POSITION REVIEW: The middle of the defensive front again set the tone, playing an indispensable role on the league's sixth-stingiest defense against the run. Fourth-year players Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei were the anchors of the unit, with rookie Vernon Butler and veterans Kyle Love and Paul Soliai taking turns as key rotational pieces. The group played a pivotal role in a pass rush that finished second in the NFL with 47 sacks.
STAT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Short's sack total of six may have seemed modest one year after he piled up 11, but it still represented the seventh-most among defensive tackles in the NFL. All told, Carolina defensive tackles accounted for 13 sacks. Only the Cowboys' defensive tackle group recorded more sacks in 2016.
PLAY OF THE YEAR: Lotulelei enjoyed a career game in Week 8 coming off Carolina's bye, sacking Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer three times on a day when the defense racked up eight. His first sack propelled the Panthers on their way, a strip-sack that resulted in a Thomas Davis 46-yard fumble return for a touchdown on the sixth play of what eventually added up to a 30-20 victory in a rematch of the previous year's NFC Championship.
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINE: All eyes will be on the front office's chosen course of action involving Short, a potential unrestricted free agent who has established himself as one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL. The Panthers could sign him to a new contract or use the franchise tag on him, or they could choose to let him test free agency. To keep Short off the open market, some form of action must be taken before the new league year begins March 9.
HOPE FOR 2017: The Panthers would love to roll with Short and Lotulelei – signed through next season – again this fall. It will be interesting to see how big of a step forward Butler, the team's first-round draft pick in 2016, is able to take in his second season. Whatever the rotation, the Panthers need more of the same from the tackle group if they intend to be a top-10 defense for the fifth time in six years.
View photos of the defensive tackles in action during the 2016 season.