Breaking down the 53-man roster

View photos of Carolina's 53-man roster entering the regular season.

Coming off a highly successful 2015 season, it proved exceedingly difficult for rookies to crack the Panthers' 53-man roster, but five of them managed to make the cut.

With 43 players on the roster who have previous experience with the Panthers, cornerback Zack Sanchez and tight end Beau Sandland became the first draft picks in Dave Gettleman's four seasons as general manager to fall short. Two undrafted rookies– linebackers Jeremy Cash and Jared Norris – did make the squad.

Gettleman said earlier in the week that every effort would be made to keep the best 53 football players, and the numbers at each position bear that out. For the first time under Gettleman, the Panthers kept six wide receivers (they kept five the previous three years) and seven linebackers (they kept six previously). Also, Carolina is carrying just three tight ends after rostering four the previous three years.

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

QUARTERBACKS (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb

Despite the high level of stability throughout the roster, this is the one position that is exactly the same as this time last year. This marks the third consecutive season with this trio, with Webb having increased his value last season by becoming a key cog on several special teams units.

RUNNING BACKS (4): Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne

The one change in this group was the no-doubt difficult decision to not roster second-year back Brandon Wegher, a move necessary to get the desired depth at other positions. The Panthers had a history of keeping four or fewer running backs before last year, and these four all have indispensable roles, including what will likely be an expanded role for Artis-Payne in his second season behind workhorse Stewart.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn, Jr., Devin Funchess, Philly Brown, Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd

Some wondered if the Panthers could possibly have room for both Bersin and Byrd, but the two basically gave Carolina no choice. Both were outstanding in the preseason, with Bersin a perfect fit for the role Jerricho Cotchery played last season and with Byrd possibly pushing to be the Panthers' starting punt returner. Kevin Norwood had a good preseason before a hip injury landed him on injured reserve, and undrafted rookie Keyarris Garrett finished strong and seems like a strong candidate for the 10-man practice squad that soon will be signed.

TIGHT ENDS (3): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Scott Simonson

The position had plenty of talent but just not enough room for all of it and ended up holding onto just the three players on the roster at the end of last season. Marcus Lucas made a real run at it as a pass catcher, and Sandland seemed to have a good shot if nothing else because he was a drafted rookie, but the numbers game got the best of them. Former Australian Rules Football standout Eric Wallace simply didn't have enough time to realistically work his way into the mix.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9): Ryan Kalil (C), Michael Oher (OT), Mike Remmers (OT), Trai Turner (G), Andrew Norwell (G), Gino Gradkowski (C), Daryl Williams (OT), Donald Hawkins (OT), Tyler Larsen (G)

While the top seven were virtual locks, the final two were surely difficult decisions made a bit easier by guard Chris Scott being suspended for four games and tackle Jordan Rigsbee going on injured reserve with a knee injury. Hawkins – signed to a free agent deal in January after the 49ers didn't retain him from their practice squad - impressed throughout the preseason. Larsen, who had been out of football since Washington waived him in last year's final roster cutdown, beat out David Yankey, who was on Minnesota's practice squad last season. Gradkowski or Williams could help at guard if need be.

DEFENSIVE ENDS (5): Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Ryan Delaire, Wes Horton

The Panthers had high hopes for 2015 signees Rakim Cox and Arthur Miley entering the offseason, but at the end of the day, more known quantities made the roster. Addison returns to his role as a pass rush specialist and Horton to his role as a run-stopping specialist, and the Panthers hope Delaire continues to develop into someone who can contribute in all situations behind starters Johnson and Ealy.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES (4): Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Paul Soliai, Vernon Butler

Such a talented group, one that left veteran Kyle Love as the odd man out. Soliai is one of just two notable veteran offseason signings to make the roster. While the other one, Gradkowski, would likely only make a major impact if Kalil were to suffer an injury. Soliai could be a significant difference maker each week. Same goes for Butler, the Panthers' first-round draft choice.

LINEBACKERS (7): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, A.J. Klein, David Mayo, Jeremy Cash, Jared Norris

Much of the recent debate at this position revolved around whether the Panthers would be able to accommodate Cash, an undrafted rookie who had made major contributions on special teams and major strides in his transition from safety. Some believed it would come down to Cash and special teams stalwart Ben Jacobs, but Jacobs ended up on injured reserve with a quad injury and the Panthers still found room for Norris, another undrafted rookie who averaged more than 100 tackles a season his last two years at the University of Utah.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (9): James Bradberry (CB), Daryl Worley (CB), Kurt Coleman (S), Tre Boston (S), Bene Benwikere (CB), Robert McClain (CB), Teddy Williams (CB), Colin Jones (S), Dean Marlowe (S)

Probably the biggest surprise of cut day was the decision to part ways with Sanchez, the Panthers' fifth-round rookie, but two veterans that the Panthers felt like they had to keep sealed his fate. The Panthers need Robert McClain, a veteran corner standing at the ready if a rookie starter stumbles, and Teddy Williams beat Sanchez out because of his special teams acumen and difference-making speed.

SPECIALISTS (3):Graham Gano, Andy Lee, J.J. Jansen

The new version of "The Bomb Squad" looks every bit as strong as last year's group. Gano and Jansen are joined by a new punter who certainly is anything but new to the pressures of the position. Lee, in his 13th NFL season, looked awfully good in his Panthers' debut, days after the Panthers traded for him.

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