4 Panthers facing the most pressure to produce in 2022

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2022 may very well serve as a fork in the road for the Carolina Panthers. It’ll be a season, from the top on down, where we find out who stays and who goes as the franchise enters Year No. 4 of a supposed five (or six . . . or seven)-year rebuild.

But which Panthers (besides head coach Matt Rhule, of course) are facing the most pressure to produce? These ones . . .

DT Derrick Brown

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

Don’t blame Brown for not living up to the seventh overall pick the organization spent on him back in 2020. That’s almost an impossibility seeing as though run-stuffing defensive tackles—particularly ones who lack pass-rushing prowess and elite athleticism—aren’t to be taken that high in the first place.

Nonetheless, the (svelter) 320-pounder has to make his presence known on a much more steady basis in 2022. Although he’s put together stretches of dominance up the middle, Brown hasn’t blown up the backfield as consistently as the Panthers might’ve hoped he would thus far.

Plus, the decision on his fifth-year option is to be made following the upcoming season. If Brown doesn’t take a step up, is he worth devoting over $17 million to in 2024?

WR Robbie Anderson

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

Last summer, the Panthers gave Anderson a hard-earned two-year, $29.5 million extension. And what did they receive in return?

Well, not much—as the sixth-year veteran responded with the worst season of his professional career.

To be fair, Anderson’s 2021 was partially marred by a completely disfigured offense that ran through three starting quarterbacks and two offensive coordinators. But posting 519 yards on 53 grabs with a 48.2-percent catch rate still isn’t cutting it.

Will a name and number change help Robby Robbie get back to normal? Hopefully, or he may also experience a change of scenery.

RB Christian McCaffrey

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of extensions that have yet to pay off, here’s an even more hurtful one . . . literally.

After becoming just the third player in NFL history to record a season of 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in 2019, McCaffrey inked a pretty four-year, $64 million pact. Since, a bevy of different injuries—ranging from his shoulder to his thigh to his hammy to his ankle—has kept him out of 23 of a possible 33 games.

McCaffrey, however, certainly doesn’t have any problems producing when he’s actually on the field. Over the 10 contests he was in pads for, the dynamic back recorded 1,010 yards from scrimmage with eight total touchdowns.

But the fact that McCaffrey is the straw that stirs the drink on offense, the Panthers absolutely need him there to help prevent a fourth straight five-win campaign.

QB Sam Darnold

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Darnold is quite lucky to be playing for a team that can’t find a quarterback for the life of them. If he wasn’t, he probably would’ve solidified himself as a backup on just about any other roster.

He will, as crazy as this sounds, have one more chance to turn his career trajectory around in 2022. Given the Panthers’ only added competition under center is third-round pick Matt Corral—who won’t be fast-tracked to the spot—the former third overall selection remains the favorite to start.

But if something doesn’t click for Darnold, who is on the final year of his rookie contract, his next stop (if he can find one) will likely see him carrying a clipboard more often than the actual pigskin.

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