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Three Questions: 2017 Defensive ends

Posted Jul 10, 2017

The return of Julius Peppers should strengthen a group that helped the Panthers rank second in sacks last season but that hopes to help more.

The Panthers quietly ranked second in the NFL in sacks last season – quiet because of the lack of success on the scoreboard and because the position most identified with sacks was quiet at times. Carolina's defensive ends produced 23 of the team's 47 sacks; by comparison, Seattle's defensive ends recorded 30 of the team's 42 sacks. The group should be boosted, though, by the addition of a surefire Hall of Famer and franchise legend.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. What do Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson have left in the tank?

With Peppers - selected second overall in the 2002 draft by Carolina - back after spending seven years in the NFC North, the Panthers have their top two sack artists of all time on the roster. The 37-year old appears to be an ageless wonder: Peppers has averaged 9.6 sacks over his 15-year career, including 8.3 per season over the last three in Green Bay despite limited snaps at times.

While Peppers hasn't missed a game since 2007, Johnson has missed nine games over the last two seasons and is coming off offseason back surgery. Johnson had just four sacks last season but was re-signed because he's still disruptive when healthy; he led the team with 25 quarterback pressures in 2016.

2. Is Mario Addison ready to take the next step?

The Panthers wasted little time this offseason signing the potential unrestricted free agent to a three-year contract. Addison led the team with 9.5 sacks in 2016 despite starting just one game, ranking as the NFL's most productive third-down pass rusher according to Pro Football Focus. The Panthers believe Addison is ready to become a more complete defensive end. He still might not officially start, but he sure knows how to finish.

3. What about the depth?

Addison was the only consistent performer at the position last season with Johnson and Ryan Delaire slowed by injuries, since-traded Kony Ealy struggling with inconsistency, and Wes Horton on and off the roster as need developed. Horton developed his game with his latest opportunity, and the Panthers still believe Delaire has a chance to become a contributor. They're also excited about the future of rookie Daeshon Hall, and Larry Webster has shown some signs of becoming a factor.