Carolina Panthers: Immediate 53-Man Roster-Cut Predictions Post-Pittsburgh Game
Whew! Finally, the last preseason game for the Carolina Panthers has been played, as the team shut out the Pittsburgh Steelers 10-0. Next week will mark the beginning of the regular season, but before the games become real, the livelihoods of several players will be determined, as the Panthers have to trim the roster to 53 players.
Any coach will tell you this is the hardest part of his job, and there will be some players who had a good preseason but may not make the squad because of limited room at their position. Some players who weren't on the team last year, such as Joe Webb, Brenton Bersin and Fozzy Whittaker, have made strong cases to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
Who makes the cut in Bleacher Report's predicted final roster?
The next few slides will break down each position and determine which players will hang around for the regular season.
Starter: Cam Newton
Backups: Derek Anderson and Joe Webb
Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman aren't known for carrying three quarterbacks on the roster. However, Anderson has been a solid backup—even if it has been in more of a game-manager role. Webb, on the other hand, has a similar skill set to Newton and has looked very good during the preseason.
Entering his fourth season in the league, Cam Newton could exhibit signs of rust, as he has only played in two games, missing the preseason finale. The overall concern is his health, as it no longer revolves around the ankle he had surgically repaired in the offseason, but the hairline fracture he sustained in his rib at New England as well.
It's not good to enter the regular season with a starting quarterback who may not be 100 percent, but Newton gives the offense an added boost that is generally missing when he isn't on the field. Hopefully, everything goes well and he can play the entire season without any problems.
Starters: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart
Backup: Fozzy Whittaker
Starter: Mike Tolbert
Backup: Richie Brockel
It is almost difficult to label DeAngelo Williams a starter based on his preseason performance. His teammate, Jonathan Stewart, has looked good in his appearances this year, and while he may be limited to red-zone or goal-line touches, he can be a key player in the offense if he stays healthy.
Backing them up is Fozzy Whittaker.
And why not? He has been getting a lot of touches in the preseason and has proven to be a solid option inside the 20-yard line. Considering the fact his preseason has been better than Darrin Reaves', it would seem almost guaranteed that Whittaker makes the final cut.
As always, Mike Tolbert will be doing his part in run blocking and picking up short yards when called upon. Tolbert had a Pro Bowl season last year, and the scary thing is that he can be better. Richie Brockel will most likely back him up based on his versatility as a fullback and tight end. This will make Michael Zordich expendable in the final round of cuts.
If the backfield can stay healthy, it can be a dangerous unit from top to bottom.
WR1: Kelvin Benjamin
WR2: Jerricho Cotchery
WR3: Jason Avant
WR4: Brenton Bersin
WR5: Tavarres King
When the Carolina Panthers signed Jerricho Cotchery, it appeared that he would be the default No. 1 receiver on the team's receiver depth chart. After four preseason games, the honor should go to the rookie Kelvin Benjamin.
He has been challenged this summer and has performed admirably. If his performance continues into the regular season, he could very well be a dark-horse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
It's almost a toss-up for the third wide receiver spot. Jason Avant hasn't made too much noise, while the young Brenton Bersin has been making plays the entire preseason. Avant gets the nod at No. 3 because he is a veteran, but if the Panthers were to employ a four-receiver set, Bersin would definitely be on the field.
Rounding out the receiving corps is Tavarres King.
The former Georgia receiver hasn't been too effective, but he has done more than some of the other guys who have already been cut. The notable omission to this position is Philly Brown. He will make the cut, but he will serve primarily as a return man on special teams.
Starter: Greg Olsen
Backup: Ed Dickson
Greg Olsen will return to his starting duties on offense, but he will have company with his backups lining up opposite of him in big sets. Both Ed Dickson and Brandon Williams have been good this summer, and each could be a solid complement to Olsen.
However, Williams could be the odd man out, and honestly, it's a toss-up because both men are deserving. Dickson may get over based on experience.
Olsen had his best year last season, and with a new-look receiving corps, he could draw a lot of attention depending on how the opposing defenses design their cover schemes. Regardless, he is still a crucial part of the offense, and while he is not the fastest guy on the field, he can catch and muscle his way for additional yards.
