The Carolina Panthers have their sights set on making a big leap in 2023, with a handful of promising rookies that will push veteran players. After breaking down the Panthers' game-by-game predictions, let's take a look at a few underrated sleepers that could break out for the Panthers in the 2023 NFL season.
It's tempting to highlight Bryce Young as one of the Panthers' breakout stars. He's already an elite processor with excellent field vision, plus athleticism, a quick release, and terrific composure from the pocket. But it's tough to make an argument that the No. 1 overall pick is an underrated sleeper.
WR Jonathan Mingo
After sending star receiver D.J. Moore to Chicago in a blockbuster trade for the No. 1 overall draft pick, the Panthers picked up veteran free agents in Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark.
Thielen and Chark enter training camp atop the Panthers' depth chart but they could each have a relatively short leash with a pair of the Panthers' 2023 breakout candidates looking to make a big impact.
Thielen is a very reliable possession receiver, but his production has steadily declined the last two years and he's clearly past his prime, as he'll turn 33 before the start of the season. Chark profiles as the opposite—an injury-prone field-stretcher that's never played a full season but offers big-play ability downfield.
Jonathan Mingo has really impressed so far in practice and has a legitimate shot to be the rookie receiving yards leader, thanks in part to an underwhelming receiving corps on the Panthers' roster.
Renowned for his blocking, route running, and inside-outside versatility, Jonathan Mingo is also a prototypical height-weight-speed specimen with elite ball-tracking skills.
Mingo actually earned the stamp of approval from Panthers legend Steve Smith Sr., who told team owner David Tepper to draft him about an hour before they selected him with the No. 39 overall pick, per the Carolina Panthers on YouTube.
DB Jeremy Chinn
It remains to be seen exactly what Jeremy Chinn's role will be in 2023, but it's clear he's going to have a versatile and high impact role under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.
The former 2020 second-round pick out of Southern Illinois made a significant impact right out of the gate with over 100 total tackles, a sack, and an interception in each of his first two seasons.
A very versatile player and freak athlete, Jeremy Chinn quickly established a reputation as a powerful hitter as a blitzer and run defender, and he improved his coverage skills over time.
Chinn seemed to be on the path to becoming one of the NFL's top safeties in his second season, when he allowed 8.8 yards per reception and a 94.4 passer rating when targeted, per PFF, while holding his own as a run defender. Across his 1,015 snaps, he lined up in the box half the time, and split the rest of his snaps pretty evenly at free safety, slot corner, and along the defensive line as a weapon to blitz the quarterback or blow up the run game.
But Chinn regressed last year after he came off of injured reserve from a hamstring injury that held him out of six games. He still racked up 70 total tackles, a sack, and a career-high six pass breakups, but he struggled against the run and took a step back in coverage, giving up 10.7 yards per catch and a 101.9 passer rating.
Carolina's defense was middle-of-the-pack against the run last season and struggled through the air, giving up the 10th-most passing yards while tying for the seventh-fewest sacks and sixth-fewest interceptions.
The secondary is now a clear strength on the Panthers' roster after the additions of free agent safety Vonn Bell and potential fifth-round steal Jammie Robinson. Their arrivals will allow Carolina to maximize the versatility and playmaking ability of Jeremy Chinn by moving him all over the field to line up at linebacker, big nickel, and as a third safety.
WR Terrace Marshall Jr.
Terrace Marshall hasn't lived up to expectations yet, hauling in 45 receptions for 628 yards and a touchdown in his first two seasons. But the 2021 second round pick still has some untapped potential and could be “on the cusp of a breakout campaign,” per Mike Kaye of the Charlotte Observer.
Like the rest of the receivers on the Panthers' roster, Terrace Marshall was held back last year by a game of musical chairs at quarterback with the likes of Baker Mayfield, P.J. Walker, and Sam Darnold. Collectively, they produced the fifth-fewest yards through the air in the league last season.
Marshall averaged 17.5 yards per catch on 28 receptions in his second season. Possessing many of the same strengths as his new teammate Jonathan Mingo, Marshall simultaneously has a shot to become one of the Panthers' breakout stars of 2023, given his upside, as well as the arrival of a top-notch coaching staff and No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young. Chark's injury history and Thielen's age and declining production doesn't hurt Marshall's chances, either.