Depth chart reveals Panthers still have need at offensive tackle

If Michael Oher is cleared from the concussion protocol, he will be the front-runner for the right tackle job. Jeff Siner/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You can debate whether the Carolina Panthers overspent on left tackle Matt Kalil, who got a five-year, $55 million deal. You can debate whether they took a risk in signing aging veterans in 37-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers and safety Mike Adams, who turns 36 on Friday.

You can debate they made a mistake in not re-signing wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

You may even debate whether the roster on paper is stronger now than it was after the 2016 season.

I believe it is.

There still are depth issues, most that will be filled through the draft, beginning with the eighth overall pick.

Here’s a look at how the depth chart is taking shape (unrestricted free agents signings from other teams in caps):



Starter: Cam Newton

Backups: Derek Anderson, Joe Webb

Comment: No changes here. The biggest change has to be with Newton. He is scheduled to have shoulder surgery on March 30 to repair a partially torn rotator cuff that impacted his throwing late last season. Also, the offense evolving to make him less of a factor in the running game.

Running back

Starter: Jonathan Stewart

Backups: TBD, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, Jalen Simmons.

Comment: Stewart turned 30 on Tuesday. Because of that the Panthers will select a running back at some point in the draft. It could be the first round, where LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are viable options.

Left tackle

Starter: Matt Kalil

Backups: TBD, Michael Oher, Dan France

Comment: Whether you agree with Kalil’s price tag, signing a veteran left tackle was a must in free agency because this is a weak year at that position in the draft. The Panthers still don’t know whether Oher (concussion) will play this season, so finding a viable backup in the draft becomes vital.

Left guard

Starter: Andrew Norwell

Backups: Amini Silatolu, David Yankey, Jordan Rigsbee

Comment: In Norwell and Silatolu, the Panthers are solid with starting experience.


Starter: Ryan Kalil

Backups: Gino Gradkowski, Tyler Larsen

Comment: The plus of losing Kalil and Gradkowski to injuries last season is Larsen proved he can play in a crunch.

Right guard

Starter: Trai Turner

Backups: Chris Scott, Gino Gradkowski

Comment: Again, proven starters in Pro Bowler Turner and Scott. No concerns here.

Right tackle

Starter: Michael Oher or Daryl Williams

Backups: Oher or Williams, TBD, Tyrus Thompson, Pearce Slater, Blaine Clausell

Comment: If Oher is cleared from the concussion protocol, he becomes the front-runner for the job. If not, the Panthers are comfortable Williams can fill that role. Again, the issue is depth.

Tight end

Starter: Greg Olsen

Backups: Ed Dickson, Chris Manhertz, Scott Simonson, Eric Wallace

Comment: The issue is who would step up to Olsen’s level if the Pro Bowler is hurt. That’s why I’ve been leaning toward Alabama’s O.J. Howard with the eighth pick.

Wide receiver 1

Starter: Kelvin Benjamin

Backups: RUSSELL SHEPARD, Keyarris Garrett

Comment: Benjamin showed signs of returning to the form that makes him a solid No. 1 receiver late in the season. Shepard is an up-and-comer acquired in free agency from Tampa Bay who provides depth.

Wide receiver 2

Starter: Devin Funchess

Backups: CHARLES JOHNSON, Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd

Comment: Funchess has to step up in his third season, particularly with the loss of Ginn. He’s still not the speed/slot guy the Panthers need to stretch defenses. Johnson could be, but look for Carolina to address that need in the draft.


Left defensive end

Starter: Charles Johnson

Backups: Larry Webster, Ryan Delaire

Comment: The Panthers should look for a long-term solution in the draft with Johnson set to turn 31 this year and Julius Peppers on the other side at 37.

Left defensive tackle

Starter: Star Lotulelei

Backups: Kyle Love, Eric Crume

Comment: The only issue here is will the Panthers sign Lotulelei to a long-term deal prior to this season or after the season.

Right defensive tackle

Starter: Kawann Short

Backups: Vernon Butler

Comment: The four-man rotation at tackle (Short, Lotulelei, Butler and Love) will be the same as last season barring injury.

Right defensive end

Starter: Julius Peppers

Backups: Mario Addison, Wes Horton

Comment: The Panthers believe so strongly Peppers can be viable at 37 that they traded Kony Ealy to New England. With Addison, who led the team in sacks (9.5) last season, the Panthers have plenty of options to get to the quarterback.

Strongside linebacker

Starter: Shaq Thompson

Backups: Jared Norris, Jeremy Cash

Comment: This should be Thompson’s year to emerge, and maybe a chance to get Cash on the field in certain situations.

Middle linebacker

Starter: Luke Kuechly

Backups: David Mayo, Ben Jacobs

Comment: The Panthers felt strongly enough in Mayo being ready to step up that they let A.J. Klein sign with New Orleans.

Weakside linebacker

Starter: Thomas Davis

Backups: Jared Norris

Comment: Davis turns 34 today, but he still plays like he’s 24. Enough said.

Left cornerback

Starter: James Bradberry

Backups: Lou Young, Teddy Williams

Comment: Bradberry, last year’s second-round pick, showed he’s ready to fill Josh Norman's shoes. Quality depth behind him is the issue.

Strong safety

Starter: Mike Adams

Backups: Dean Marlowe, Colin Jones

Comment: Signing Adams to play strong safety allows Kurt Coleman to return to his natural position of free safety.

Free safety

Starter: Kurt Coleman

Backups: Tre Boston

Comment: Coleman has been Carolina’s most complete and productive safety the past two years with 11 interceptions, seven when he played free in 2015.

Right cornerback

Starter: Daryl Worley

Backups: Captain Munnerlyn, Zack Sanchez

Comment: Worley improved arguably more than any member of the secondary last season. If he struggles Munnerlyn can step in.


Starter: Captain Munnerlyn

Backups: Zack Sanchez, Colin Jones

Comment: Signing Munnerlyn, who played nickel at Carolina for much of his first five seasons (2009-13), was one of Carolina’s biggest offseason moves.


Deep snapper -- J.J. Jansen

Punter -- Andy Lee, Michael Palardy

Kicker -- Graham Gano

Kick returner -- TBD, Fozzy Whittaker

Punt returner -- TBD, Brenton Bersin

Comment: The biggest question is the return specialists, particularly punter with the loss of Ginn. The answer may be in the draft.