3 Carolina Panthers role players entering career-defining seasons in 2024

Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Ihmir Smith-Marsette / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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Sam Franklin Jr. - Carolina Panthers S

There aren't many holdovers from the plethora of former Matt Rhule college players he brought to the Carolina Panthers. Most flattered to deceive. Some were unworthy of becoming draft picks or free-agent signings. The previous head coach valued familiarity over substance and paid the price accordingly.

Sam Franklin Jr. is the exception. The undrafted free agent out of Temple forced his way onto the 53-man roster as a rookie and thrived on special teams. He's also flashed on the defensive rotation without quite doing enough to cement his status.

Another new regime coming into the fold left Franklin facing an uncertain future this offseason. Dan Morgan wants to find characters with the inner fight capable of making the Panthers' logo feared once again. What the safety lacks in talent he more than makes up for in determination. That ensured he got another look with a one-year extension worth $1.12 million.

Franklin got a vote of confidence from those in power once again. He'll remain an asset on special teams - especially with the new kickoff rules making it more important to have the pieces capable of limiting yards. But the player has grander ambitions during his second season under defense coordinator Ejiro Evero.

Xavier Woods and Jordan Fuller represent an intriguing backend partnership for the Panthers to depend upon. The primary backup spot seems to be an open competition. Franklin has familiarity working in his favor, but improvements in coverage and discipline against the run must arrive for confidence to increase.

If Franklin cannot meet these objectives, then his role as a special teams specialist will be almost guaranteed. While he can make a good living carving out this niche, it'll be disappointing from the player's perspective.

Franklin has a lot on the line next season. He's far from alone in that regard as the Panthers move forward with renewed purpose and improved standards with Dave Canales leading the charge.