To say the Carolina Panthers have been busy this offseason would be a drastic understatement. In an effort to bury any remains of the atrocious 2010 season, the Panthers have basically made moves to change just about every thing concerning the makeup of the team heading into the 2011 season. The Panthers have improved drastically through the NFL Draft, free agency, and some smart trades. What once looked like a team that could struggle to win a game in the 2011 season now looks like a team that could hover around the .500 mark. As hard as the Panthers acquisitions have been to keep up with this offseason, it has been even harder to rank the acquisitions in order of quality and importance. Even though it may be hard, it is important for us to rank the Panthers new acquisitions just to see how far this franchise has come in just a few short months.
The Panthers needed to address three major needs in the NFL Draft: Leadership, skill and enthusiasm at Quarterback, the need for size, speed and run-stopping ability on the defensive line, and the need for a couple new receivers to compliment cranky superstar Steve Smith. When the Panthers drafted Pilares they may have gotten one of the steals of the draft. Pilares is a speedy wide receiver who has the potential to have the same big play ability as Smith and can do a lot to help the Panthers special teams. This pick up helps the Panthers begin to fill a need that has been haunting them for what seems like a decade.
In 2010, the Panthers secondary did not necessarily lack skill as much as it lacked leadership. Even though the Panthers had tons of young talent in their secondary, it often did not know where they were supposed to be and just as often missed big tackles. With the addition of Considine, the Panthers acquire someone who is known for his leadership and smarts, and also regularly has over forty tackles. He should add leadership and depth to the Panthers young secondary.
The sad reality of the NFL is that kickers are either remembered for big misses or big makes. John Kasay will always be remembered by Panthers fans for being the player that cost the Panthers the Super Bowl by kicking the ball out of bounds at the end of Super Bowl XXXVIII. This is a shame because Panthers fans should remember Kasay as one of the more consistent kickers of all time and the only reason the Panthers have been able to put points on the board the past two years. This being said, the Panthers made the right move by cutting an aging Kasay to ensure his reputation was not further ruined by missed kicks this season. Mare should be a more consistent option this season.
Whatever hyperbolic way Panthers fans want to describe how bad the teams interior defensive line was last season is probably legitimate. The Panthers' interior defensive line not only struggled with being too old and too slow, they struggled with not having enough passion for the game. Last season you would often feel like the Panthers' defensive tackles were not only untalented but that they were not even trying to stop the run or get a decent pass rush. With the drafting of Fua, the Panthers acquire someone who is always giving 110 percent (even if it is only possible to give 100 percent). They get someone who does not take plays off, and a guy who has a great football IQ.
The Panthers drafted a passionate run-stopping defensive tackle but before that they got a gifted pass rushing defensive tackle in Terrell McClain. McClain has great intangibles, has an ability to stop the run, comes from a solid background, and most importantly is going to give the Panthers a third threat to sack the quarterback if he gets early playing time on a defensive line that is already in flux. McClain helps fill a pretty big hole in the Panthers interior defensive line.
The Panthers not only were able to find "diamonds in the rough" throughout the 2011 NFL Draft, but were able to find them throughout free agency. One of these diamonds is wide receiver Legedu Naanee, who along with having the most difficult name to pronounce in the entire National Football League, also has a unique skill set that should enable him to become the Panthers' No. 2 receiver in 2011. Naanee is a big and fast receiver who will probably have the best set of hands on the entire roster. At Carolina, he will get the opportunities he did not have in San Diego.
A lot of people have said that Jeremy Shockey is more of a pest than he is productive nowadays, and they are exactly right. What these people do not know, though, is that the Panthers are one of the few teams in the NFL that desperately needed a pest. They needed a pest to call out other players when they are not trying hard enough, they needed someone who was going to pester guys until they decided to go out for drinks, they needed a guy who was going to provide a love-hate style of veteran leadership. The pest that Shockey is going to be is exactly the pest the Panthers needed. The icing on the cake though is that this pest can still be somewhat productive.
The Panthers had tried filling their glaring holes at defensive tackles with young talent, but young talent is sometimes more potential than it is actual production. Carolina's new regime had finally become uncomfortable with holding out hope for potential and decided to sign someone they knew was going to be productive. When Ron Edwards is able to play, he will be one of the best run-stoppers in the league. He will be someone who can start immediately and will be someone who brings playoff experience and leadership to a young team. This veteran was a great pick up by the Panthers.
With the addition of Greg Olsen, the Panthers have completely transformed their passing game for whatever young quarterback they decide to start. Olsen has one of the most unique skill sets for a tight end in the entire league and is a threat to catch 70 balls a season if used properly. His speed and route-running ability will comfort the Panthers' young quarterbacks who may struggle to read complex defenses, and he is a potential Pro Bowler. It also needs to be noted that his sleeveless beard look is a lot cooler than Jeff King's long-sleeve old man look.
Even though Cam Newton has not taken a snap, he has already completely changed the Panthers franchise. He has changed the franchise by giving the fans something they have not had since the 2008 season: hope. He has changed the franchise by being the most marketable athlete the city of Charlotte has had since Larry Johnson. He has changed the franchise by making the Panthers the national story instead of a story on the back pages of the Charlotte newspapers. Newton has completely changed the culture in Carolina and for that he was worth much more than a No. 1 pick.