Carolina Panthers depth chart: Who will back up Christian McCaffrey?

Christian McCaffrey led the Panthers in receptions with 80 catches for 651 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 435 yards and two touchdowns. Getty Images

With free agency and the draft completed and OTAs and minicamps scheduled for the next month and a half, here's a closer look at the depth chart for the Carolina Panthers (Note: Starters in bold):


Quarterback (3): Cam Newton, Garrett Gilbert, Taylor Heinicke

The Panthers still are having conversations with veteran Derek Anderson, who has been Newton's backup since 2011. It's hard to believe they will go into the season with Gilbert as the backup, but Anderson might want too much.

Running back (4): Christian McCaffrey, Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whittaker, Alex Armah (FB)

Look for the Panthers to continue to search for another option behind McCaffrey, but Artis-Payne will get the first shot to replace Jonathan Stewart. Carolina signed undrafted free agent Reggie Bonnafon out of Louisville, so perhaps he's an option. But there still is need for depth here.

Wide receiver (7): Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, D.J. Moore, Damiere Byrd, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Russell Shepard

It's still to be determined whether Funchess is a No. 1 or 2 receiver. First-round pick Moore might have a say in this. The strength of this group is speed and the fact most can play multiple receiver spots, so nothing is defined at this point. Samuel, last year's second-round pick, could have a big impact if he successfully rebounds from ankle surgery that ended his rookie season prematurely. He'll likely start off as the slot receiver.

Tight end (3): Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz

Olsen, 33, is a three-time Pro Bowler who is as dangerous as any tight end in the league. Getting Indiana's Thomas in the fourth round finally gives the Panthers somebody to groom as Olsen's long-term replacement. He also could be an upgrade from Ed Dickson as the second tight end for a team that runs a lot of two-tight-end sets.

Tackle (3): Matt Kalil, Daryl Williams, Amini Silatolu.

Kalil should improve in his second year in the system. The question still remains: Was he worth the five-year, $55.5 million deal former general manager Dave Gettleman gave him? Position flexibility is key here.

Guard (4): Trai Turner, Taylor Moton, Tyler Larsen, Jeremiah Sirles

Replacing All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is the biggest question on the line. Moton will get a shot, as will Larsen, who spent most of last season filling in at center. The Panthers felt good enough about this position that they didn't draft any interior linemen. Turner has been a strength of the line the past three years.

Center (2): Ryan Kalil, Greg Van Roten

Kalil, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, already has said this will be his last season. He was sidelined for much of last season with a neck injury, but appears completely healthy heading into this offseason. Larsen also is an option for depth here.


Cornerback (6): James Bradberry, Donte Jackson, Ross Cockrell, Captain Munnerlyn, Kevon Seymour, Corn Elder

The Panthers are looking for a starter opposite Bradberry, where Daryl Worley was before he was traded to Philadelphia for Torrey Smith and subsequently released after an arrest. The rookie Jackson is first up, but don't be surprised if Cockrell wins the job initially. Creating competition was a big offseason goal here.

Safety (5): Mike Adams, Da'Norris Searcy, Rashaan Gaulden, Colin Jones, Demetrious Cox

The rookie Gaulden is a player to keep an eye on here. He has a chance to beat out Searcy, or at least vie for valuable playing time. This remains arguably the biggest question mark on the roster.

Linebacker (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, Jermaine Carter, David Mayo, Ben Jacobs

Davis will miss the first four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, so Thompson will step into his role. The rookie Carter has a chance to replace Thompson. When Davis returns this will be one of the strengths of the defense.

Defensive line (11): Julius Peppers, Mario Addison, Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Marquis Haynes, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall, Bryan Cox Jr., Vernon Butler, Kyle Love, Kendrick Norton

Peppers and Addison return on the edges. Adding Poe after losing Star Lotulelei to Buffalo in free agency was big. The four-man rotation at defensive tackle is set unless the rookie Norton can beat out Love.


Punter (1): Michael Palardy

The 46.03 yards net average in 2017 was strong for this journeyman, who seems to finally have found a home.

Kicker (1): Graham Gano

That the Panthers gave him a four-year, $17 million extension with $9 million guaranteed says it all here.

Long-snapper (1): J.J. Jansen

One of the best in the business here. There's a reason he makes $1 million a year to do one thing.

Kick returner: Byrd, Whittaker

Byrd was becoming a force here before a leg injury ended his season. The Panthers added speed in the offseason, so look for Jackson and others to get a shot.

Punt returner: McCaffrey, Jackson

Don't be surprised if the Panthers try to reduce McCaffrey's workload on special teams and give others a shot. Jackson can return punts and kickoffs.