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The Panthers haven't given Cam Newton the help he needs to sustain success
2013 stats: 61 percent completion, 3646 yards, 25 TDs, 15 INTs, 48 sacks
The Carolina Panthers had a wildly successful 2013 season and made the playoffs by going 12-4, saving head coach Ron Rivera’s job and answering some of the questions that doubters had about former No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton.
How did general manager Dave Gettleman build upon the Panthers’ terrific 2013?
He allowed Newton’s receiving corps to remain mediocre at best, and he once again failed to give his quarterback a decent group of playmakers on the outside.
After releasing star receiver Steve Smith and allowing the other top two receivers on the depth chart—Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn (and his family)—leave via free agency, the Panthers lost 58.6 percent of their total receiving yards and 60 percent of their touchdown catches from 2013.
Now, Smith isn’t young, and neither LaFell nor Ginn are above-average players, but the acquisitions of 32 year-old Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant (12 touchdowns in seven seasons) and first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin aren’t upgrades for 2014.
Benjamin displayed immense potential while at Florida State, but as a 24 year-old rookie with major issues with drops and overall refinement, one could argue the Panthers should’ve taken at least one more receiver in the draft.
Compounding the issues at receiver are the changes the offensive line have undergone since last year.
Stalwart left tackle Jordan Gross retired, and swingman Nate Chandler is currently slated to start there. Chandler played well at tackle in his six appearances there in 2013, allowing only one hit on Newton, but he was atrocious when he moved inside to guard.
It’s odd for a lineman to be worse at guard than tackle, so if that’s a sign of things to come, expect Newton to be hammered often from his blind side.
On the right side of the line, if rookie Trai Turner is healthy, he should be a road grader right guard for years to come. His addition will help the run game.
At right tackle, the Panthers will be starting Byron Bell again. He’s about as average as you can be at the position.
With their offensive philosophy being predicated on balance (483 rushes compared to 473 passing attempts), the Panthers enter 2014 with their duo of De’Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart one more time.
Williams, now 31, is likely to hit the running back wall sooner rather than later. Stewart continues to struggle staying on the field, logging just 110 snaps in 2013.
The running back position will have to be addressed in 2015, so it makes you wonder why the Panthers didn’t spearhead the issue early. They instead selected yet another defensive lineman in the second round in Kony Ealy.