panthers' secondary and was second on the team with 84 tackles in 2011, though he was 14th in the NFL with 11 broken tackles allowed last season. As he is often the last line of the Panthers' defense, Godfrey must become a more sure tackler in 2012.

    Sherrod Martin – Martin had three interceptions in 2011, including a game-sealing pick on the road in Week 12 against the Indianapolis Colts, though he was frequently burned on deep, over the top throws last season. Along with Godfrey, Martin desperately needs to improve his tackling, as he ranked sixth-worst in the NFL in broken tackles allowed with 12 in 2011.

    Jordan Pugh – Pugh returns as the Panthers' backup safety, though he will be pushed for the role by the recently acquired Haruki Nakamura.

    Haruki Nakamura – The former Baltimore Raven will compete for a starting position and will also see action on special teams. 

    Notes:

    The other safeties on the Panthers' current roster are D.J. Campbell, Jonathan Nelson and Reggie Smith.