In 2013, the Carolina Panthers rode one of the NFL’s most feared defenses to an NFC South title. The Panthers made it back to the playoffs last year, but the defense backslid from first in the NFL in sacks down to 13th.
Much of that drop-off was due to the exile of Greg Hardy, and with Hardy now in Dallas it falls to ninth-year veteran Charles Johnson to anchor the team’s pass rush. As Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer reported, the Panthers have been moving Johnson around in the formation in OTAs in an effort to generate favorable matchups.
“It’s something we’re looking at,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “I think you’ve always got to work on a contingency plan, and certainly the production off the left side the last couple years has been very strong. The spring is a time to work on some things. We wanted to look at that. We’ll see how it continues to develop.”
Johnson has racked up 52.5 sacks over the past five seasons, but the 28-year-old hasn’t exceeded 41 stops in a year since 2010. He’s an up-and-down DL2, but one with substantial upside.
Outside Johnson, there’s a lot of maybes, from ends Mario Addison and Kony Ealy to tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. With enough snaps and a bit of luck any of those players could emerge as a viable IDP option, but for now they aren’t much more than waiver wire watches.
The Panthers defense is led by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who once again had a fantastic season for IDP owners in 2014. Among linebackers, only Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs had more fantasy points in than Kuechly thanks to Houston’s gaudy 22.0 sacks. If you don’t get a chance to own J.J. Watt in your IDP league this year, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year isn’t a bad consolation prize.
After signing a two-year extension, veteran Thomas Davis told Person he’s eager to get the Carolina defense back on top. “I’m extremely excited about being a part of this defense, Davis said, “and I’m looking forward to doing my part to make sure that we become the No. 1 defense in the league.” Despite finishing inside LB3 territory last year Davis is being drafted well outside the top 50 fantasy linebackers per ADP data at My Fantasy League, making the 32-year-old a great value pick late in IDP drafts.
The reason for that dip? The arrival of rookie Shaq Thompson, who will take Davis’ place on the weakside. However, Davis graded out first among all 4-3 outside linebackers in pass coverage per Pro Football Focus last year, so Thompson probably isn’t getting subpackage snaps – and the fantasy value that comes with them.
After 12 years in Chicago, cornerback Charles Tillman joined the Panthers in free agency, and Tillman told Ashley Mahoney of the Charlotte Post that he’s been sharing his wealth of experience with the team’s younger players.
“I’m here trying to do my small 1/11th and just do my small part,” Tillman said. “It’s a team style. I do what I’m told, but I think I have a little bit of freedom to be creative within the defense—if that makes any sense. I’m just trying to do my part—fit in and just contribute so that we can win some games.”
Tillman and veteran safety Roman Harper both have top-10 fantasy campaigns on their resumes. However, both also have recent durability issues and both are well past the age of 30. The old dogs may still have some fight left in them, but they’re late-round IDP fliers at best.