The Panthers’ initial 53-man roster for the 2017 regular season is comprised of all seven drafted rookies, one undrafted rookie, eight players signed in the offseason and 37 players who spent time on the roster in 2016.
Undrafted rookie cornerback Cole Luke made the team, as did three street free agents. Wide receiver Kaelin Clay was on injured reserve with the Ravens last season; guard Amini Silatolu was waived in the Bears’ final roster cutdown last season; and center Greg Van Roten signed on the eve of training camp after having been waived by the Jaguars in May.
Aside from players placed on injured reserve during the roster cutdown process, just three players who spent any time on the Panthers roster last season were let go – quarterback Joe Webb, punter Andy Lee and defensive end Larry Webster (called up from the practice squad in Week 17).
Here's a look at how each position group stacks up:
QUARTERBACKS (2): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
The Panthers went with just two quarterbacks – as the majority of the league usually does – for the first time since 2013 by parting ways with Webb. A jack of all trades who made his mark on special teams and behind the scenes as scout team quarterback, Webb had value but was a victim of the difficult decisions faced this time of year.
The decision to keep just two quarterbacks allowed the Panthers to keep one more running back than last season. A very strong preseason performance by Artis-Payne proved he’s capable of stepping into Stewart’s role if the veteran of nine NFL seasons were to go down. The Panthers went with youth at fullback, selecting sixth-round draft pick Alex Armah over six-season veteran Darrel Young in a close race.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel, Russell Shepard, Damiere Byrd, Kaelin Clay (Note: Shortly after the roster was set, Clay was traded to the Bills for cornerback Seymour Johnson.)
Byrd was viewed pretty close to a lock after he led the NFL with three preseason touchdown receptions, and further room was created when Brenton Bersin (shoulder) went on injured reserve. Look for a couple of receivers – perhaps Austin Duke and/or Keyarris Garrett - to land on the team’s 10-man practice squad.
This positon pretty much took care of itself when Scott Simonson (back) headed to injured reserve with a back injury. Regardless of that, Manhertz came on late in the preseason, including a five-catch performance in the final game of the preseason.
Again, injuries made the choices here a little more straightforward, with versatile guard Chris Scott (concussion), center Gino Gradkowski (shoulder), guard David Yankey (back) and tackle Dan France (concussion) now all on IR. Silatolu is the only backup officially listed as a guard, though he worked almost exclusively as tackle in the preseason. But Silatolu was drafted and has played extensively at guard, and Van Roten has notable experience there as well.
The front seven produced no surprises, with this group accounting for the only changes. Peppers is a change for the good, and the rookie Hall is a bit of a project but a talented one. Horton continues to stick around and not just because of his ability to set the edge in the run game. He’s also made strides as a pass rusher.
This is the same group as last year, though early on the unit might well require Peppers or Johnson to move inside for a few snaps. Butler is trying to work his way back in time for Week 1 from a knee injury suffered in the preseason opener but hasn’t practiced yet, and Love has been out most of the preseason with an ankle injury.
The same group that ended last season begins this season – minus free agent A.J. Klein, who signed with the Saints in the offseason. Mayo looks ready to claim Klein’s role as the top backup at all three spots if need be, while Cash, Norris and Jacobs should continue to be key cogs on special teams while remaining ready for defensive snaps if called upon.
The first 53-man roster doesn’t often remain exactly the same all the way through Week 1, and the secondary and the specialists look like the perfect spot for quick change. Special teams standout Colin Jones is the lone backup safety on the roster after the Panthers waived Dezmen Southward and placed L.J. McCray (quad) on IR. It seems doubtful that will continue to be the case.
It also seems doubtful that the Panthers would keep both kickers for the long term. The team has done it before, but that was when it kept Rhys Lloyd as a kickoff special in 2010 behind aging veteran John Kasay. That’s not the situation here, so look for it to be one or the other soon. The Panthers already made a tough call at punter.