Rookie class isn't loaded with instant starters, still will play big role

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – None of the seven players the Carolina Panthers drafted last week will jump to the top of the depth chart at his position, including first-round pick Christian McCaffrey.

But the chart has undergone a lot of change since the 2016 season ended.

Here’s a position-by-position look at where the draft picks fit heading into a Friday-Saturday rookie minicamp (rookies in bold):


QuarterbackCam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb.

Comment: No changes here, other than Newton won’t be able to throw until training camp after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.

Running backJonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, Curtis Samuel, Jalen Simmons.

Comment: Stewart will remain the starter, but McCaffrey will be featured in third-down and passing situations out of the backfield, as well as a slot receiver. Carolina’s first-round draft pick also will spell Stewart in running situations. Samuel, the team’s second-round pick, also will see time in the backfield even though he was drafted as a wide receiver.

Fullback -- Darrel Young, Alex Armah.

Comment: Armah, Carolina’s sixth-round pick, admittedly is a project. But his upside is high and he could be the lead player at a position he hasn’t played full time since high school when all is said and done.

Wide receiver 1 -- Kelvin Benjamin, Russell Shepard, Brenton Bersin.

Comment: The only issue here is Benjamin’s weight. Shepard should make the roster as a special teams player if nothing else.

Wide receiver 2 -- Devin Funchess, Charles Johnson, Damiere Byrd, Keyarris Garrett.

Comment: This needs to be the year Funchess steps up his role.

Slot receiver -- Samuel, Charles Johnson.

Comment: Slot typically isn’t referred to as a starting position, but Samuel is the guy.

Left tackleMatt Kalil, Michael Oher, Taylor Moton.

Comment: Kalil was given a five-year, $55.5 million deal to take over this spot for Oher, who has been in the concussion protocol since late September. Oher will move to the right side, but if something were to happen to Kalil and Oher is out of the protocol he could take over.

Left guardAndrew Norwell, Amini Silatolu.

Comment: The addition of Silatolu makes the depth here better.

CenterRyan Kalil, Gino Gradkowski, Tyler Larsen

Comment: Deepest position on the line with the return of Pro Bowler Kalil from offseason shoulder surgery.

Right guardTrai Turner, Chris Scott.

Comment: Turner is the starter, but Scott is more than capable.

Right tackle – Oher, Daryl Williams, Taylor Moton.

Comment: Oher is a more natural fit here. If he clears the protocol, he has an edge over Williams. If that’s the case, the Panthers can bring Moton along slowly.

Tight endGreg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Chris Manhertz, Scott Simonson, Eric Wallace.

Comment: Still surprised the Panthers didn’t draft a tight end to develop behind Pro Bowler Olsen.


Left endCharles Johnson, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall, Larry Webster.

Comment: With Johnson, who will be 31 when the season starts, and 37-year-old Julius Peppers Carolina needed a young end to develop. They traded up in the third round to get Hall out of Texas A&M, where he played opposite Myles Garrett, who went first overall in the draft to Cleveland.

TackleStar Lotulelei, Vernon Butler, Eric Crume.

Comment: It’ll be interesting to see how Butler, Carolina’s 2016 first-round pick, progresses now that the high ankle sprain that hampered him last season is healed.

Tackle Kawann Short, Kyle Love.

Comment: Signing 2015 Pro Bowl selection Short to a long-term deal during the offseason was big.

Right end – Peppers, Mario Addison, Ryan Delaire.

Comment: Addison is expected to take a bigger role even with the addition of Peppers.

Middle linebackerLuke Kuechly, David Mayo, Ben Boulware, Ben Jacobs.

Comment: Boulware wasn’t drafted, but Carolina coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman gushed about the former Clemson star like he was.

Weakside linebackerThomas Davis, Jared Norris, Brian Blechen.

Comment: Will this be the last year we’ll see the 34-year-old Davis, in the final year of his contract?

Strongside linebackerShaq Thompson, Jeremy Cash.

Comment: Panthers are expecting a lot out of Thompson in his third year.

Left cornerbackJames Bradberry, Captain Munnerlyn, Travell Dixon.

Comment: Munnerlyn was a huge offseason signing in that he will start at nickel back and can play outside when needed.

Free safetyKurt Coleman, Colin Jones.

Comment: Coleman returns to his more natural position after a year at strong safety.

Strong safetyMike Adams, Dean Marlowe, Dezmen Southward, L.J. McCray.

Comment: Still surprised Carolina didn’t draft a safety in a deep class. Adams is 36.

Right cornerbackDaryl Worley, Corn Elder, Zack Sanchez.

Comment: Elder was drafted in the fifth round mainly to back up Munnerlyn as the nickel back.


PlacekickerGraham Gano, Harrison Butker.

Comment: That Gano is coming off surgery on his plant foot, a year in which he missed several big kicks and the Panthers drafted Butker feels like a change is coming.

PunterAndy Lee, Michael Palardy.

Comment: Lee is coming off a season-ending hamstring injury.

Deep snapperJ.J. Jansen.

Punt returner – McCaffrey, Byrd.

Kickoff returner – Whittaker, Byrd.