Panthers banking on rookie QB Bryce Young to snap 5-year playoff drought

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CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-10)

EXPECTATIONS: The Panthers traded up eight spots in the NFL draft to land Bryce Young at No. 1 overall in hopes of finally achieving stability at quarterback and snapping the organization’s five-year playoff drought. With the three other NFC South teams also having either new or inexperienced QBs under center, the Panthers feel like they have a chance to win the division under new head coach Frank Reich. Carolina entirely revamped its skill positions on offense, adding running back Miles Sanders, tight end Hayden Hurst and wide receivers Adam Thielen and DJ Chark to the mix via free agency. The offensive line, considered a strength last season, all return, although guard Austin Corbett may miss a few games while returning from a torn ACL. Defensively, the Panthers will transition to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Ejiro Evero, who spent last year with the Denver Broncos. Brian Burns, who’ll move to outside linebacker in the new scheme, is the anchor of the defense, along with linebacker Shaq Thompson and safety Jeremy Chinn. Jaycee Horn has a chance to develop into one of the top cornerbacks in the league if he can stay healthy.

NEW FACES: QB Bryce Young, QB Andy Dalton, RB Miles Sanders, TE Hayden Hurst, WR Adam Thielen, WR DJ Chark, WR Jonathan Mingo, DT Shy Tuttle, DL DeShawn Williams, OLB Justin Houston, S Vonn Bell.

KEY LOSSES: QB Sam Darnold, RB D'Onta Foreman, WR D.J. Moore, DT Matt Ioannidis, CB Myles Hartsfield, S Sean Chandler.

STRENGTHS: Special Teams. The Panthers have one of the game's most accurate kickers in Eddy Pineiro, a powerful, experienced punter in Johnny Hekker and a reliable veteran long snapper in J.J. Jansen. Pineiro converted 33 of 35 field goals last season and 30 of 32 extra points for Carolina after taking over for Zane Gonzalez. Carolina's coverage teams have also been good, although the return game could use a boost.

WEAKNESSES: Passing game. Simply put, the Panthers weren't very good in the passing game last year, finishing 29th in the league. They hope the addition of Young changes that. Reich has made it clear he won't put too much pressure on the rookie and wants him to play like NBA point guard Stephen Curry and distribute the ball to his teammates and allow them to make plays. Reich anticipates Young will spread the ball around on a weekly basis rather than focusing on just one or two targets.

CAMP DEVELOPMENT: The Panthers opened camp with Marquan McCall serving as the starting defensive tackle, but the team abruptly released him after two preseason games, leaving the position mostly wide open.

FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: WR DJ Chark. Now finally healthy, Chark could be in for a big season. He's developed a strong chemistry with Young in training camp. It's been a while since he posted big numbers — he had 73 catches for 1,004 yards and eight TDs for Jacksonville in 2019 — but he could be a big factor in the downfield passing game playing opposite Adam Thielen.

FANDUEL SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 60-1. Over/under wins: 7 1/2.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl