The 2022 NFL Season is nearly upon us. As part of the run up to the season, we’re preview all the teams, culminating with our picks for who makes the playoffs and who wins the awards this season. Check back each day through September 5. Let’s get ready for some football!
The 2021 season began with optimism for Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers. The team brought in Sam Darnold during the off-season and raced out to a 3-0 start. Then the wheels came off the bus. The team won just two of its final 14 games, finishing at 5-12 and well out of the playoff picture. That means, heading into season three, Rhule is on the hottest of hot seats in Carolina.
It wasn’t a robust off-season for the Panthers. The team tried to make a number of moves at quarterback but ended up making just two. The team drafted Ole’ Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the Third Round. Corral was one of the top prospects heading into the draft, throwing for 8,287 yards and 57 touchdowns in four seasons. Then, late in the off-season, the Panthers traded for Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was taken No. 1 overall in 2018, two picks ahead of Darnold. Mayfield led the Browns the playoffs and a win over the Steelers in the post-season in 2020 but struggled in 2021. He threw for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 14 starts last season. The Browns’ acquisition of Deshaun Watson made him expendable, and the Panthers entered camp with a three-way battle at quarterback.
Elsewhere, the Panthers signed a couple role players on offense. Veteran running back D’Onta Foreman comes over to provide depth behind Christian McCaffrey after filling in well for Derrick Henry in Tennessee in 2021. In addition, former Browns’ receiver Rashard Higgins signed with the Panthers, bolstering a receiving corps led by D.J. Moore and including Robbie Anderson and second-year receiver Terrace Marshall, Jr.
Defensively, the Panthers saw Hasson Reddick leave to sign with the Eagles and cornerback Stephon Gillmore leave for the Colts. The Panthers signed former Vikings’ safety Xavier Woods and Rams punter Johnny Hekker. In the draft the Panthers boosted their offensive line by taking tackle Ikem Ekwonu in the First Round.
Darnold, Mayfield or Corral? One of them will start this season—probably more than one and possibly all three. Draft them at your own risk, and don’t expect more than QB3 value. I think Mayfield is probably the best bet. In the backfield, I suspect that Foreman and second year back Chuba Hubbard will be involved, helping balance the load for Christian McCaffrey. Despite that—and despite McCaffrey appearing in just 10 games the past two seasons—I still believe in the talent. I think McCaffrey is still a Top 5 option at running back and I’m drafting him as such.
In the passing game, there are plenty of questions. But none of them involve Moore, who caught 93 passes for 1,157 yards and four touchdowns last season. He continues to have plenty of upside despite inefficiencies on offense. I like him as a high-end WR2. The rest is a mystery. Anderson finished as a WR2 in 2020 but struggled in the offense last season. He’ll likely have some good games, as will Higgins, but I’m not trusting them or Marshall as a consistent starter. At tight end, Ian Thomas got a new contract but Tommy Tremble had the better fantasy finish. None is more than a TE3 for me.
The Panthers have the weight of expectation and plenty of pressure on Rhule but don’t have the talent to match. The team remains a work in progress even three years into Rhule’s tenure, and his inability to solve the quarterback riddle has stymied the team. That will continue in 2022 as I suspect the Panthers win six to seven games, miss the playoffs and are looking at starting over at coach and quarterback next off-season.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.