Starters: Ryan Kalil (C), Amini Silatolu (LG), Byron Bell (LT), Trai Turner (RG) and Nate Chandler (RT)
Backups: Fernando Velasco (C), Chris Scott (RG), Garry Williams (RT) and David Foucault (LT)
This season will feature new faces on the offensive line, and it will be interesting to see how the unit performs. The main priority is to protect Cam Newton. However, opening up running lanes is vital to the success of the offense, and the running backs will need help up front to find the room into the open.
After being overmatched in New England, the offensive line looked a lot better at Pittsburgh. The quarterbacks were able to get time in the pocket, and it didn't seem as though the line crumbled on blitzes.
The biggest question (other than how the unit will perform) involves the health of Nate Chandler and Trai Turner. Both have been dealing with injuries the last couple of weeks, but both men should be ready to play by next week.
Starters: Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short
Backups: Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards
Starters: Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy
Backups: Mario Addison, Kony Ealy and Frank Alexander
The first line of defense in Carolina should be intact for the 2014 season. The interior should be the same as it was last year with Star Lotulelei and a rotation of Kawann Short and Dwan Edwards filling the holes. Colin Cole has been a serviceable backup.
Charles Johnson shouldn't be too limited by his hamstring injury and should be on the field in Week 1. Greg Hardy appears to have dodged a bullet—for now—in regard to his legal issues. Of course, it will all depend on when his appeal is heard, and he could face a six-game suspension.
However, teammate Frank Alexander won't be so lucky. He will miss the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. This will put pressure on rookie Kony Ealy to be an effective edge pass-rusher early in his professional career. However, he should have Mario Addison spelling him in the rotation.
Starters: Luke Kuechly (MLB), Thomas Davis (WLB) and Chase Blackburn (SLB)
Backups: Ben Jacobs, A.J. Klein and Jason Williams
Much is expected of this unit in 2014. Luke Kuechly has taken home awards after each of his first two seasons in the league, and Thomas Davis continues to amaze people with his ability to be a defensive playmaker after three knee surgeries. Chase Blackburn could get the start at the strong side but could form a rotation with A.J. Klein.
Jason Williams could afford to be more disciplined at times (he did draw an unnecessary roughness call in his last preseason game), but he has proven he can disrupt a backfield too. Ben Jacobs has gone unheralded this preseason, but in fairness, it's hard to follow a talent like Kuechly in the starting role.
Starters: Roman Harper (SS) and Thomas DeCoud (FS)
Backups: Robert Lester, Anderson Russell and Tre Boston
Roman Harper has been missing in action fighting a turf toe injury but should be ready to return soon. If not, Robert Lester is a capable backup and proved as much in his rookie season last year. Starting at free safety will be Thomas DeCoud, and if both remain healthy and stay on the field, each could be valuable to a secondary that will go up against some of the league's best passers.
Anderson Russell has quietly left his mark on the field, and Tre Boston offers a lot of potential as a rookie.
Starters: Antoine Cason and Melvin White
Backups: Charles Godfrey, Bene Benwikere and James Dockery
The veteran presence combined with the rising young talent makes a lot of sense as the starting corners in the Carolina secondary. Both Antoine Cason and Melvin White are capable of patrolling the outside part of the field and defending receivers.
Behind them will be a strong veteran presence of Charles Godfrey (who could play in the nickel slot position) and James Dockery. This bodes well for rookie Bene Benwikere, who can take this season as a means to be groomed into a professional cornerback.
Kicker: Graham Gano
Punter/Holder: Brad Nortman
Kick/Punt Returner: Philly Brown
Long Snapper: J.J. Jansen
Graham Gano, Brad Nortman and J.J. Jansen are the usual suspects returning to special teams. The recent roster moves shook up earlier projections of who may be tasked with ball-return duties, but Philly Brown looks to be the man.
On kickoffs, he could be paired with Fozzy Whittaker, and backing him up on punts could be Antoine Cason and Bene Benwikere. Fortunately, Brown doesn't have big shoes to fill or replace, as the Panthers have not exactly lit the world on fire in the return game over the past couple of years.
Panthers.com was the basis for depth chart/final roster projections. However, there are a few differences between their final roster and this prediction.