Panthers' roster projection reflects strength of weapons around Cam Newton

The Panthers could have the deepest and strongest defensive line in the NFL if 37-year-old Julius Peppers still has one good season left in him. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

The Carolina Panthers open training camp on July 26 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Here’s a 53-man roster projection:

QUARTERBACK (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb

The only question here is whether the multifaceted Webb (quarterback, receiver, special-teams player) is valuable enough to keep over weapons at other positions, specifically wide receiver. With Newton coming off rotator cuff surgery, three quarterbacks seems like a must.

RUNNING BACKS (4): Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne

You can debate this position more than any on the roster. Do the Panthers keep Whittaker, who signed a two-year deal during the offseason, when they have McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who can do the same thing as a third-down back? Has Artis-Payne done enough to justify hanging around as Stewart’s replacement as the power back should there be an injury? Do they keep both at the expense of retaining only five wide receivers? In the end, I kept both Whittaker and Artis-Payne, but I’m not convinced it will happen.

FULLBACK (1): Darrel Young

The staff is high on sixth-round draft pick Alex Armah out of West Georgia, but he’s likely a year away from being ready to step into this role. Armah probably will be stashed on the practice squad while Young emerges as the replacement for Mike Tolbert, who is with the Buffalo Bills after not being re-signed.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel, Russell Shepard, Charles Johnson

This is where you’ll see the toughest cuts on the roster. Brenton Bersin’s run with the organization as either a practice squad player or member of the 53-man roster since 2012 will be tough to extend. The team likes speedy Damiere Byrd as a return specialist, but the Panthers have others to fill that role who are better at either receiver or other positions.

TIGHT END (3): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Chris Manhertz

There’s a chance the Panthers keep four tight ends at the expense of another position in order to keep Scott Simonson, as they attempt to develop a third tight end who could fill Olsen’s role should the perennial Pro Bowl selection get injured.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): T Matt Kalil, T Daryl Williams, T Taylor Moton, G Andrew Norwell, G Trai Turner, G Chris Scott, G Amini Silatolu, C Ryan Kalil, C Gino Gradkowski

Notice Michael Oher isn’t listed here. While a healthy Oher would strengthen the depth at tackle and give Carolina more options on the offensive line, there are no indications he will return after missing the final 13 games of the 2016 season with a concussion.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): DE Julius Peppers, DE Charles Johnson, DE Mario Addison, DE Daeshon Hall, DE Wes Horton, DT Kawann Short, DT Star Lotulelei, DT Vernon Butler, DT Kyle Love

This group is arguably the deepest and strongest on the team, particularly if 37-year-old Pro Bowl defensive end ]Peppers still has at least one good season left in him. This group also potentially could be the best in the NFL.

LINEBACKER (7): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, David Mayo, Jeremy Cash, Ben Boulware, Ben Jacobs

Normally, six linebackers would suffice, but Cash, Boulware and Jacobs also will provide solid help on special teams. Few teams, if any, can put three starting linebackers on the field who are better than Kuechly, Davis and Thompson. Look for Thompson’s role to be expanded this season.

CORNERBACK (5): James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, Captain Munnerlyn, Corn Elder, Zack Sanchez

This was a weakness going into last season, but with a year’s worth of experience in Bradberry and Worley and the addition of Munnerlyn to anchor the nickel spot, this might be the strongest and most stable this position has been since coach Ron Rivera arrived in 2011. The tough cut will be between Sanchez and Teddy Williams.

SAFETY (4): Kurt Coleman, Mike Adams, Colin Jones, Dean Marlowe

Signing Adams in free agency to play strong safety was one of the team’s best moves, as it allows Coleman to return to the free safety spot, where he led the team with seven picks in 2015.

SPECIALISTS (3): P Andy Lee, PK Harrison Butker, DS J.J. Jansen

The Panthers can save $3.25 million under the cap if they decide to move on from kicker Graham Gano, who is coming off one of his worst seasons statistically. That they spent a seventh-round pick on Butker sent a strong message that this might happen.