Breaking down the 53-man roster

View headshots of every player on the roster entering the new season.

The Panthers' initial 53-man roster for the 2018 regular season is comprised of seven of the team's eight drafted rookies, seven veterans added via free agency or trades, one 2017 practice squad player, one undrafted rookie and 37 players who spent time on the roster in 2017.

The practice squad player (defensive end Efe Obada) and the undrafted rookie (guard Brendan Mahon) were among those who beat the odds to survive the cutdown from 90. The play of Obada and Bryan Cox Jr. in the preseason compelled Carolina to keep a 10th defensive lineman for the first time in the Ron Rivera era, even with the team parting ways with defensive end Daeshon Hall – a third-round choice in 2017.

Hall was among five players who recorded snaps during the 2017 regular season let go, along with wide receiver Mose Frazier, cornerback LaDarius Gunter and safeties Demetrious Cox and Dezmen Southward.

Here's a look at how each position group stacks up:

QUARTERBACKS (2): Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke

Heinicke was the sole survivor in a spirited competition with Garrett Gilbert, in the process becoming Newton's new backup. Heinicke showed steady improvement in a Norv Turner offense he already knew well from their time together in Minnesota, and he showed off a mobility that helped set him apart. Heinicke finished the preseason with a gaudy 102.0 quarterback rating, completing 24 of 36 passes for 323 yards with two passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one interception that was a bit fluky in nature. For the first time in Newton's career, he'll start the season with a backup other than Derek Anderson.

RUNNING BACKS (4): Christian McCaffrey, C.J. Anderson, Cameron Artis-Payne, Alex Armah

The decision in the initial wave of cuts Friday to part ways with veteran Kenjon Barner made Saturday's announcement anticlimactic. Artis-Payne once again impressed in the preseason, and with the Panthers opting not to keep a change-of-pace back like Fozzy Whittaker (on injured reserve), perhaps this is the year Artis-Payne gets more touches. Or perhaps not with the Panthers adding a 1,000-yard back in Anderson this offseason. Still, he's a valuable piece to possess.

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WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, DJ Moore, Jarius Wright, Curtis Samuel, Damiere Byrd

The Panthers passing on Barner and their decision to keep just two quarterbacks assured there was room for Byrd, though the speedster certainly deserves credit for again impressing to the point that the Panthers worked to make room for him. The group looks decidedly different and frankly better than it did on roster cutdown day a year ago – and a whole lot faster.

TIGHT ENDS (3): Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz

This was the trio the Panthers planned to feature all along – as long as Manhertz was ready. Jason Vander Laan flashed but couldn't stay healthy, and Evan Baylis and Cam Serigne had their moments. But when Manhertz came off the Physically Unable to Perform list Friday after missing all of preseason with a foot injury, that made Carolina's decision a straightforward one.

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OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10): Ryan Kalil (C), Matt Kalil (T), Daryl Williams (T), Trai Turner (G), Greg Van Roten (G), Taylor Moton (T) Amini Silatolu (G), Tyler Larsen (C), Brendan Mahon (G), Corey Robinson (T)

The Panthers kept 10 linemen for the first time since 2014, necessitated by injuries but also brought on by the play of those who made the cut. The final addition came hours before cuts with the acquisition of tackle Corey Robinson to shore up an injury-ravage spot. Tackle fill-in Jeremiah Sirles had to be placed on injured reserve, but the Panthers still parted ways with tackle hopefuls Blaine Clausell and Dorian Johnson after trading for Robinson while finding room for the versatile Mahon as the lone undrafted rookie on the roster.

DEFENSIVE ENDS (6): Mario Addison, Julius Peppers, Wes Horton, Marquis Haynes, Bryan Cox Jr., Efe Obada

It seemed throughout the preseason that there would only be space for either Hall, Cox or Obada, but the Panthers carved out space for the two more unheralded players while moving on from Hall. Cox seemed to have the edge for the fifth and believed-to-be final spot, but the feel-good story of Obada – a charter member of the NFL's International Player Pathway Program – has reached another milestone after the native of Nigera just kept making plays throughout the preseason.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES (4): Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler, Kyle Love

This was the most predictable group alongside the specialists, and that's a good thing when you start with the likes of Short and Poe. The Panthers signed Poe as an unrestricted free agent after the Bills did the same with former Panthers space-eater Star Lotulelei, and stability immediately returned. Defensive coordinator Eric Washington does want to rotate heavily at this spot though, so the Panthers need the best year out of Butler – a first-round pick in 2016 – and one more year out of the veteran Love. Seventh-rounder Kendrick Norton was the lone drafted rookie not to make the roster; perhaps he'll land on the 10-man practice squad that will be set over the next couple of days.

LINEBACKERS (7): Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, David Mayo, Jermaine Carter, Andre Smith, Jared Norris, Ben Jacobs

Where is Thomas Davis' name? Don't fret. Of course it's a blow that he'll serve a four-game suspension to start the season, but that means he doesn't count against the 53 until he returns. That further opened the door for the Panthers to keep both drafted rookies (Carter, Smith), who should have significant special teams roles right away along with veterans Norris and Jacobs. And as Rivera predicted, Luke Kuechly did make the team.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (8): James Bradberry (CB), Mike Adams (S), Da'Norris Searcy (S), Captain Munnerlyn (CB), Donte Jackson (CB), Rashaan Gaulden (S), Colin Jones (S), Corn Elder (CB)

As competitive a position group as there was throughout the preseason, there wasn't quite enough room for OTA darling Lorenzo Doss, even with Kevon Seymour now joining training camp casualty Ross Cockrell on injured reserve. Elder was the one player that didn't seem locked into a roster spot to survive, with the 2017 fifth-round pick's interception against the Dolphins ranking as one of the preseason's best plays.

SPECIALISTS (3): Graham Gano, Michael Palardy, J.J. Jansen

The definition of a no-brainer given that these were the only three on the 90-man roster coming off standout efforts in 2017. It's the polar opposite of 2017, when the kicking position came down to the wire and then some with the Panthers briefly carrying two kickers, one of which (Harrison Butker) now works for the Chiefs. Gano missed just one field goal last season.

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