3 Panthers who are fighting for their long-term future in 2020

(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson /
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Carolina Panthers
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Shaq Thompson /

Shaq Thompson – Carolina Panthers OLB

The Carolina Panthers used their first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to select Washington product Shaq Thompson and so far it has been a solid pick, but it’s time for him to step up.

Thompson complimented Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly very well in his years playing alongside them, but they are no longer here. The Panthers linebacker group is weaker than it has been in recent years and the player needs to improve his game this season.

The veteran is coming off the best year of his career where he finished with three sacks, 109 total tackles, and 11 tackles for loss. He showed signs of improvement when the Panthers needed it most.

The Panthers brought in Tahir Whitehead, so Thompson isn’t the only experienced linebacker on the roster. Whitehead has been improving each year so he should help take some of the pressure off at the second level.

Carolina’s defense needs a leader on the field to give their young players confidence and make sure they are in the right positions at all times. Thompson has to be that guy this season and his game needs to go to the next level.

Shaq has all of the talent in the world and that is why the Panthers didn’t give up on him even when he struggled in his first couple of seasons. He is athletic enough to drop back in pass coverage and is strength beats tackles off the line.

He showed his versatility at Washington and that is why he was taken in the first round. Thompson can do so many things on the field and can easily be a Pro Bowl player.

Thompson won’t fall out of the league if he has a down season but he will be running out of time to prove he is a star player. He has all the skill in the world to be a great linebacker, but now is the time to deliver.