Which positions have the Carolina Panthers improved most this offseason?

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The Panthers will resume their OTA workouts tomorrow, taking the next step towards the 2021 season. June 1 is a significant date on the NFL calendar for a number of reasons, so now’s a good time to reflect on where the team is heading into the summer months.

For Carolina, this offseason has been all about upgrading a young roster with an eye on fundamentally changing how they can play defense. Here is a look at the three positions that the Panthers have improved most since last season.

Cornerback

Lost: Rasul Douglas, Corn Elder

Gained: Jaycee Horn, Keith Taylor, Rashaan Melvin, A.J. Bouye

Clearly, the No. 1 priority on general manager Scott Fitterer’s list was upgrading what was an unreliable cornerback room in 2020. No longer having Elder at nickel may sting, but only if they don’t use their personnel right. After investing significant resources at the position, there’s more than enough firepower to go around, here.

In free agency, the Panthers picked up Bouye and Melvin – two solid veterans who may be past their prime but came on cheap, short-term deals. In the draft, Carolina added two rookies with Horn and Taylor – both long, physical, lanky Seattle type corners who can press.

If the plan is to start Horn and Bouye outside and slide Donte Jackson inside to cover the slot there’s a real chance this cornerback group could go from liability to strength. Putting that group out there together should enable defensive coordinator Phil Snow to be far more aggressive using man coverage following a zone-heavy 2020 campaign.

Linebacker

Lost: Tahir Whitehead, Adarius Taylor

Gained: Denzel Perryman, Haason Reddick, Frankie Luvu, Paddy Fisher

Another spot that got a nice boost was linebacker – both the inside and outside versions. Going from Whitehead as the starting Mike to Perryman might be the single-most impactful move the team makes this year defensively. At the very least, Perryman is a far more efficient tackler and light years ahead in coverage. If things don’t work out with Perryman or he gets injured again, they still have an excellent backup in Jermaine Carter.

Outside, the Panthers helped their pass rush by signing Reddick – who posted 12.5 sacks and 16 QB hits last season after moving out to the edge in Arizona. If he comes anywhere close to repeating those numbers, the one-year, $6 milllion deal he signed for will be a steal.

Tight end

Lost: Chris Manhertz

Gained: Dan Arnold, Tommy Tremble

Offensively, the Panthers made huge changes at quarterback, left tackle and wide receiver, but it remains to be seen if those moves have actually made them better. That said, on paper it’s pretty clear that Carolina is deeper at tight end compared to last year.

Manhertz may be one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. However, he’ll turn 30 in a couple weeks and most likely won’t be effective much longer. The Panthers should get an effective replacement with Tremble, who has been dubbed the best blocking tight end in college football. If he lives up to that billing, Manhertz won’t be missed.

Like the Reddick acquisition, signing Arnold for two years and $6 million could be another significant under-the-radar steal in free agency. Arnold posted four touchdowns and 438 yards for the Cards last year. Similar production would be a step up compared to what the Panthers have gotten from this spot since Greg Olsen’s foot injuries began in 2017.

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