CHARLOTTE — Longtime NFL executive and Pro Football Hall of Famer Gil Brandt looked south in his most recent article on NFL.com, listing the NFL's 11 most versatile players.
The top two players on the list came from the same team in the NFC South. And no, one of them is not the Saints' Taysom Hill.
Brandt lists Panthers' "linebacker" Jeremy Chinn as No. 1 and "running back"Christian McCaffrey as No. 2.
His argument for Chinn: "Every once in a while, a player with elite pro potential will slip through the cracks at the college level, and it appears this is what happened with Chinn, a second-round pick out of Southern Illinois last year who emerged as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate while proving himself to be exactly the kind of player every defensive coordinator should be seeking in the modern NFL. Chinn is a back-seven defender who can match up against basically anyone, whether he's functioning as a linebacker, safety or slot defender. The offseason additions of run-stuffing linebacker Denzel Perryman and pass rusher Haason Reddick should give defensive coordinator Phil Snow even more options when it comes to taking advantage of Chinn's skill set."
His argument for McCaffrey: "McCaffrey's spot could be justified by his 2019 season alone, considering he became one of just three players in NFL history to top 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. He basically was the Panthers' offense that year, accumulating a whopping 142 targets and 287 carries while breaking his own record for catches by a running back (with 116, topping his mark of 107 in 2018). It would not be surprising if McCaffrey's workload were to shrink a bit, given that he's coming off a season in which injuries cost him all but three games, but it's tough to conceive of an offensive player who can come close to achieving his status as a do-everything monster."
Breaking it down: Panthers fans may have been a little chapped that Chinn didn't win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season after becoming the first player in franchise history to win multiple Defensive Rookie of the Month awards. But Brandt and many others around the league have shown an appreciation for Chinn's production in a first-year circumstance where he played a number of roles at the second and third level of the defense. Chinn's production was record-setting on its own — doing it from multiple positions certainly earns him praise for versatility.
While Chinn was moving around the defense, McCaffrey was proving just how hard he is to guard, even when he is a focal point. His 1,000-1,000 season in 2019 came amongst attrition among several offensive weapons and blockers when defenses were focused on him. Last year, he still scored six touchdowns despite playing in just three games.
The verdict: This offseason, head coach Matt Rhule has said of Chinn: "I would anticipate us doing what we did last year, moving him around. I think when you've got a chess piece like that, you've got to utilize his versatility." Chinn spent more time with the secondary players during OTAs and minicamp, but just how much he will be moving around this year likely hinges on the players around him and opponent matchups.
When it comes to McCaffrey, his production hinges on being back to full speed. He said that returning to the field this spring felt good and was "something I'll never take for granted again." McCaffrey at full strength means more zone reads, stretch runs and option routes turning linebackers into turnstiles. Sounds pretty versatile to me.
View headshot photos in numerical order of all the Panthers players currently on the roster before 2021 training camp.