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53-man roster breakdown: Panthers still taking shape

Team huddle

It's far from a finished product, though, which makes them a little hesitant to make too many declarations.

They'll adjust throughout the next week and a half, picking up players and waiving others, but the first version of this roster has some defining traits.

For starters, it's very young. Of the 18 draft picks from the last two classes, 15 of them are on the roster as presently constructed.

They kept a lot of rookies last year out of necessity. This year's more by choice, as several young players have already found significant roles.

Here's a position-by-position look at the roster, as of Tuesday's deadline.

Quarterbacks (2): Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker.

Cutting Will Grier was among the more interesting moves Tuesday.

Even though the league's COVID-19 restrictions aren't as tight as they were last season, having a third quarterback around still seems like a good idea, but Rhule said he was comfortable going with two into the regular season.

Grier played well in the preseason, but began camp behind Walker, and apparently never did enough to pass him in the pecking order. There's still a chance he could return to the practice squad, or they could find someone else. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule mentioned liking the theory of having a veteran backup for Darnold, but it was more of a factor of finding the right backup as opposed to just having another one on the roster.

Offensive line (9): Cameron Erving, Pat Elflein, Matt Paradis, John Miller, Taylor Moton, Trent Scott, Dennis Daley, Deonte Brown, Brady Christensen.

This position unfolded as expected, though there could still be some change to this group depending on what happens with other rosters.

They settled on their starting five, and though Brown and Christensen had solid rookie training camps, they're still rookies, and there's a reflexive tendency by coaches to lean toward veterans.

Daley appears to be the sixth-man at this point, able to slide into the starting lineup at guard or tackle if there's an injury. Scott had some tough spots in the preseason, but has experience starting at tackle, and at the moment, that's not something they can take for granted, since Erving has never played all 16 games in a season.

Wide receivers (6): DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., David Moore, Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith.

Depending on the severity of Smith's injury, he could go on injured reserve now that he's on the 53-man roster, and be back in as few as three weeks.

The Panthers are settled at the top, and Zylstra remains a core special teams player.

Moore had an up-and-down camp, but his experience and his return ability gave him an edge over C.J. Saunders.

Tight ends (5): Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Colin Thompson, Giovanni Ricci.

Keeping an extra one here speaks to the usage they're hoping for this season, and they're also experimenting with Ricci (another key special teams player) as a fullback.

They're going to go with multiple tight ends on the field often this year, so keeping more bodies around is practically a requirement.

Running backs (3): Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Trenton Cannon.

Cannon's here for his special teams ability, and took all his offseason work with the receivers, so he's hard to characterize.

Hubbard effectively cemented the backup position behind McCaffrey, which made the rest of the depth chart a bit less imperative. Rodney Smith and Reggie Bonnafon were dealing with injuries late in the preseason, making it hard to evaluate them compared to others.

Are they thin at this position? They are. Will McCaffrey take most of the work anyway? He will.

Defensive line (10): Brian Burns, DaQuan Jones, Derrick Brown, Morgan Fox, Marquis Haynes Sr., Yetur Gross-Matos, Darryl Johnson, Bravvion Roy, Daviyon Nixon, Phil Hoskins.

They were already reasonably deep here, and that was before trading for Johnson Monday.

Remember, assistant general manager Dan Morgan was in Buffalo, so he saw the value Johnson adds as a special teams player in addition to another live body who can rush the passer.

The influx of talent here over the last three years has been significant, and bringing in Jones and Fox lends some gravity to a young group which they hope to build around.

Linebackers (6): Shaq Thompson, Jermaine Carter, Haason Reddick, Frankie Luvu, Julian Stanford, Clay Johnston.

This position is still in a bit of flux.

They could use an experienced inside linebacker, after releasing Josh Bynes.

The other guys all have some degree of positional flexibility, but they went into the offseason with a stated goal of having someone to take some reps off Thompson's plate, allowing him to be fresher late in the season. They don't really have that at the moment.

Luvu was one of the shining stars of training camp and the preseason, and offers them another talented pass-rusher. They think he could offer some help at one of the inside spots, but that's a bit of a projection as opposed to a natural fit.

Cornerbacks (4): Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, Keith Taylor, Stantley Thomas-Oliver III.

AJ Bouye will be back in two weeks, when he finishes up last year's suspension. He's a key piece for them, able to play nickel and add some experience around Horn. When he returns, they have a decision to make on a young player, and Taylor has a good rookie training camp.

Melvin's release leaves them extremely young for the first two games against the Jets and Saints, but it's a group that's also bigger, faster, and more talented than it was a year ago.

Safeties (5): Jeremy Chinn, Juston Burris, Sam Franklin Jr., Myles Hartsfield, Sean Chandler.

They go a little heavy here, since Chinn's still going to play a multi-faceted role.

Hartsfield appears set to be the nickel for at least the first two weeks while Bouye is out, and he has a unique set of skills that they keep finding ways to use.

Chandler's another player who makes a living on special teams. Burris was held out of practice Tuesday with a minor hip issue, but his absence isn't going to be a long-term one.

Specialists (3): K Ryan Santoso, P Joseph Charlton, LS JJ Jansen.

Santoso's the kicker for now, but they still want to see some things from him before committing. If he's on the roster for the first two regular season games, they owe the Giants a seventh-round pick next year, so they want to continue to evaluate.

Charlton has become dependable already, and has the kind of hang time that makes even the punts that look unorthodox effective.

The decision on long snappers became moot when rookie Thomas Fletcher went on injured reserve with a hip problem, but Jansen was so steady and effective this preseason it was leaning his way anyway. Fletcher will get to watch a true professional all year, and try again next year.

See pictures of the Panthers initial 53-man roster after moves were made on Tuesday.

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