Every year, someone on the 53-man roster manages to get the call of lifetime. Whether by injury, performance, or off the field issues, someone has to step up to the plate and fill an important role. The upcoming season for the Carolina Panthers will be the result of many stepping up into open places left vacant from the previous season, but there will most definitely be some stand-out dark horses to watch potentially move up the depth chart during the pre-season and even after.
Being a true team player pays dividends and Nate Chandler’s recent three year extension is a prime example. Previously a defensive tackle, Chandler switched to the opposite side at the behest of Coach Rivera during an increasingly turbulent time for the o-line. Amidst multiple injuries, the undrafted player prospered on the line and is now in the mix to start at the tackle position. Many are worried that Nate (and even Byron Bell) won’t be quite up to starting once the season starts due to issues during training camp but there’s always this: They’re practicing against the best front seven in the NFL.
Other than Kelvin Benjamin, Turner could end up being one of quickest to impact the team if Chris Scott continues to underperform. The nasty LSU lineman went to the Panthers in the third round this year, and had shown flashes in OTAs. With our running game not performing quite up to its potential the last two years, Turner opening up lanes in the inside could be a huge benefit. That idea, in addition to a healthy RB tandem spells doom for opposing teams.
I believe our WR corp isn’t in as much trouble as the rest of the world let’s on, but I do believe that the true success of the group will come a bit further down the depth chart. Our projected top three (Benjamin, Avant, Cotchery) are most certainly chain movers and big red zone targets, but what’s missing is the big play threat. Undrafted, OTA standout Philly Brown has a strong opportunity to be that guy. Already proven on Special Teams in college, the hope is that he can bring that speed and shiftiness to the passing game and the blow the top off defenses, creating even more opportunities for the running game and the top 3 receivers.
Somehow, even after his impressive rookie season, Lester is on the dark horse list. The reason lies solely in his own comfort in the defense, still having to adjust a bit to NFL speed. With a couple consistent vets in front of him (DeCoud, Harper) he’ll have a great opportunity to learn and possibly apply these skills if he shows improvement during the season.
Webb is easily the dark horse candidate we don’t want to see in the starting lineup, seeing as him starting means Newton went down. With the offensive line having it’s issues, it is certainly a possibility Cam will have to sit out a few plays or even sit a few games. Don’t chew off my head, but it’s possible. With all that said, we could be worse off in the backup QB department. Though the new regime isn’t keen on 3 qbs on the roster, hopefully Webb’s similarities to Newton’s playstyle will change that stance. Though Anderson is a solid backup, much of the playbook is eliminated from the equation when he takes the field and that’s not something the offense this year can afford. Hopefully, Webb will remain a complacent security blanket on the bench while Newton enjoys a healthy season ahead.