It’s hard to find many holes in the Carolina Panthers but there is one Empire State building size question mark—Can Jake Delhomme take the team deep into the playoffs? Delhomme enters his 11th season but he has only 6 seasons starting (not counting his 3 games in 07). He is a slightly above average QB but not the guy that can get a team over the hump to the Super Bowl. In 04 and 05 he threw 53 TDs and only 31 picks. He made the pro bowl and looked like he was about to become a star. That star faided quickly because in 06 he was back to throwing about as many TDs (17) as Ints (11). 07 was a lost year with injuries. Last season was another average season (15TDs and 12 Ints). What was worse, he blew up in the playoff game giving away the hard earned home field advantage and throwing his team right out of the playoffs.
This year will decided if he is the guy or if the team will try to get a starter of the future in what is expected to be one of the all time great QB drafts in 2010. That will be hard without a 1st round pick next year. My projection is that he will not get back to his 04/05 level and will be replaced. The team has Matt McCown who has started but doesn’t scare anyone.
The RB combination of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart is excellent. Williams is under rated and is a good bet for Fantasy football this year. He very quietly had 1,500 yards with an astounding 18 TDs and 5.5 yard average. WOW! One reason was he got some relief from rookie Stewart who ran for over 800 yards. This combination needs Delhomme to be more consistent so that the opponents don’t load the D line against the run. The team added rookie Mike Goodson in the 3rd round. FB Brad Hoover is a solid blocker and can catch and run as well.
Delhomme’s problems are not due to a bad group of WRs. Steve Smith not only can land a punch (for which he was suspended for the first 2 games in 08) but passes like few others. He averaged 100 yards per game and went to the pro bowl again. It seems like Smith had been doing that since 1950 but he is only 30. His running mate is Muhsin Muhammad. He was the #1 WR in Chicago before coming to be Smith’s wing man. At 36 he has lost a little speed but still has the hands and runs sharp routes. Dwayne Jarrett is a solid #3 WR and the team has a few candidates for the 4th guy.
TE is a question mark as well. Jeff King starts because he is a very good blocker and reliable receiver. Gary Barnidge and Dante Rosario who is coming off injury will try to unseat King again.
The O line is one of the great strengths of the team. LT Jordan Gross is consistently playing at a pro bowl level. C Ryan Kalil and RT Jeff Otah are both very young but growing into stars. LG Travelle Wharton is a little over rated but consistent. RG Keydrick Vincent is starting quality but still has upside. The depth was hurt by losing players to free agency due to salary cap concerns.
The D line took a huge hit when DT Maake Kemoeatu was injured and put on IR. He will be missed from a D that had trouble last year stopping the run and getting off the field verses top teams. Franchised E Julius Peppers will have to be most of the pass rush again. The team brought UFA Tyler Brayton in last year but he is over rated. RDT Damione Lewis is OK nothing more. The team traded their 2010 #1 pick to move up to get DE Everette Brown. So far, Brown has not dazzled anyone. The team also has Charles Johnson and Hilee Taylor both of whom can rush the passer.
The linebackers are WLB Thomas Davis, MLB Jon Beason and the always challenged SLB Na’il Diggs. The team has been trying to replace Diggs for several years but finally realized he is fine. Beason has developed into a very good pass defender and can blitz effectively. He made the pro bowl in his 2nd season. The depth consists of MLB Dan Connor and WLB Landon Johnson. Both are good and would start on a lot of teams.
LCB Chris Gamble, RCB Richard Marshall, FS Charles Godfrey and SS Chris Harris start for the Panthers in the D backfield. Gamble says he is a top corner. So far he has been good to very good. Marshall replaces CB Lewis and is a bit of a concern. He has been with the team for 3 seasons and has talent. The safeties are fine but not extra special. CBs Sherrod Martin and C.J. Wilson back up the corners. Reserve Nate Salley at safety really came on last year but was hurt.
OVERALL: The Panthers are as good as any team in the NFC with the exception of QB. That will hold them back again this year and even with a very good record in the regular season, they will be bounced out of the playoffs by Delhomme.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .