3 second-year Carolina Panthers players who could break out in 2024

These second-year players could shine in 2024.
Bryce Young
Bryce Young / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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D.J. Johnson - Carolina Panthers OLB

I could feel the collective bemoaning and teeth-sucking whilst merely typing the name. D.J. Johnson was the target of a draft day trade-up in the third round last year. The juice didn’t look to be worth the squeeze at first glance.

The former Oregon Duck, and tight end, was an older prospect and lacked both polish and production at the edge position. It was a curious move from the Carolina Panthers based on pre-draft projections.

But the edge-setter was reportedly a player who had the support of Ejiro Evero. The defensive coordinator is widely regarded as one of the best teachers and minds in the league currently. Panthers fans think highly of him as they believe he can manufacture a top-half-ranked defense despite the departures of premier defenders such as Frankie Luvu and Brian Burns.

The future NFL head coach is a mastermind with the backend defensive schematics. Evero disguises his coverages as well, and as often, as almost anybody. He isn’t overly concerned with having elite pass rushers, siding more with strong, big-bodied athletes who can set the edge and play solid against the run. That's what Johnson should be most adept at doing, in theory.

Luring veteran free agent and hometown hero Jadeveon Clowney should provide the second-year Johnson with a visual blueprint of sorts. The veteran is a longer, more explosive natural athlete, but he takes pride in his run defense and knows the importance of that aspect of the position. D.J. Wonnum was also brought in to compete for the other starting outside linebacker position, though he’s dealing with an apparent setback to his recovery from a quad injury.

At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, running a 4.49 40-yard dash, and putting up 28 reps on the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, there are physical traits that should be able to be harnessed. This should allow Johnson to contribute within a very shallow position room.

Amare Barno (rehabbing an ACL), Eku Leota (dealing with a calf strain), K’Lavon Chaisson (catching tennis balls), and Cam Gill are the other names in the proverbial hat. I wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of the front office being aggressive with the waiver wire, should a team make a surprise cut before Week 1.

Johnson should find himself with real opportunities to take advantage of. While Dave Canales has stressed that he has no sentimental ties to players from previous regimes and coaching staffs, Evero is still in the building. He still calls the shots on defense. It's time to show fans what it was that he saw last April.