Carolina Panthers: How much can the defense improve in 2020?

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson
(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson /

How much can the Carolina Panthers improve defensively in 2020?

What the Carolina Panthers are going to do on the defensive side of the ball is going to be one of the biggest talking points ahead of the new season. The unit is unrecognizable from the one that ended in 2019. And this was a necessary evil to improve their long-term hopes.

The organization parted ways with some prominent veteran players this spring. And the Carolina Panthers brought in some fresh faces that will hopefully provide the necessary spark in 2020 and beyond.

Phil Snow will be tasked with getting the most out of the tools at his disposal. The highly experienced figure has seen most things during his storied career. But he will be under no illusions as to the take awaiting this group next season as defensive coordinator.

Their all-defense NFL Draft was another major boost to a group that was devoid of any real depth prior to the Panthers’ selections. A few of their picks have the potential to contribute right away. But given the lack of preparation time on the field going into the campaign, it leaves them with a “learn by doing” scenario in the ruthless world of the NFL.

NFL writer Adam Rank gave some thought on the vast changes in Carolina defensively in a recent feature. And he outlined his faith that Snow can get things turned around on the back of a strong draft.

"“Phil Snow is the new defensive coordinator, taking over for the deposed Eric Washington. Snow is returning to the NFL for the first time since he was the Lions linebackers coach in 2008. He was the defensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan, Temple and Baylor in the past few years. A fun piece of trivia: He was the defensive coordinator at Arizona State during its famed run in 1996 and was the coordinator when Pat Tillman won the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year award in 1997. But now he’s going to have some work to do with the Panthers.“But I’m a huge fan of what they did defensively in the draft. Derrick Brown is an absolute stud. You could have gone offensive line (more on that in a moment), but Brown has the look of a superstar and compares favorably to former Panther Kris Jenkins. Yetur Gross-Matos could easily have been taken in the first round, so that was a great value. And Jeremy Chinn is a very intriguing prospect, as is Troy Pride Jr. I would even rate the Panthers’ draft as one of the best. Even with an offensive-minded coach, they went all in on defense.”"

The Panthers did end up second in the NFL in sacks last season. But that is about all they could take away from a dismal campaign. They had a porous run defense and gave up plenty of points through the air. So if this group wants to make improvements, then the bar is not exactly high.

How much could the defense improve with the Carolina Panthers?

The NFL is a brutal place if players are not ready to perform. All eyes will be on the young core of the Carolina Panthers and whether they can cope in the face of some exceptional passing attacks.

They do still have some veterans in place. But this is where they would have needed recently retired linebacker Luke Kuechly the most. The onus will now be on the likes of Kawann Short, Shaq Thompson, Tre Boston, and Tahir Whitehead to provide the right sort of communication on the field and prevent their rookies from becoming overawed by their new surroundings.

Much will also depend on Donte Jackson and how he is impacted by moving to the No. 1 cornerback slot. This going to be a baptism of fire for the player. But one that he could be more than ready for.

Truth be told, if the Panthers’ defense can emerge from this season with some semblance of respectability, it would be a success. They aren’t expected to set the world alight during the first year of a rebuild. But if things click into place right away then there is a real chance they could be one of the NFL’s surprises in 2020.

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