Carolina heads to training camp Friday. Here’s whom I’m betting will make waves this season:
1. Cam Newton: After signing the richest contract in Panthers history in June, Newton said he understands what he means to the team. But he also vowed not to change the way he plays. At a minimum, Newton needs to be more cautious in the exhibitions so he begins the regular season with his ribs intact.
A photo posted by Cam Newton (@cameron1newton) on May 16, 2015 at 4:17pm PDT
2. Michael Oher: The success of Newton and Mr. Blind Side go hand-in-hand, for better or worse.
— Jake Elliott (@elliott7777) July 26, 2015
3. Kelvin Benjamin: Benjamin had a monster rookie season, using his big frame to box out smaller cornerbacks and come down with Newton’s jump-ball passes. But Benjamin pulled both hamstrings during OTAs, and Ron Rivera wondered whether the extra pounds Benjamin gained during the offseason contributed to his hamstring issues.
— Kelvin Benjamin (@kelvinbenjamin) May 1, 2015
4. Luke Kuechly: Kuechly probably deserves to be higher on the list. But the former NFL Defensive Rookie and Player of the Year is a little boring, in a 14-tackles-a-game, has-no-cable-TV kind of way. The Panthers want to make Kuechly a rich man, the sooner the better. But don’t expect Kuechly to arrive a camp chirping about a new contract.
Luke Kuechly Madden 16 ratings: •96 overall •99 pursuit •98 tackle •98 play recognition •85 ZCV •70 MCV •72 CTH pic.twitter.com/nmt3bq8BGl
— CAR Panthers News (@CarPanthersNews) July 26, 2015
5. Devin Funchess: The Panthers were criticized by some for drafting a ‘tweener’ in Funchess in the second round. But the lean, 6-4, 225-pound rookie looked nothing like a tight end while running fluid routes during OTAs.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) July 18, 2015
6. Shaq Thompson: Another pick that brought out skeptics on draft night who thought Dave Gettleman reached for the former Washington linebacker/safety/running back at the end of the first round. With Thompson missing most of OTAs while in school, Panthers coaches still don’t know what they have in a player thought to be Thomas Davis’ eventual successor at outside linebacker.
— Shaq Thompson (@ShaqThompson_7) May 1, 2015
7. Kawann Short: The man known as ‘KK’ looks to be on the verge of a breakout season. The 6-3, 315-pound Short is strong at the point of attack, and has a knack for knifing through blockers and making a mess of an opponent’s backfield.
— CharlotteVibe (@charlottevibe) June 16, 2015
8. Kony Ealy: The Panthers need an athletic edge rusher to step in for Greg Hardy. Related: They used a second-round pick last year on Ealy, an athletic edge rusher. After a rough camp and slow start as a rookie, Ealy had a sack in each of the last three regular-season games. But there are still questions whether Ealy is sufficiently motivated to be an impact player.
A photo posted by Kony Ealy (@konyealy94) on May 31, 2015 at 11:29am PDT
9. Brandon Wegher: A lot of NFL players have interesting back stories; Wegher’s is epic, featuring three school changes, several arrests and fatherhood. But what really makes Wegher interesting is a quick burst and a 40 time of 4.48 seconds.
— Jeremy Igo (@CarolinaHuddle) June 18, 2015
10. Graham Gano: The NFL put some teeth in the PAT during the offseason, pushing the spot back to the 15 and making it a 33-yard try. The Panthers often do full-speed PATs and field goals in Spartanburg. Those could get a little more interesting this year.
— CAR Panthers News (@CarPanthersNews) July 12, 2015