The Carolina Panthers defense had a rocky start last season, largely because of its reliance on two rookies at cornerback.
But those two corners aren’t rookies anymore, and Carolina spent the offseason keeping its core of starters intact while stocking the defensive line and secondary with talented veteran players to complement them.
Though there are still some questions about depth, the 2017 Panthers defense has enough talent in every tier to perhaps be one of the best in the league.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown:
Starters: Julius Peppers, Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Mario Addison. Key backups: Charles Johnson, Vernon Butler, Kyle Love, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall.
Quick take: Peppers and Johnson will rotate often to stay fresh, and Addison will see an expanded role different from his situational use in years past. Because Peppers can also pick up double teams and stuff runners, Short could be freed up to use his talent as a rusher.
Injuries limited Butler in the preseason, but expectations are high for the versatile 2016 first-round pick in his second season.
Starters: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson. Key backups: David Mayo, Jared Norris, Jeremy Cash, Ben Jacobs.
Quick take: Already regarded as one of the best linebacker groups in the league, Carolina’s Kuechly and Davis won’t have lost a step. Expect Thompson to see an increase in snaps as well as more dependency on his role as the Buffalo nickel against mismatch offensive players.
Starters: James Bradberry, Daryl Worley. Key backups: Captain Munnerlyn, Kevon Seymour, Corn Elder.
Quick take: Bradberry is poised to have a breakout year. Nickels Munnerlyn and Elder (once he is healthy) will back up Bradberry and Worley on the outside. Depth remains a concern at this position, especially after the team released Zack Sanchez on Friday after he suffered a groin injury on Thursday night.
Starter: Captain Munnerlyn. Key backups: Corn Elder, Cole Luke.
Quick take: Carolina’s frequently used defensive package finally has a dependable presence manning it in Munnerlyn. Once Elder is fully recovered from a patella stress fracture he will back up the veteran.
Starters: Kurt Coleman, Mike Adams. Key backups: Colin Jones, To be determined.
Quick take: While its two leaders are very capable, a solid depth piece has not emerged at safety after Dean Marlowe went on injured reserve with a torn hamstring. Finding this piece will be key early in Carolina’s season.