3 biggest surprises from Matt Rhule’s first depth chart for 2022
Head coach Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers had a 2021 season that left much to be desired. The team finished with a record of 5-12. They finished last in the NFC South and looked to be a team struggling to find their way.
Since the end of last season, the Panthers have made several moves in hopes to be better in 2022. Their biggest move came when they chose to trade for Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Alongside the decision to trade for Mayfield, they drafted Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft. They also attempted to solidify their offensive line with the selection of NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu in the first round.
The Panthers’ success in 2022 will rely heavily on how healthy their players can stay. Running back Christian McCaffrey is a generational talent, but he has struggled to stay on the field in recent years. Now, as he is back to 100%, the Panthers could be in a great spot to compete.
With the preseason quickly approaching, teams around the NFL are starting to release their initial depth charts.
Most recently, head coach Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers released their first depth chart of the new season. The depth chart had several shocking decisions.
But more so, it shows that the Panthers still aren’t sure which direction they are headed. Many of their top positions are still locked in battles for jobs.
There is a good chance that this depth chart will look vastly different come week one of the regular season. The Carolina Panthers still have a lot of decisions to make regarding how they will shape this team.
With the release of the depth chart, let’s take a look at three of the shocking decisions made by Matt Rhule and the Panthers
3 Biggest Surprises from Matt Rhule’s First Panthers Depth Chart For 2022
When the Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield, everyone knew that he would be competing with Sam Darnold for the starting job. With the first relae of the depth chart, both Mayfield and Darnold are listed as the first-team quarterback.
It is all but guaranteed that this quarterback battle will continue into the end of the preseason. It could even last throughout the season, as the Panthers could be looking to play the quarterback with the hot hand.
Both Mayfield and Darnold have had turbulent rides in the NFL. The two quarterbacks were both taken in the first-round of the 2018 NFL draft. Mayfield went first overall to the Cleveland Browns, and Darnold went third overall to the New York Jets.
Each quarterback has spent time as a starter, and have shown flashes of talent. But they have also struggled at times, leading to them both landing in Carolina.
During his time with the Browns, Mayfield played in 60 games. He finished with a starting record of 29-30. When on the field, he threw for 14,125 yards, 92 touchdowns, and 56 interceptions.
After the Browns traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson, Mayifle was the odd man out. This led to the Panthers making the move to acquire him.
Darnold has spent time as a starter with both the Panthers and the Jets. He has appeared in 50 career games, and has a starting record of 17-32. Darnold has thrown for 10,624 yards, 54 touchdowns, and 52 interceptions.
With this quarterback battle showing no signs of slowing down, it will continue to be a talking point for this Panthers organization.
2. A Battle for the RB2 spot
Running back Christian McCaffrey is locked in as this offense’s lead back. He has been the face of this franchise since being drafted eighth overall in 2017.
McCaffrey has been one of the league’s most dynamic players. He has rushed 3,557 and 30 touchdowns in his career. Through the air, he has brought in 357 receptions for 3,015 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
Even with his success, McCaffrey has struggled to stay on the field. He has played in just 10 games over the last two seasons.
With his injury history, the Panthers have put stock into the backup running backs.
Upon the release of the first depth chart, the Panthers have put two running backs into the RB2 slot. Both Chubba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman are currently occupying the spot.
Throughout last season, Chubba Hubbard occupied the starting spot when McCaffrey was out. He ran for 612 yards and five touchdowns throughout his rookie season. The Panthers also involved him in the passing game as he brought in 25 receptions for 174 yards and one touchdown.
D’Onta Foreman served in a similar role as Hubbard last season. While Derrick Henry was out, Foreman was elevated to a starting role with the Tennessee Titans. He finished the season with 566 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Whoever the Panthers choose to lock in as their RB2 could be in for a potentially big season. This preseason should show them which player they should commit to at this spot.
1. Rookie tackle isn’t a starter
When looking at the first-team unit, there is one notable player missing. Panther’s first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu is currently slotted as the team’s backup left tackle. He is behind Brady Christensen.
Leading into the draft, many believed that Ekwonu would be a day one starter for nearly any team with a need at left tackle. He was a force to be reckoned with during his time at NC State. There was a belief that he could have even been the first player taken in the draft.
The Panthers brought him in to be their tackle of the future, but him not securing the starting job just yet could be a cause for concern.
Or the Panthers could be doing it simply for the sake of a battle. Ekwonu has everything that a team looks for in a foundational tackle, and they may just want him to prove that he deserves the spot.