Is Marquis Haynes positioned for a Carolina Panthers breakout in 2023?

Marquis Haynes Sr.
Marquis Haynes Sr. / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Marquis Haynes has been a solid rotational player for the Carolina Panthers. Could he be in line to step up in a major way for the 2023 season?

While there has been no shortage of hustle and bustle throughout the Carolina Panthers organization this off-season, fans have been quick to point out one area that has gone largely unaddressed – the pass rushing battalion.

The team did add third-round draft pick, rookie D.J. Johnson, to the mix of things, but the rest of the position group is the same cast as last season. A season in which it seemed evident that there could be an emphasis on improvement before entering the 2023 NFL campaign.

Johnson has an enticing combination of size, strength, and speed, but looks to need development and refinement before he’s expected to take on a large role. So why hasn’t this aggressive front office made any waves in the edge rusher pool thus far?

Carolina Panthers should give Marquis Haynes a starting shot in 2023

One contributing factor may be the potentially seamless integration of fifth-year edge rusher, Marquis Haynes, into new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s defensive system.

The former Ole Miss Rebel has been used as a situational pass-rusher for the most part of his young career. Haynes did, however, record a personal high in snaps played in 2022, being on the playing field for 470 defensive snaps, 300 of which were tasked as pass rush operatives.

With the expanded usage, Haynes also enjoyed the finest statistical season of his professional tenure – amassing 26 pressures, five of those resulting in a sack, and 29 total tackles. He tacked on a fumble recovery that resulted in a touchdown, for good measure.

The snap count-to-production ratio is intriguing when you compare the statistics against newly signed Buffalo Bills pass-rusher Leonard Floyd, as Schuyler Callihan with Sports Illustrated does here:

"Over the last two seasons, Floyd has totaled 129 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, and 68 pressures in 1,865 snaps. As for Haynes, he's recorded 49 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and 24 pressures in just 700 snaps.
If you project that out to Floyd's exact snap count, Haynes would have 130.5 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, and 64 pressures, ousting Floyd in every category aside from pressures

Schuyler Callihan, Sports Illustrated

Perhaps even more reason for optimism, Haynes has been able to produce while being used in a myriad of alignments – none of which were as natural of a fit for the 29-year-old defender, as his projected placement in Evero’s 3-4 based scheme.

Haynes has a more compatible physical profile for an outside linebacker than a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, as he measures in just under 6-foot-3 and weighs in the ballpark of 235-ish pounds. He possesses good length, with 33.25-inch arms, and has the burst to be effective when lined up outside of the opposing offensive tackle.

It’s evident that Haynes’ speed presents problems for interior offensive linemen, as well. The player often wins on stunt moves where he can get a full head of steam and hit the favorable angle of attack.

How can Marquis Haynes help the Carolina Panthers in 2023?

Where Haynes could help himself is in the body weight and strength departments. If he hopes to carve out a larger role and find himself on the field more regularly than just in obvious pass-rush situations, he’s going to have to be reliable at setting the edge and defending the run.

Though there hasn’t been any formal report of a difference in playing weight, long-time Panthers beat reporter, Joe Person of The Athletic, did make mention of the fact that Haynes “looks a little bigger” from his observations during spring team activities.

Haynes has always touted a sturdy arsenal of speed and finesse attacks as a pass rusher, but he’s encountered difficulty shedding containment when a hog molly gets their grip on him and squanders his initial strike. Linebackers coach Tem Lukabu, along with Evero, will bring fresh eyes to his approach and hopefully help him expand his secondary attacks and identify keys when deciding which moves to use depending on the looks.

It may also benefit Haynes that his new coordinator got an up close and personal look at just what the speed rusher brought to the table last season in Carolina's Week 12 regular season matchup against the Denver Broncos. A contest that the Panthers won, and Haynes produced a nice personal showing, recording three quarterback hurries – one being a sack.

That play occurred at a critical moment, as well - with five minutes remaining on the game clock in the fourth quarter and the Broncos offense facing a first-and-goal. Haynes’ initial bull-rush attack was thwarted by the offensive tackle, but he kept his eyes on the quarterback and as soon as he identified that Russell Wilson was scrambling from the pocket, disengaged the tackle and pursued the mobile signal-caller with his signature burst, culminating in the lost yardage via sack.

Further demonstrating that the Denver staff took notice of Haynes, just a few snaps after the impactful wrangling, he was greeted with a double-team when the Broncos were up against fourth-and-goal.

All signs point to the opposite post of Brian Burns being manned by a committee of defenders, rotating, and taking advantage of the different skill sets beholden to each player. Haynes’ versatility and experience playing from a handful of alignments, however, could be his inside track.

Not to mention, Evero uses various personnel packages, structures, and mechanics within his system. His 2022 Broncos defense ranked top-five in using Nickel personnel, as well as his base 3-4-4 system. Also worth noting, he shows a proclivity to send extra help getting after the quarterback – ranking fifth league-wide in deploying more than five rushers, at a 34 percent clip.

However, if Haynes could shore up his run defense and possibly put a little extra weight on his frame, he could stay on the field more and help keep the defensive structures as multiple as possible. This makes life much more difficult for opposing offenses to key in on personnel packages and tendencies.  

Should Haynes find himself playing closer to, let’s say, 245lbs with added functional strength – it could go a long way toward him enjoying a potential breakout year, like the one undertaken by Frankie Luvu in 2022.

The Panthers most certainly would be pleased to find an in-house solution to one of the supposed weak spots of this roster.