Carolina Panthers

Breaking down the Carolina Panthers’ 53-man roster, depth chart after final cuts

The Carolina Panthers trimmed their roster from 90 players to 53 in accordance with the NFL’s cutdown day on Saturday.

There weren’t many surprises, but a few notable decisions.

As the team enters the first week of the regular season and prepares to host Dallas next Sunday, here’s a look at the 53-man roster and a depth chart projection:

Quarterback: Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke

Heinicke won the battle for the No. 2 position after competing all spring and summer with Garrett Gilbert.

Heinicke showed a solid arm, good knowledge of offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system, a capable set of wheels that proved advantageous.

Running back: Christian McCaffrey, C.J. Anderson, Cameron Artis-Payne

It was no secret that McCaffrey would get the nod with Anderson the No. 2/tandem back. Both get plenty of touches this season as they can both run downhill and are a threat in the passing game.

Artis-Payne beat out veteran Kenjon Barner for the No. 3 running back spot. Barner, a talented runner with a good set of hands, will likely get picked up elsewhere.

Fullback: Alex Armah

Turner loves to use a fullback, and Armah is a perfect fit. He’s tough, physical and has made enormous strides as a blocker since his 2017 rookie season.

Wide receiver: Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, D.J. Moore, Jarius Wright, Curtis Samuel, Damiere Byrd.

Carolina elected to keep six receivers this year. If the Panthers don’t make any trades this week, starters will be Funchess at the “X,” or No. 1, Smith at the “Y” and Jarius Wright in the slot, with a frequent rotation at the “Y” and in the slot between Wright, Moore and Samuel.

Byrd and Samuel can stretch the field, and Byrd will likely take the bulk of kick and punt return duties.

Tight end: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz

Thomas as the No. 2 tight end was pretty much set in stone since the first week of training camp.

And Manhertz passed his physical on Friday after June foot surgery, essentially ensuring the No. 3 spot.

Offensive tackle: Matt Kalil (LT), Taylor Moton (LT), Daryl Williams (RT), Corey Robinson (RT)

It was likely a pleasant surprise for the Panthers that Williams progressed enough in his rehabilitation following a training camp knee injury to avoid starting the season on injured reserve. That would mean Williams would have to miss an additional eight weeks.

He still likely will take some time to continue his rehabilitation. Kalil was week-to-week with a knee injury but it’s certainly possible he starts at left tackle in Week 1. That means Moton will start on the right, and Robinson, for whom Carolina traded a conditional 2020 seventh-round pick on Saturday, will be depth for each.

If Kalil can’t go on Sunday, Moton will play left tackle while Robinson might get his ninth NFL start in four years on the right.

Guard: Greg Van Roten (LG), Brendan Mahon (LG), Trai Turner (RG), Amini Silatolu (RG)

After a really strong preseason at left guard, Van Roten has earned the nod there on Sunday. He’ll be backed up by Penn State undrafted free agent Mahon, who can also back up starting right tackle Turner.

Silatolu is day-to-day after tearing his meniscus in training camp, so the Panthers probably won’t rush him out to the field if they don’t have to do so.

Center: Ryan Kalil, Tyler Larsen

No surprises here. Kalil will start at center while Larsen will back him up. Larsen, who signed an extension this spring, can also play guard in a pinch.

Defensive end (from left to right): Julius Peppers, Wes Horton, Bryan Cox Jr., Mario Addison, Marquis Haynes, Efe Obada

The starters and backups here were no surprise. And Cox Jr. had a strong preseason and camp, particularly against the run.

Obada, a Nigerian-born British citizen, was the underdog success story here as the first player from the NFL International Pathways Program to make a 53-man roster.

Carolina loses its practice squad exemption for Obada by promoting him, but after the way he’s improved and played, it’s worth it.

Defensive tackle: Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler, Kyle Love

There weren’t any surprises here, either. Short and Poe are shaping up to be an athletic, formidable anchor for the front seven.

Expect Carolina to continue its frequent rotation along the line as well as the use of subpackages, like the “Joker,” in which the speedy Haynes drops into coverage.

Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, David Mayo, Jermaine Carter Jr., Andre Smith, Ben Jacobs, Jared Norris

Veteran Thomas Davis will be absent from the team’s facilities as he serves his four-game NFL-mandated suspension.

So Carter Jr. and Smith get a shot to prove they can be valuable depth.

When Davis returns after four weeks, it’s likely Carolina makes a cut here. That competition will probably be between Smith and Norris.

If Carolina uses its “big nickel” package, they’ll likely try out Carter Jr. with Thompson starting at traditional linebacker in place of Davis.

Cornerbacks: James Bradberry, Donte Jackson, Captain Munnerlyn, Corn Elder

Carolina is electing to only keep eight defensive backs, which is an interesting move.

But it’s in part because of the versatility of the depth players. While Bradberry and Jackson will start on the outside, nickels Munnerlyn and Elder can be depth there, too.

Depth cornerback Kevon Seymour went to injured reserve and is ineligible to return.

Nickel: Munnerlyn, Elder

Munnerlyn had a stellar camp after spending the offseason training in Los Angeles with Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews.

Elder, a second-year cornerback, showed athleticism and savvy to snag a roster spot after spending his entire rookie season on injured reserve.

Safety: Mike Adams, Da’Norris Searcy, Rashaan Gaulden, Colin Jones

Adams and Searcy have been locked in as starters, and coaches laud their chemistry despite only having the spring and summer to adapt to one another.

Gaulden, Carolina’s third-round pick out of Tennessee, is coming along as a versatile safety who can play matchups against bigger receivers and tight ends.

Jones can play the team’s “big nickel” in a pinch and is a cornerstone on special teams.

Specialists: Graham Gano, Michael Palardy, J.J. Jansen

Last year, kicker Gano had competition with rookie Harrison Butker and punter Palardy competed with veteran Andy Lee. That wasn’t the case this season, with each specialist firmly in place as training camp began.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue
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