Panthers 2016 Season Report Card

BY Fansided and Kenan Goyette/FanSided via Cat Crave • June 30, 2017

The 2016 season wasn’t a pretty one for the Carolina Panthers and the final regular season grades are officially in the book…

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) talks to the official in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

QUARTERBACK

D+After a masterful MVP 2015 season, Cam Newton came crashing back down to earth in what was a forgettable 2016. The Panthers’ quarterback struggled for much of the year never getting into a rhythm with his receivers or with the offense in general. The addition of Kelvin Benjamin should have allowed Newton to soar to even greater heights but instead he regressed. His completion percentage (52.9%) was the lowest of his six-year career and his touchdown numbers decreased while his interceptions increased (19:14). What was possibly the most alarming part of Newton’s down year was his lack of presence in the team’s ground game. He had the lowest rushing yardage total (359) of his career by almost 300 yards and tied a career low in rushing scores (5), carrying the ball just 90 times. Part of that could have been the beginning of Newton’s evolution to a more of a pocket-passer but also could have been because of the injuries sustained throughout the year. Newton was at the center of the conversation surrounding player safety this season as he repeatedly suffered illegal blows to the head that went uncalled and suffered a concussion. Overall, whether the injuries and lack of rushing are to blame, Cam will need to get back to his 2015 form and forget this miserable 2016.Next: RUNNING BACK

Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) dives for a touchdown in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACK

BThe running back group of the 2016 Panthers gets graded on a curve for their efforts this season. The main reason for that is the playcalling and the overall play of the team which got down early so frequently that many games the offense was forced to essentially abandon the run game completely. So for their efforts in a rather tough offensive year, this group was respectable. Jonathan Stewart led the way once again racking up 200+ carries (218) for the third time in his career for 824 yards along with nine touchdowns including multiple leaping ones which became a common occurrence. Stewart was, for the most part, his usual self. He missed a few games early on due to injury but when he got his chances made the most of them with his usual tough, hard runs. Third-down back Fozzy Whittaker wasn’t utilized nearly as much although he probably should have been as in his few opportunities he showed the capability to break off big gains in both the run and pass game and in Stewart’s absence had his first 100-yard game of his career in Week 2. Fullback Mike Tolbert looked like a shell of himself this season and saw quite a drop in his production level, but still managed a Pro Bowl selection, and second-year back Cameron Artis-Payne spent another year primarily on the inactive list.Next: WIDE RECEIVER & TIGHT END

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) runs after a catch during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

WIDE RECEIVER & TIGHT END

C-On paper, the Panthers receiving corp had a solid year. But unfortunately, stats don’t do justice to the struggle that this group had throughout the season. Tight end and captain Greg Olsen was really the lone bright spot as the reliable tight end made NFL history recording his third straight 1,000+ yard season making him the first tight end to accomplish such a feat. Olsen was as consistent as ever and routinely showed up for his team this year as the top pass catcher; although he only was able to haul in three scores. The return of Kelvin Benjamin was a solid one on the stat sheet as he amassed 941 yards and seven touchdowns on 63 catches. The receiver didn’t have quite the impact many were hoping for though as he caught barely 50% of his targets (118 total) and wasn’t able to consistently get open or make big plays for his quarterback. The Panther third wideout, Ted Ginn Jr., had another nice year for himself with 752 yards and four scores making his fair share of dynamic plays mixed in with the classic Ted Ginn struggles (drops). One of the more curious areas regarding the lack of production from this unit revolved around Devin Funchess and Philly Brown. Funchess was supposed to make a jump this year but instead stayed right around where he ended last season while Brown became essentially an afterthought in the receiving category. This group simply wasn’t consistent enough to help out their quarterback or the offense in general. Whether it was with catching the ball, getting separation or simply making plays, there was no rhythm with this group which was an overall disappointment in 2016.Next: OFFENSIVE LINE

May 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil (67), tackle Mike Remmers (74), guard Andrew Norwell (68), center Matt Masifilo (64) and guard Tyler Larson (69) walk to the locker room at Carolina Panthers practice fields. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sport

OFFENSIVE LINE

C-It was certainly a trying year for the Carolina offensive line which did their best with what they were dealt. The phrase “position catastrophe” was the way GM Dave Gettleman described the situation and that sounds pretty accurate. The Panthers were hit with injuries from the get-go as left tackle Michael Oher went down with a concussion that kept him out the entire year, center Ryan Kalil missed about half of the season with a shoulder injury and many other backups missing time too. These injuries forced almost a complete makeover of the line as Mike Remmers spent most of the year out of position at left tackle and Trai Turner doing the same at right tackle for a few weeks. By the end of it, they were down to backups at three positions and a third stringer at center in Tyler Larsen. All in all though, the group did their best with young players like Larsen and Daryl Williams showing promise. The unit did however give up 36 sacks on the year – good for 19th in the league – which was only three off from last year but still seemed to be too many. And early on this group was one of the primary reasons for the Panthers lack of offensive success.Next: DEFENSIVE LINE

