Panthers pass rush will look much better in 2021
The Carolina Panthers defense was abysmal when it came to hunting down quarterbacks in 2020. The Panthers pass rush was a lousy 23rd in the league in sacks last season.
Headed into the offseason, second-year head coach Matt Rhule knew he had to do two things: 1. Upgrade the quarterback spot and 2. Get better at chasing down QBs. Now that offseason has mostly eclipsed and training kick is underway, it’s safe to say the Panthers have answered those two offseason questions well. It’s well known that Sam Darnold will look to inject more firepower into the offense, but it’s less discussed how the Panthers front seven will be more imposing. In this outlook, I’m going to outline the strides that the CAR pass rush this offseason has taken and why they will be an electric force in the 2021 season.
- Growth of Derrick Brown
It’s well known that DE Brian Burns will be entering his third year in the league and that he was terrific in each of the last two seasons. Burns notched 7.5 sacks as a rookie, then proceeded to collect 9 sacks as a sophomore. Indeed, he should be a double-digit sack player in his third year.
Although, the x-factor and biggest difference-maker will come from second-year DT Derrick Brown. The team cut ties with veteran DT Kawann Short and it’s clear that they are relying on Brown to significantly step up. Brown may have recorded a mere 3.5 sacks as a rookie, but he led all of the rookies with QB pressures (34). It’s also very common for DTs and pass rushers to take a large step with QB sacks after the first or second year of being in the league. Mack and Watt both recorded less than several sacks as rookies, then proceeded to be All-Pros in their second year. DeForest Buckner, who is a Top 5 DT for the Indianapolis Colts, mustered only nine sacks in his first two years combined. With an uptick of snaps and more moves mastered that weren’t instructed in college, Brown should be the next QB hunter to take a big step early in his career.
- Signing of OLB/DE Haason Reddick
The Panthers made one of the most underrated free-agent signings this offseason. The team signed an elite player, who also carries lots of potentials. The 26-year-old Reddick signed a one-year six million dollar deal and if it bodes well, the team should have a long-term edge rusher in him.
Reddick was tied for third in the NFL in sacks last season (12.5). He’s just entering his prime, but he has another year to prove that he can maintain that level of play. Expect the Panthers to get another elite season out of the former first-round OLB/DE.
- NFC South competition
The Panthers pass rush has received a big favor in 2021. In the NFC South, Drew Brees will not be under the helm in New Orleans, and the Falcons offense will not have their “best overall player” in Julio Jones.
Brees has routinely picked apart the Panthers secondary and allowed no time for the Panthers pass rush to get home. With Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston at QB, the CAR defense should feel a lot more confident getting QB takedowns. Hill has struggled majorly at reading defenses, while Winston has been one of the most self-harmed offensive players in NFL history. Expect the Panthers defense to have noticeably more sacks from the four combined divisional games against the Saints and Falcons.