While dodging raindrops and waiting for tonight’s exhibition finale between the Panthers and Steelers, it seemed like an opportune time to drop a third roster projection for the home team.
Injuries have made some of the final roster spots a little cloudy – both for our purposes and for interim general manager Marty Hurney and the other decision-makers at Bank of America Stadium.
So the Observer probably will do a final projection during or after tonight’s game and before Saturday’s cuts from 90 players to 53. (The Panthers are expected to do an early round of cuts Friday.)
In the meantime, our best crack at predicting the Panthers’ Week 1 roster:
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(Changes from the last projection noted in bold.)
Quarterbacks (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb.
The skinny: Anderson has been Newton’s backup for each of Newton’s first six seasons and fans shouldn’t expect that to change this year, despite a couple of sub-par showings this preseason. Webb is too valuable on special teams to release, and No. 4 QB Garrett Gilbert is worth keeping on the practice squad.
Running backs (5): Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, Darrel Young.
The skinny: Artis-Payne has had a terrific preseason. And though he might be inactive most Sundays, CAP’s physical running style is good insurance if Stewart goes down. The veteran Young gets the nod at fullback over rookie Alex Armah, who would benefit from a year on the practice squad.
Wide receivers (6): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Curtis Samuel, Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd.
The skinny: Bersin, who has been out with a shoulder injury, again finds himself on the roster bubble. Former Utah WR Kaelin Clay has turned some heads with his playmaking ability, but Bersin’s ability to play all three receiver spots is valuable. That said, McCaffrey’s versatility means the Panthers don’t necessarily have to keep six WRs.
Tight ends (3): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Chris Manhertz.
The skinny: The Panthers generally have kept four tight ends under Ron Rivera. But a leg injury to Scott Simonson has left them thin here. It’s not out of the question Hurney finds help from waivers at this spot, which might leave Bersin as the odd man out.
Offensive linemen (9): Ryan Kalil, Matt Kalil, Daryl Williams, Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell, Taylor Moton, Tyler Larsen, Amini Silatolu, Chris Scott.
The skinny: Scott, well regarded for his experience and position flexibility, has been out the past two-plus weeks while in the concussion protocol. So if Scott’s on the 53, the Panthers could be short a lineman the first week or two. The problem is that other possibilities such as Gino Gradkowski and Dan France also have been hurt.
Defensive linemen (9): Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall, Vernon Butler, Eric Crume.
The skinny: Again, injuries will play a big part in the initial makeup of this group. Hall, the third-round pick from Texas A&M, has been sidelined with a knee injury. Veteran DT Kyle Love hasn’t played in several weeks because of an ankle issue. And Butler has progressed with his sprained knee, but still isn’t practicing. That means an opening for Crume on the interior. If Hall lands on IR, undrafted edge rusher Bryan Cox could get a shot.
Linebackers (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, David Mayo, Ben Jacobs, Jeremy Cash.
The skinny: Jared Norris and Cash both made the Week 1 roster last year as rookies and could well again. But Norris has been limited by injury, which could hurt his chances.
Defensive backs (9): James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, Mike Adams, Kurt Coleman, Captain Munnerlyn, Colin Jones, Teddy Williams, Zack Sanchez, Free agent TBD.
The skinny: Sanchez played his way onto the roster in the past two weeks, with the exclamation point coming last week at Jacksonville. The Panthers were never in on free agent CB Joe Haden. But it would be surprising if Hurney doesn’t pick up at least one defensive back from outside the organization. The Panthers aren’t going to cut fifth-round pick Corn Elder, who could be a candidate for short-term IR.
Specialists (3): Graham Gano, Andy Lee, J.J. Jansen.
The skinny: Gano looks to have won the kicking job over rookie Harrison Butker, who would make a lot of sense as a practice squad addition if he’s not claimed elsewhere. Things could get interesting at punter. If Lee punts well vs. Pittsburgh, does that win him the job over Michael Palardy or make him more valuable as a trade chip? Ultimately, a team built to win now probably holds on to the veteran.