Dec 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (97) reacts after a sack in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 33-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

DEFENSIVE LINE

B-It started off rather ugly for this group in Carolina but after the bye things quickly improved as they turned up their play to help out the entire defense and helped give the Panthers the second most sacks in the league with 47. The biggest contributor out of the group was undoubtedly defensive end Mario Addison who went from being a situational pass rusher to an all-around, every down playmaker along the defensive line. Addison finished with a career-high 9.5 sacks to lead the defense while Kawann Short, who started the season slowly, picked up his play as well and finished with six on the year. Other along the line weren’t as consistent as these two but still made contributions and big plays to help out the Panthers defense. Star Lotulelei and Charles Johnson each had four sacks while Wes Horton came on late with 2.5 and an impressive strip-sack against the Falcons. End Kony Ealy was solid albeit somewhat disappointing as many saw him making the push to be a consistent pass rushing threat which his five sacks prove he was not. Rookie first round pick Vernon Butler had a tough first campaign as he was hampered by an ankle injury. He did however make his presence felt on numerous occasions with a few key tackles for loss and a blocked field goal as well.Next: LINEBACKER

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) scores a touchdown as middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) celebrates in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

LINEBACKER

B-As one of the steadiest, and frankly elite, units on the squad and in the entire league, the Panthers linebackers did all they could for a defense that struggled at both other levels during a tough year. Luke Kuechly was as consistent as ever before suffering a hard to watch concussion that caused him to miss the final five weeks of the season. He finished with still 102 tackles while Thomas Davis then shouldered the load, frequently leading the team in tackles and finishing the year with 106, 2.5 sacks, three picks and his first career touchdown. With Kuechly’s injury, young players like Shaq Thompson, A.J. Klein and David Mayo saw extensive action and performed well. Thompson showed his skill as a fast, quick hitting backer finishing with 56 takedowns, Klein was once again a steady force in the middle while Mayo had a big game in the team’s final week which has his arrow pointing up. There was truly only so much this unit could do with the other two levels of the defense performing so inconsistently but they did still manage to lead the sixth ranked rushing defense that gave up just 91.6-yards per game.Next: SECONDARY

Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Daryl Worley (26) and cornerback James Bradberry (24) against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

SECONDARY

C-After the now infamous Josh Norman situation all eyes were on the Panthers secondary in 2016 and early on things were rough. An awful 500+ yard allowed day against Atlanta in Week 4 was the tip of the iceberg that showed it would be a rough go-around for this unit. Fortunately, things brightened up though as rookie corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley came into their own and improved week in and week out to now look like an extremely solid young duo. Safety was an issue as well as Kurt Coleman struggled early but turned it around by season’s end while Tre Boston had a rough year in his first season as a starter. The unit accounted for 11 of the team’s 17 total interceptions with Coleman’s four leading the way. Coleman, Bradberry and Worley also racked up some impressive tackle stat good for third, fourth and fifth on the team. Veteran. corner Leonard Johnson joined the team about midway through the season and helped calm the storm and provide a solid nickel corner for the team. The secondary ended with a rather rough 268 passing yards allowed per game (29th) but at the very least showed promise late that they’ll be alright in the future.Next: SPECIAL TEAMS

Dec 19, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano (9) kicks a field goal against the Washington Redskins during the second half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

SPECIAL TEAMS

A-Carolina’s special teams were a bright spot in a rather abysmal season, for the most part. The team’s MVP could very easily be a co-MVP split between punters Andy Lee and Michael Palardy who were dominant through all 16 weeks of the season. Lee, before going down with an injury, averaged 49.1 yards per punt (which would’ve been good for second in the NFL) with 18 of his 36 total punts landing inside the 20-yard line. And Palardy picked up right where he left off with a 45 yard average and 13 of 36 landing inside the 20. Kicker Graham Gano had a bit of a trying year but still, as a whole wasn’t nearly as bad as many made him out to be. While playing on a plant foot with a broken bone in it, Gano knocked in 30 of 38 tries giving him just a 78.9% make rate but with 30 makes he was still ninth best in made kicks. Next: TEAM GRADE

Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) in the huddle with teammates against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

TEAM GRADE

*All stats and info via ESPN.com

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