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Original Issue

3 Carolina Panthers

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Carolina selected shifty, underneath weapons in the first two rounds of this year's draft: CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY of Stanford and CURTIS SAMUEL of Ohio State. This suggests that coordinator MIKE SHULA will introduce more quick-strike concepts into their offense—which is like McDonald's deciding to add pizza to its menu. The change is both radical and unnecessary. The Panthers have a run-first offense built for a deep-drop-back passing game; their wide receivers are all big-bodied plodders, not twitchy space-creators; and their offensive line needs the help of additional blockers for those deep drop-backs.

• Most important, quick-strike passing is not what CAM NEWTON does. He's not a timing or anticipation passer. Accuracy has never been his strength, and it likely never will be, given how unrefined his mechanics are six years into his career. Newton is a power thrower, which fits best in a deep-drop-back offense.

• It would be foolish for the Panthers to limit Newton's rushing attempts, which coach RON RIVERA has said he'd like to do. At 6'5" and 245 pounds, the mere threat of Newton's running is valuable because it gives the offense a numbers advantage in the box. The running dimension made Newton the league's MVP in 2015. Take that away and you're left with a below-average QB.

• Carolina's defense is only as good as its four-man pass rush. When it's clicking, it allows their soft zone coverages to work. When the rush doesn't get to the quarterback, the voids in their coverages become too large. Last season the Panthers averaged 3.8 sacks in wins and 2.4 in losses.

• JULIUS PEPPERS is a Hall of Fame defensive end, but entering his 16th season, he's a better interior pass rusher. That's why the Packers played him at nickel defensive tackle last season.

• This will be SHAQ THOMPSON'S third season, and it's time for him to see more snaps. He's as fast as any linebacker in football, and his coverage abilities are sensational. But he hasn't been able to get on the field much, because LUKE KUECHLY is too great to take out and 34-year-old THOMAS DAVIS isn't slowing down. The plan is for Thompson to assume some of Davis's reps in the nickel package. We'll see.

"THEIR DRAFT PICKS SUGGEST THEY ARE MAKING CHANGES TO THEIR OFFENSE THAT ARE BOTH RADICAL AND UNNEEDED."

SI'S 2017 PREDICTION

7--9

2016 RECORD 6--10

SEPT. 10

AT SF

SEPT. 17

VS. BUF

SEPT. 24

VS. NO

OCT. 1

AT NE

OCT. 8

AT DET

OCT. 12

THURSDAY

VS. PHIL

OCT. 22

AT CHI

OCT. 29

AT TB

NOV. 5

VS. ATL

NOV. 13

MONDAY

VS. MIA

BYE

NOV. 26

AT NYJ

DEC. 3

AT NO

DEC. 10

VS. MIN

DEC. 17

VS. GB

DEC. 24

VS. TB

DEC. 31

AT ATL

Position Rankings

QB

14

SKILL

15

OL

21

FRONT 7

6

DBs

31

Weakness

ANDY BENOIT'S 400 MMQB ON.SI.COM/400

4 LUKE KUECHLY LB

42 GREG OLSEN TE

65 THOMAS DAVIS LB

71 RYAN KALIL C

77 KAWANN SHORT DT

162 CAM NEWTON QB

248 TRAI TURNER G

266 STAR LOTULELEI DT

267 KELVIN BENJAMIN WR

269 JULIUS PEPPERS OLB

296 KURT COLEMAN SS

301 JONATHAN STEWART RB

320 SHAQ THOMPSON LB

332 MARIO ADDISON DE

386 ANDREW NORWELL G

387 CHARLES JOHNSON DE