Grading Every Carolina Panthers Starter's 2013 Regular Season

Dilan AmesCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2013

Grading Every Carolina Panthers Starter's 2013 Regular Season

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    Cam Newton is just one of many Carolina Panthers who made great strides in 2013.
    Cam Newton is just one of many Carolina Panthers who made great strides in 2013.Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    The Carolina Panthers have had one hell of a season. They've made tremendous progress since a couple of years ago when they were the NFL's worst team and are on their way to the playoffs.

    Cam Newton's maturation as an NFL player and leader was an integral part of the team's success this season, however he was not the only notable name from their 2013 squad. Luke Kuechly was the heart and soul of Carolina's vaunted defense, a unit that was tops in the NFL for the greater part of the year.

    The Panthers' overall growth as a team is what's made them contenders, and the chemistry they have on both sides of the ball has helped them come a long way.

     

    *All stats courtesy of NFL.com*

Quarterback

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Starter: Cam Newton

    Season grade: A

    The Panthers would not be in the playoffs if not for Cam Newton. He's posted career numbers in every major stat category and has minimized the mistakes he made during his first two seasons in the NFL. The Panthers rode Newton to their 12-4 record which included an eight-game win streak.

    Newton's growth as an NFL quarterback is what's put this team over the top and into the playoffs.

Running Back

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Starter: DeAngelo Williams

    Season grade: B-

    DeAngelo Williams seemed to hit a rough patch in his career but has turned things around a bit and posted his best numbers since 2011.

    Williams' speed and burst plays a major role in the Panthers offense. Carolina runs the ball very well and uses that to open up the passing game with Newton, which Williams also contributes to.

    Williams failed to reach 1,000 yards for the fourth year in a row, but he still turned in rather good numbers, considering he's nearing the end of his career.

Wide Receivers

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Starters: Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell

    Season grade: B

    Although Carolina isn't known for its passing attack, it's done a good job of efficiently moving the ball and diversifying its offense with unique formations.

    Given the athleticism of most of its starters on offense, the Panthers have been afforded a certain level of flexibility when it comes to risky, unconventional play-calling.

    Those game plans are largely centered around their running backs but also their receivers. Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell didn't have magnifying seasons in 2013, but they surely were the reasons why Carolina could throw the ball around more.

    These two combined for almost half of Newton's passing yards (1,372) and touchdowns (nine). 

Tight End

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Starter: Greg Olsen

    Season grade: A-

    Greg Olseis rarely considered a top-five tight end in the league, but his consistency and numbers are surely starting to looking like top-five.

    Olsen was the team's leading receiver this season and helped it maintain fluidity on offense. His 774 yards receiving in 2013 is good for second-highest in his career, while his touchdown catches (five) matched a career high.

    Olsen was Newton's most dependable target on offense and seldom faltered when called upon.

Offensive Line

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Starter: Jordan Gross, Travell Wharton, Ryan Kalil, Chris Scott, Byron Bell

    Season grade: B

    The Panthers' offensive line isn't the best they've ever had, but it's done a pretty good job. Guys like Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil helped pave the way for Carolina's 11th-ranked rushing attack, and Kalil has even earned Pro Bowl honors.

    The Panthers' big uglies tallied 54 runs of 10-plus yards while also keeping Newton upright; they only gave up 61 quarterback hits, sixth-least in the league.

Defensive Ends

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    StartersCharles Johnson, Greg Hardy

    Season grade: A-

    If there's one thing the Panthers are good at, it's defense. It all starts up front for Carolina, namely with its resident pass-rushers, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.

    The two ends combined for 20 sacks and 82 tackles as well as nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Hardy led the team with 11 sacks, matching a career high.

Defensive Tackles

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    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    StartersDwan Edwards, Star Lotulelei

    Season grade: A

    The Panthers' defensive line is arguably the best in the league, and that's because of the athleticism and size of the guys up front. Dwan Edwards and Star Lotulelei are two of the biggest gentlemen on the Panthers roster, and they have translated that size into a wall up front for Carolina.

    The two tackles formed a stout, run-stuffing pair that allowed just four rushing touchdowns all season (fewest in the NFL) and an average of just 86.9 rushing yards per game (second in the NFL).

    Lotulelei, a rookie, shined in his first season, recording 40 tackles with two sacks and seven tackles for loss. 

Linebackers

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    StartersChase Blackburn, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis

    Season grade: A+

    The Carolina linebackers are all rich with talent, but the real headliner here is Luke Kuechly.

    The second-year linebacker from Boston College led the team with tackles once again with 156, which is good enough for fourth-most in the NFL. Thomas Davis is no slouch either, with his 123 tackles, four sacks and 10 pass deflections as proof.

    Chase Blackburn saw limited time this season, as he struggled with injury, but rookie A.J. Klein did well in place of him; the two combined for 41 tackles and two sacks this season.

Cornerbacks

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    StartersJosh Thomas, Captain Munnerlyn

    Season grade: B+

    While it's normally Carolina's front seven getting most of the attention, the secondary has done an underrated job of shutting down offenses this season.

    Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Thomas were one of the better cornerback tandems in the league this year and were part of a secondary that allowed just 17 passing touchdowns (third-fewest in the NFL) and had 20 interceptions (fourth-fewest in the NFL).

Safeties

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    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    StartersMike Mitchell, Quintin Mikell 

    Season grade: B

    As I mentioned on the previous slide, the Panthers secondary has had an underrated season. The safeties, namely Mike Mitchell, played out of their heads in several games. They allowed 214 passing yards per game, which ranked sixth-fewest in the league. Mitchell posted career bests in tackles (63), sacks (three) and interceptions (four).

    Quintin Mikell missed a few games this season but still put together a decent campaign in 2013, tallying 54 tackles, two forced fumbles and three sacks. 

Special Teams

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Starters: Graham Gano (K), Brad Nortman (P), Ted Ginn (KR/PR)

    Season grade: B+

    Carolina's special teams had a pretty solid year in 2013 as an overall unit. Ted Ginn was nothing special as a returner, but Graham Gano and Brad Nortman were some of the league's best at their respective positions.

    Gano made 89 percent of his field-goal attempts and was the only kicker in the league to complete every attempt of 50-plus yards (min. three attempts).

    Nortman had the fifth-best yards-per-punt average in 2013 with 47.7 yards and had the second-longest punt of the season (72 yards).