The Carolina Panther’s defense finished second in the NFL in yards allowed in 2021. The defense was exceptional to start games, allowing three first-quarter touchdowns all season. The Carolina defense has been led by young defensive stars Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn. Despite playing in a talented offensive division, they continue to improve. The Panthers finished with 39 sacks last season. The defense struggled to get takeaways finishing well below the league average of 22. Carolina finished 28th in the NFL with just 16 takeaways.
Phil Snow will return for his third season as the Carolina defensive coordinator. He has coached defense under Matt Rhule for ten years, including the last six seasons. The Carolina defense has been adding young players since the arrival of Matt Rhule; 14 players in total have been drafted over the past three drafts. The 2022 season will be a big season for the Panthers as the fate of head coach Matt Rhule is possibly in question. The defense has the most question marks in certain positions that it has in recent years.
Brian Burns, DE
Burns is a top dynasty asset among IDP managers heading into the 2022 season. The former Florida State Seminole has finished in the top 13 for DL in his first two seasons. He earned himself a trip to his first Pro Bowl last season. Burns has registered at least 50 tackles and nine sacks in his past two seasons. He’s a very talented pass rusher who is approaching his second NFL contract and will likely continue to improve.
Burns will remain the focal point of opposing offenses for the 2022 season. He has averaged 8.5 sacks over his first three seasons. As long as he’s healthy, it’s fair to think he will reach that mark again this season. While statistically, Burns had a very similar season over the past two years, he only earned a PFF grade of 60.8. That ranked as 77th of 113 EDGE players. Burns is currently the DL5 for the Nerds IDP team, as you can see on DynastyNerds.com.
Yetur Gross-Matos, DE
Gross-Matos was selected 38th overall in the 2020 NFL draft. The Penn State product has collected six sacks over his first 26 games. He’s only started nine games during that span. We have yet to see the true impact of what he can do as an IDP, with him only playing 43% of defensive snaps in his young career. Gross-Matos finished with a 63.9 PFF grade last season, which ranked him 62nd of 113 edge defenders.
The Carolina defensive end should be in line for a considerable boost in snaps. The departure of Haason Reddick, who played 83% of defensive snaps a season ago, resulted in 11 sacks and opens up a lot of snaps. If Gross-Matos can put it all together this year, you should be looking for him to finish around the 8+ sack mark. He would add some serious value to your dynasty roster if he can manage this. He currently is the DL51 among IDP rankers but has been identified as a candidate to make a leap in 2022.
Derrick Brown, DT
Brown is a former first-round pick for Carolina in the 2020 NFL draft. Brown has posted 75 tackles and three sacks while adding 31 pressures in his first 32 games. The Panthers’ defensive tackle finished as the DL54 last season while averaging 11.32 fantasy points per game. The former Auburn Tiger is most valuable in DT premium formats.
The hope is that Brown can continue improving his sack numbers as he did from his first to the second year. If he does that, he will improve his fantasy stock and become a household name among IDP managers. Brown’s PFF grade for the 2021 season was 64.2, which ranked 43rd of 128 qualifying defensive tackles. IDP managers have used his youth to justify drafting him in non-DT premium leagues. That will no longer be the case after the 2022 season. Brown will need to step up and prove he can be reliable for fantasy production to remain relevant among IDP managers.
Shaq Thompson, OLB
Thompson will be entering his eighth season with the Panthers. The Former Washington Husky earned a 72.1 PFF grade, ranking him 12th among 89 qualifying LBs in 2021. Thompson’s 2021 season was inconsistent, and there are plenty of reasons for IDP managers to be concerned going forward. He started just 13 games in 2021 and posted his highest missed tackle rate (11.9%) of his eight-year career while blitzing just 45 times (his lowest total in three seasons). Thompson did have one of his best seasons in coverage. He allowed three-year lows in targets (56), touchdowns (0), and QB rating allowed (68.0). Thompson has been consistent, reliable, and effective with his snaps as the Panthers’ lead LB.
The main concern will always be his health and if he can remain on the field. IDP managers should be looking at Thompson as more of an LB3. He has the upside to finish in the top 24 rather than thinking he will be a top 12 scorer. The Dynasty consensus has him ranked as the dynasty LB29 heading into this season. Thompson has only two years left on his contract. His career could be coming to an end sooner than later.
Damien Wilson, ILB
Wilson is a veteran LB who has spent time with four teams in the last five seasons. He had the best year of his career statistically with Jacksonville in 2021. Wilson finished with 106 tackles and three sacks while finishing as LB46. He will look to bring in his veteran presence for his third different team in three years. All IDP managers should be looking at Wilson as nothing more than a bridge player for Carolina or rotational depth at LB. He’s not a very productive LB from a statistical standpoint, but he brings strong experience as a special teams player. Wilson is much better for real football than fantasy football. This is a player that is likely a bye-week fill-in player at best during the season.
