It’s cutdown week in the NFL. By the end of the week, the Panthers will have to reduce their roster from 79 players at press time to a final 53.
Unlike other seasons, there aren’t four preseason games’ worth of performance — and playing time — to use as a guide for projecting who will be cut and who will earn a jersey on opening day.
With expectations for the season low — by Panthers’ standards — and the team going through a roster turnover, there’s also a good chance that some of the players on the final 53 are currently employed by other teams. The Panthers will likely be busy shoppers on the waiver wire as they keep track of other teams’ cuts in an effort to upgrade their roster.
Here’s our best guess as to which players on the current Carolina roster will survive the cutdown.
Quarterback (3): There’s little drama here other than whether P.J. Walker or Will Grier will be Teddy Bridgewater’s backup. But all three are clearly on the team. Our guess is Walker starts off ahead of Grier on the depth chart.
Running back (4): Much of the drama was removed from this position last week when Jordan Scarlett was cut. Of the remaining backs, Christian McCaffrey is a lock. Three of the remaining four contenders should make the team: Mike Davis, Alex Armah, Reggie Bonnafon and Trenton Cannon. Davis has impressed in camp and gone from a long shot to a near sure thing. Armah has earned praise from coaches for his versatility. Cannon was acquired from the Jets at the start of August and may beat out Bonnafon. Both have similar levels of experience, but Bonnafon is a holdover from the previous administration and Cannon was brought in by the new group.
Wide receiver (7): The only question here seems to be whether Keith Kirkwood, currently sidelined with a broken clavicle, makes the active roster or is sent to PUP or IR. If they take him off the active roster, it will be to use the roster spot elsewhere and try to make do with six receivers. We have DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, Kirkwood, Brandon Zylstra, Pharoh Cooper and Seth Roberts making it.
Tight end (3): This seems like one of those spots ripe for a waiver wire pickup to knock someone off the roster. As it stands, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz and Temarrick Hemingway are in, with Hemingway most likely to get a late release if the Panthers’ front office finds someone.
Offensive line (9): This is the position likely to benefit if the Panthers put Kirkwood on PUP. Former Baylor player Sam Tecklenburg is a former Baylor player and a Matt Rhule favorite. He’d be the 10th man on the line. As of now, we have Russell Okung, Taylor Moton, John Miller, Dennis Daley, Matt Paradis, Greg Little, Michael Schofield, Chris Reed and Tyler Larsen on the team.
Defensive line (9): This group is young, but the top nine appears to be set. Derrick Brown, Kawann Short, Brian Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, Stephen Weatherly, Efe Obada, Zach Kerr, Bravvion Roy and Marquis Haynes should be on the team.
Linebacker (6): If the Panthers keep an extra defensive lineman (Bruce Hector, for instance) or defensive back (Myles Hartsfield possibly), it will be at the expense of recently acquired Julian Stanford. The team may also replace Stanford with a waiver pickup later in the week, but for now, we have him on the team along with Shaq Thompson, Tahir Whitehead, Adarius Taylor, Jordan Kunaszyk and Jermaine Carter. The team would also love to get Chris Orr on the roster but may take its chances with getting him to the practice squad.
Secondary (9): Carter, Stanford and many of the other roster bubble players will be looking to this unit to see if the Panthers want to bolster a weaker position by keeping a 10th defensive back. Eli Apple, Donte Jackson, T.J. Green, Corn Elder and Troy Pride Jr. are in at corner. Tre Boston, Juston Burris and Kenny Robinson are in at safety. Jeremy Chinn can float between linebacker and DB and is on the team. That’s nine. That leaves seventh-round pick Stantley Thomas-Oliver and Hartsfield, an intriguing running back/defensive back, on the outside. Hartsfield has the better shot of finding his way on the roster, but we have him starting on the practice squad.
Special teams (3): Snapper J.J. Jansen and kicker Joey Slye are in. The final spot comes down to punter Joseph Charlton and kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik. Versatility seems to be the order of the day in the coronavirus NFL, so we’re giving the nod to Vedvik over Charlton.