Overlooked Panthers players who can break out at training camp and help this season

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The start of NFL training camp gives players the opportunity to show that they deserve a roster spot.

Let the opportunity begin.

There’s always a player or two who surprises the coaches and fans, a player who’s not as well known but puts together an incredibly strong few weeks, performs well and earns a spot on the training camp roster — or at least the practice squad.

There is no shortage of new players on the Carolina Panthers’ roster, and there are plenty of starting roles to be earned. Someone will surprise, whether they are expected to perform or are completely off the radar — for now.

Here are some players with breakout potential.

TE Dan Arnold

Yes, Dan Arnold will get attention no matter what, being in the mix for the starting tight end job. However, Arnold has a chance to become someone fans latch onto during training camp. The search for Greg Olsen’s replacement continues after Ian Thomas’ lack of production last year. Arnold has the potential to make flashy end zone grabs and already showed off his catch radius during OTAs and minicamp. General manager Scott Fitterer pointed to Arnold as someone who impressed during the offseason program.

Coordinator Joe Brady said that a key part of his offense is integrating the tight end position, especially in the middle of the field. Finding a reliable player in that area for Sam Darnold is even more vital this year due to the departure of wide receiver Curtis Samuel. Arnold has the potential to be that player and could show off some of that ability in camp.

RB Rodney Smith

The backup running back competition will be one of the more interesting battles to watch over the course of camp. Naturally, outside of Christian McCaffrey, fourth-round pick Chuba Hubbard will get plenty of attention at the position, but there are other talented players.

Another running back who could make the case with a solid camp is Rodney Smith, signed as an undrafted free agent last year out of Minnesota. Smith spent time on and off the team’s practice squad and roster, but has developed well. He was a good compliment to Mike Davis at times last year, averaging 4.3 yards per touch.

McCaffrey will always be the focus at the position, but building depth behind him is crucial, as seen in 2020 with the All-Pro missing 13 games.

WR Micah Simon

The wide receiver position is one of the deepest on the Panthers’ roster headed into training camp, despite the departure of Samuel this offseason. The team addressed the position in the draft with second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. and by using a late draft pick on South Carolina receiver Shi Smith.

With DJ Moore and Robby Anderson locked into starting roles, Marshall and free agent addition David Moore are both solid options as slot receivers. That means the competition for the remaining spots on the roster for both receivers and/or returners will be tight. Keith Kirkwood, Brandon Zylstra, Ishmael Hyman and Omar Bayless will also be among those competing for a role.

Simon caught the team’s attention at BYU’s pro day, running a 4.34 40-yard dash. He went undrafted last year, but has the potential to help fill a Samuel-type role. In addition to 51 receptions for 616 yards and two receiving touchdowns in 2019, he also had two rushing touchdowns. The competition at receiver will be one of many to watch.

Additional offensive breakout candidate: OL Deonte Brown

DT DaQuan Jones

Expect to hear DaQuan Jones’ name more and more going forward. The Panthers signed the veteran defensive tackle in free agency after he spent his first seven years in the league with the Tennessee Titans. Signing Jones filled a major position of need after the release of Kawann Short following consecutive season-ending shoulder surgeries. Luke Kuechly referred to Jones’ signing as one of the team’s more exciting moves of the offseason, during an event with The Charlotte Touchdown Club this summer, and was referenced by coach Matt Rhule as a veteran player that younger defenders can look to as an example.

Giving second-year player Derrick Brown some help in the middle of the line was key for the team this offseason. Jones is expected to fill that role and will get a chance to show why during camp.

DE Marquis Haynes

With the improvements to the defensive line in the offseason, fourth-year player Marquis Haynes has once again blended into the back of the conversation regarding the Panthers’ roster. Haynes is also a candidate to be on the roster bubble when it comes down to picking the final 53, but he also has the capability to put together a solid case for himself to make the roster.

He had four sacks last season on a defense that struggled to generate pressure consistently until the end of the year. In the final year of his rookie deal, Haynes has a big camp ahead one way or another.

Additional defensive breakout candidate: LB Frankie Luvu