The Panthers are the hottest team in football right now. What are the ingredients that have allowed this team to flourish? To all non-Panther fans, here are the top 13 players on the 13–0 Panthers (Note: players not ranked in order of skill.)
Cam Newton, QB
It is no secret who the leader of the Panthers is. In terms of pure passing, Newton still lags behind pure pocket passers like Carson Palmer and Tom Brady (passer rating: Newton, 96.9; Brady, 103.6; Palmer, 107.2). Newton’s accuracy and footwork naysayers will always exist as well. However, to say that Newton hasn’t developed into a threat as a passer is definitely erroneous.
For starters, Newton steps up his game when it counts—his fourth-quarter passer rating of 115.0 is the best in the league. One also has to consider the group of receivers Newton has to work with. Excluding top target Kelvin Benjamin, who was lost in the offseason, the Panthers’ receiving core of Ted Ginn–Jericho Cotchery–Devin Funchess–Philly Brown is fairly underwhelming. Newton has also shown considerable improvement on his deep ball, which fully utilizes his cannon arm. In fact, Newton’s numbers have actually been degraded due to several Ted Ginn drops on perfectly thrown long bombs.
All of this is not considering Newton’s running prowess. Newton currently has seven rushing touchdowns on the year, which is more rushing touchdowns than seven NFL teams. With the Panthers playing great and Newton having a career year, there’s no question as to why Newton is a prime MVP candidate.
Luke Kuechly, LB
Cam Newton may be the face of the franchise, but Kuechly is arguably the best player in the league right now. Recently, Pro Football Focus posted an article on how Kuechly was breaking records in its grading system. In fact, it doesn’t take an expert eye to see the damage he causes on the field. Though playing suffocating coverage and possessing world-class instincts, Kuechly is a favorite for defensive player of the year, making him and Newton real contenders for a Panthers’ MVP award sweep.
Thomas Davis, LB
Thomas Davis is Kuechly’s partner in crime in the Carolina linebacking corps. Often overshadowed by his superstar teammate, Thomas Davis has been a mainstay on the Panthers’ defense for a decade, though he often doesn’t get the respect he deserves. On the season, Davis has 88 combined tackles, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles, and is fast approaching his fourth straight 100-tackle season.
Greg Olsen, TE
As Newton’s pass-catching tight end, it’s no secret that Olsen is one of the league’s best tight ends. A season after logging 1,008 yards and 6 touchdowns, Olsen is approaching that mark again this season with 969 yards and 6 touchdowns through 13 games.
Ryan Khalil, C
The anchor of the Carolina line and one of the best centers in the league for the past half-decade, with four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams to show for it.
Trai Turner, G
The 22-year-old Turner is an emerging star on the Panthers’ offensive line. Known as a mauler in the run game, Turner is also a continually improving pass-protection. Turner’s name generated quite a buzz earlier this year when a video of him pancaking reigning defensive player of the year JJ Watt circulated on the Web.
Andrew Norwell, G
A former undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, this season Norwell has teamed up with Turner to become of the best guard tandems in the league. Norwell is currently Pro Football Focus’s No. 6 ranked guard, with his strength being in run blocking.
Johnathon Stewart, RB
One of the reasons Newton has been so effective this season is due to his being flanked by a stalwart running game. An absolute bowling ball in the open field, Stewart is approaching his second 1,000 yard rushing season with 989 yards through 13 games.
Josh Norman, CB
A surprise to anyone heading into the season, Norman is arguably the best cornerback in the league and is a candidate for defensive player of the year right alongside teammate Luke Kuechly. Norman is known for his blanketing coverage that has shut down a multitude of elite receivers, including the likes of Allen Robinson, DeAndre Evans, T.Y. Hilton, and Dez Bryant. To capture just how good Norman’s coverage has been, a few weeks back, Pro Football Focus’s Sam Monson tweeted “The passer rating when throwing at Josh Norman this season is still worse than just throwing it into the turf every play.”
Kawann Short, DT
As one of the best interior defenders in the league, Short is yet another emerging star on the Panthers. Already a run-clogger in the middle of the line, he also has 9 sacks on the year—a ridiculous number for a defensive tackle.
Star Lotulelei, DT
The Panthers’ No. 14 overall pick in 2013, Star has had a bit of a down year due to injuries. However, when he is on, he is a beast that takes on multiple blockers. Star thus works in tandem with Short; when Star takes on multiple blockers, Short is then able to rush the passer as well as pursue the run.
Charles Johnson, DE
Like Star, Johnson is another elite lineman who’s had a bit of a down year due to injuries. Before this year, Johnson had a whopping 52.5 sacks in five seasons.
Kurt Coleman, FS
Coleman is a revelation at free safety after being picked up by the Panthers from the Chiefs during the offseason. One of the league’s best free safeties this season, Coleman is a hawk in coverage, with his 7 interceptions being good for second in the league.