The entire Carolina Panthers draft class is under contract.
The team wrapped up rookie deals Friday morning with the signing of first-round pick Vernon Butler, a defensive tackle out of Louisiana Tech. Per the team’s official site, Butler put pen to paper before the team’s rookie minicamp opened on Friday.
Per Around The NFL’s first-round draft pick signing tracker, that leaves 16 players still waiting to sign their rookie deals.
The 6-4, 323-pound defensive tackle was the definition of ‘best player on the board.’ The Panthers are already loaded across the defensive line, perhaps more so than any other team in football. Still, it will be interesting to see how Butler gets into the mix.
General manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t like to throw money around emotionally, and Butler’s development could guard him against overspending on soon-to-be free agents like Star Lotulelei jersey and Kawann Short.
1. Ryan and cheap jerseys became the first quarterback-receiver tandem of the Super Bowl era to combine for at least 500 passing yards and 300 receiving yards, per NFL Network Research. Severely outplaying last year’s MVP, Matt Ryan built on his NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors to assume the top spot in the quarter-pole MVP discussion. He continues to exhibit ideal pocket movement and vision, functioning as a high-end point guard to distribute the ball to his newfound collection of weapons. Buoyed by play-caller Kyle Shanahan’s hot hand, Ryan directed textbook scoring drives of 71, 75, 92, 98 and 99 yards, dissecting Carolina’s defense underneath to set up perfectly placed downfield bombs to Jones, Aldrick Robinson jersey and Austin Hooper.
Leading the league in every major passing category, Ryan has completed 101 of 140 passes (72.1 percent) for 1,473 yards (10.5 YPA), 11:2 TD-to-INT ratio and an astonishing 126.3 passer rating. After dismantling the anemic defenses of Buccaneers, Raiders and wholesale jerseys and Saints in the first three weeks, Ryan feasted on a Panthers unit that ranked sixth in Football Outsiders’ metrics entering Sunday’s game.
2. When Julio Jones last faced a Carolina secondary featuring All Pro Josh Norman, the dynamic wideout was the key figure in a major Atlanta upset, hauling in nine passes for 178 yards. With Norman out of the picture, Jones nearly equaled those numbers by halftime, burning not just the overmatched rookie cornerback duo of James Bradberry and Daryl Worley but also third-year pro Bene Benwikere. It’s safe to say Jones has recaptured peak form after a calf injury contributed to his one-catch performance in Week 3.
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3. Carolina’s defense finally faced a legitimate test after drawing Trevor Siemian’s first NFL start, Blaine Gabbert’s talent-poor offense and Minnesota’s one-dimensional attack in the first three games. The Falcons’ finely tuned aerial attack exposed the Panthers’ penny-pinching defensive backfield, which received precious little help from a front seven that hasn’t put consistent heat on quarterbacks this season. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis sat out of the majority of the second half with a hamstring injury.
4. The final score is incredibly misleading as it pertains to Cam Newton’s offense. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Falcons held decisive edges in total yards (491-141), first downs (23-6) and score (31-10) with the Panthers’ lone touchdown coming via an easy pick-six on a screen pass that bounced off of Davis’ helmet. The majority of Carolina’s offensive production came via the hot hand of Derek Anderson, who came on in relief after Newton entered the concussion protocol at the hands of a big hit on an early fourth-quarter two-point conversion.
After four games, there are troubling signs for an offense that led the NFL in scoring last season. The offensive line is allowing consistent pressure, the ground attack has yet to find a rhythm without wholesale MLB jerseys and Jonathan Stewart and Newton is taking too many hits while backsliding into sloppy lower-body mechanics on his throws. This is not an offense built to play from behind. After jumping out to a 14-0 record in 2015, the Panthers have lost five of their past nine games, including the playoffs.
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It’s never a good idea to project a team dead and buried after just five games, especially after seeing what happened to the Atlanta Falcons jerseys a year ago. While they claim to be a different team now, Carolina could end up looking like a different team over the remaining 11 games of the season.
This is clearly not the same Panthers team we saw tear through a bad NFC South last year en route to the Super Bowl, but when Cam Newton returns to the field, he is still the same transcendent quarterback who can take over games and fluster opposing defenses. Rivera can hinge most of his tough talk on the shoulders of last year’s MVP.
Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints will be a fine litmus test for Carolina as it shifts gears. Facing Drew Brees and Sean Payton fresh off a Saints bye week is never a welcome sight, especially for a young secondary that is still struggling to find its bearings. But if Rivera wants us to stop giving the division away, he’ll have to start somewhere.