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A young, professional sports team can mean two things:
1) You have years and years of success in your future, or
2) You have years and years of watching the paint dry
Teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Charlotte Bobcats will sit twiddling their thumbs, while the Carolina Panthers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Kings and Washington Nationals bloom into some of the most beautiful flowers of the garden.
Actually, in all four of these cases, the blooming process has already begun.
In Carolina, Cam Newton has single-handedly transformed the once egregious Panthers offense into a well-oiled machine. Look at the comparisons between 2010 under Jimmy Clausen/Matt Moore and 2011 under Cam Newton.
2010: 143.1 yds/game passing, nine passing TDs, 21 interceptions, 57.0 passer rating
2011: 239.3 yds/game passing, 21 passing TDs, 17 interceptions, 84.8 passer rating
It's not comparing apples to oranges. It's comparing fruit to vegetables.
With an average player age of 25 years, the Panthers have the youngest team in the NFL. Newton (22) is obviously the central figure of the future, but when you look up and down Carolina’s roster, there are other young studs that have held their own as a pro.
The Panthers must be considered one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. They can beat teams in the air and on the ground—just pick your poison. Running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are 25 and 26, respectively, and center Ryan Kalil (27) has already made the Pro Bowl three times.
All Carolina really needs to do is squeeze some success out of Brandon LaFell (25), David Gettis (24) or Armanti Edwards (24). If they can develop one of these guys into a solid No. 2 receiver, the Panthers might not have to worry about their 25th ranked defense.
Carolina’s secondary desperately needs improvement, but aside from those four positions, the Panthers actually have some hope. Jon Beason (27) is coming back from a torn Achilles and will be playing alongside the 2011 NCAA Defensive Player of the Year in Luke Kuechly (21). On the defensive line, Charles Johnson is 25 years young and Greg Hardy (23) finally made a little noise towards the end of last season.
The Panthers won six games in 2011, but in 2012, Carolina is ready to move on to bigger and better things. If they can manage to patch up that secondary, there’s little that can stop them from becoming an NFC powerhouse.