Cory Littleton, OLB
Littleton is a few years removed from his 2018 season when he finished second-team All-Pro and was voted to the Pro Bowl. While with the Rams in 2019 and 2019, Littleton collected over 250 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and five interceptions. It’s safe to assume he’s not the same player he was due to injuries, but he can still be a productive LB for IDP managers. It appears pretty clear how much of a product of the Rams system Littleton was. He has struggled to show he is the same type of player since he departed.
Littleton has finished with at least 82 tackles, including at least 51 solos in his past two seasons. The veteran LB was primarily used in coverage last year, and he struggled there as he has for most of his career. Littleton has given up over 70% completion rate and allowed over a 94.0 QB rating in his past four seasons. If Littleton reappears on IDP managers’ radar, it will be as a high-volume tackler. I’m not sure that opportunity presents itself in Carolina immediately, but there are worse options at LB. The former Rams and Raiders LB is free to acquire in IDP leagues.
Brandon Smith, OLB
Smith is the next LB up from Penn State, who has put some very effective fantasy football players in the NFL. The Penn State LB walks into a great situation in Carolina with uncertainty at the position, which should give him a chance to earn a role. He is arguably the most attractive LB on Carolina’s roster for IDP managers. Smith has the speed to play sideline to sideline; what he lacks in instincts for such a young player, he makes up for in physicality.
Smith tested well by finishing top five among all LBs at the combine in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jump. Carolina’s defense ran two LB sets 73% of the time last season. They used three LBs on the field just 10% of the time. He will have to earn the trust of the coaching staff to prove that he belongs. If he does, he could see significant snaps early, but an injury ahead of him likely gives him his best opportunity. Smith has been drafted in the 5th round or later of almost all IDP rookie drafts this off-season. He’s a low-risk, high-reward player that you can afford to gamble on in IDP leagues.
Jeremy Chinn, S
Chinn is one of the game’s best, as he’s shown since the first time he stepped on an NFL field. He has been very productive since being drafted by Carolina 64th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Over his first two seasons, he has collected 224 tackles, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, two sacks, and two defensive touchdowns. Chinn has finished as a top-five scoring DB in his first two seasons.
Chinn will continue to be the stud for the Panthers’ defense. A big part of his fantasy production is tied to his ability to play box snaps as a strong safety or LB. Chinn has averaged 273.25 fantasy points per season over his first two years. There’s very little reason to believe that won’t continue. If IDP managers are looking for a top-tier DB, you’ve found the total package in Carolina’s Chinn. In my personal rankings, only Derwin James is ranked above Chinn for dynasty DBs for the 2022 season.
Xavier Woods, S
The Carolina Panthers seemed to have enough of their issues at deep safety when they decided to bring in the former Minnesota Vikings DB. Woods had a great year in 2021, finishing as the DB8 on the season. He averaged 16.70 fantasy points per game. Woods played most of his snaps in the deep safety role, a very big need for Carolina heading into next season.
It will be a surprise if both Woods and Chinn finish in the top 10 of DB scoring as they did last year. There’s no doubt that having these two in the same secondary is a significant improvement for the Panthers. IDP managers should expect a slight dip in production for Woods, and I expect him to remain in the high 70’s range for tackles rather than the 100+ tackle season he had with Minnesota in 2021. He posted career highs in touchdowns allowed and interceptions last season, and he will need to improve on his coverage to remain a consistent IDP. Woods can stay in the top 36 of DBs if he can fit well in the Carolina secondary.
Donte Jackson, CB
It’s not every day that cornerbacks are included in these IDP breakdowns. Jackson played the highest percentage of defensive snaps among CBs for the Panthers in 2021. Jackson received a 61.3 PFF overall grade which was 72nd among 121 CBs. The Panthers rewarded Jackson with a three-year extension keeping him in Carolina until at least the 2025 season.
The former LSU defensive back has averaged 52 tackles and three interceptions per year over his first four seasons. He’s an afterthought in IDP leagues that aren’t CB required, but he does have value as a bye-week fill-in player who can still help you win your matchup on a given week. Jackson finished as the DB59 and the CB18 last season; his consistency from a point per game perspective should at the very least draw interest from IDP managers who are looking for value on the waiver wire.
The Carolina Panthers are still trying to find balance on the ball’s offensive side, which will put more pressure on their defense. The Carolina Panthers will play the 12th most arduous schedule heading into the 2022 season. The Panthers will face Tom Brady twice and also will see both starting QBs from last year’s Super Bowl. IDP managers should know what to expect from the studs on the Carolina defense; outside of that, there will be a few questions that may take half the year to answer. Stash the young upside players that you can, and if an opportunity arises to sell an overperforming veteran, I recommend taking it.
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