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Top 5 Panthers to have monster years in 2021

The Panthers have made some bold moves in rebuilding this roster under second year coach Matt Rhule. In the 2020 draft, they spent every pick on the defensive side of the ball. They also signed Robby Anderson and Teddy Bridgewater to add a new dynamic to the Panthers offense. Despite giving Bridgwater a three-year contract worth $63 million and having to take a dead cap hit of over $17 million this season, they traded their quarterback to the Broncos. This deal came in the wake of trading for Sam Darnold from the Jets. They were not happy with a Bridgewater led offense and did whatever they needed to in order to upgrade it in their opinion.

In the 2021 draft, they once again focused on the defense with their first-round pick Jaycee Horn. They may follow a unique strategy for re-tooling this roster, but the Panthers have quietly amassed a slew of often over-looked players who could have monster seasons in 2021 and demand the attention of the league.

1. Brian Burns

Brian Burns is my dark horse pick for not only a Pro Bowl, but possibly the defensive player of the year. Burns was a first-round pick in 2019 and notched eight sacks in his rookie campaign. In 2020, he took a major leap forward by positing a PFF of 76.8 as a part of a ten-sack season with three forced fumbles. Burns should make even more progress in 2021 as the entire situation in Carolina improves.

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The improved defense around him and what should be a more dynamic offense could create a perfect storm effect for Brian Burns to not just follow up 2020 with another double-digit sack season, but to take it well beyond that to a 15+ sack year. The 6-6 and 250 pound defender has all of the physical tools and talent to be one of the best in the league. He’s shown capable of turning that talent into production in his first two years, despite little help around him.

2. A.J. Bouye

A.J. Bouye was at one point, one of the bright young defensive players in the league. He posted a PFF of 87.5 in 2016, 87.2 in 2017, and 75.7 in 2018. However, just like the rest of the Jaguars, he declined drastically in 2019 and after joining Denver last season, he was still unable to reclaim his former self. He now joins a Panthers defense that is filled with young talent, including Jaycee Horn.

Bouye is suspended for the first two games of the season after a positive PED test last year. He served four games already of the total six game suspension.

3. Haason Reddick

Haason Reddick finished the 2020 season with 12.5 sacks, 5 of which came in one game against the Giants. The Cardinals decided to allocate resources to J.J. Watt so Reddick was allowed to walk. If Burns continues to build on his first two seasons, even if he doesn’t have the mega year I think he may, he will still command serious attention from offensive lines. This could create great matchups for Reddick to take advantage of. I think this may become one of the NFC’s best edge rush duos.

4. Terrace Marshall Jr.

In a draft full of talented wide receivers, Terrace Marshall Jr. was often overlooked. His LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase garnered much of the spotlight, but Marshall Jr. has many of the physical attributes. The 6-2- and 200-pound receiver is a big target, but still possesses great speed. He was projected in the late first round, but fell with the Panthers in the second round. In a Panthers offense where he will be the fourth or fifth option, he should have very favorable matchups. I would expect to see him emerge as a favorite target of Darnold’s later on in the season as he starts to chip away at the playing time of those ahead of him.

5. Sam Darnold

I wanted to go lesser known players, but its hard not to include Sam Darnold on this list. The 23-year-old quarterback is now out of New York and is now on a team with coaching stability and management who truly wants him there. With weapons like Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson, and D.J. Moore on this Panthers offense, I would expect him to make considerable strides in 2021.

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