3 backups pushing for serious game time with the Panthers in 2020

(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) Efe Obada
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) Efe Obada /
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Carolina Panthers
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Andre Smith /

Andre Smith – LB

One player that harbors serious ambitions of more time on the field is Andre Smith. The versatile linebacker can operate anywhere on the second level. And the Carolina Panthers look relatively devoid of depth following the retirement of Luke Kuechly.

Their depth chart suffered another blow when Christian Miller and undrafted free-agent Jordan Mack decided to opt-out amid health concerns relating to COVID-19. This opens the door further for Smith, who has been a bit-part player after being taken in the seventh round out of North Carolina in 2017.

Smith has worked incredibly hard to rise from an unfancied prospect into getting a shot at contending for a possible starting berth. He played well enough in limited minutes to earn a respectable 65.8 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2019. But whether this is enough to impress a coaching staff that has no emotional attachment to him remains to be seen.

The Panthers are still looking for a confirmed starter to go alongside Tahir Whitehead and Shaq Thompson. Jermaine Carter and Marquis Haynes appear to be the favorites for the role. But Smith can also enter the discussion if he catches the eye at training camp.

At the very least, Smith might expect to be a primary backup rather than an afterthought in 2020. He will need to make some strides in the not-too-distant future heading into the penultimate year of his rookie deal. And he might not get a better chance to get his foot in the door and into the lineup.