Skip to main content

2022 Roster Breakdown: Decisions loom after preseason finale


CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are heading into a weekend full of decisions.

In the hours after Friday's preseason finale against the Bills, they'll have to take the roster from 80 to 53 before next Tuesday's deadline. And it's not nearly as simple as picking the best 53 players, because you have a lot of needs to fill while trying to maintain a balance between known commodities and young players you want to develop.

So when looking at how they'll put a roster together, you have to consider how they put together the best possible offense and defense, but also a punt coverage team that they can rely on.

Injuries have already complicated some decisions they were going to make (rookie quarterback Matt Corral going on IR likely changed the number of quarterbacks they keep), but some shorter-term issues will also change how they put things together next week. We will say it many times, even though people call these "final cuts," there's nothing final about the roster from the day they get to the 53 (Aug. 30) to the day they kick off against the Browns (Sept. 11).

With all that said, taking a look at the roster on a position-by-position basis can be helpful, so you can see which players are on the bubble and which ones can still secure a job for themselves in Friday night's game. The starters are going to play a quarter or so, and most of the starting jobs are settled. But with a number of decisions to make about depth, the Bills game will still be a valuable tool for them as they consider how to get to a regular season roster.


Last year kept: 2

Currently on roster (3): Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and PJ Walker.

The initial plan was to keep three this year, but that was when one of them was Corral. His season-ending foot injury last week threw a kink in that plan, and they'll likely revert to the standard number. Walker has won games when he's started in the regular season, but turns the ball over too much, and Darnold's coming off a good camp, despite not winning the battle for the starting job.


Last year kept: 9

Currently on roster (13): Ikem Ekwonu, Brady Christensen, Pat Elflein, Austin Corbett, Taylor Moton, Cameron Erving, Bradley Bozeman, Michael Jordan, Cade Mays, Dennis Daley, Deonte Brown, Sam Tecklenburg, and Mike Horton.

Sometimes you'd like to keep 10, depending on needs at other positions. This year offers some unique situations at other spots, so they might have to go a little lighter than they'd like. Either way, it's night and day from last year, when they started the year thin and kept getting thinner (starting 14 different lines in 17 games). With a starting lineup that looks like (l-r) Ekwonu-Christensen-Elflein-Corbett-Moton, the Panthers can look at the rest of the group and see that guys not in the starting five had a combined 45 starts in the league last season (Erving 9, Jordan 10, Bozeman 16, Daley 9, Tecklenburg 1), and they added a versatile rookie in Mays who could develop into a starter down the line. It's alarming how far this group has come in a year.

Ikem Ekwonu, Brady Christensen


Last year kept: 6

Currently on roster (12): DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, Rashard Higgins, Shi Smith, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Andre Roberts, Keith Kirkwood, C.J. Saunders, Derek Wright, Charleston Rambo, and Ra'Shaun Henry.

This is where it gets interesting, and how you define terms and titles makes a difference. If you keep six, including Pro Bowl returner Andre Roberts, then someone who played a key role last year or someone they have plans for is getting cut. But since Roberts isn't really a contributor on offense, if you put him out there in the "specialists" category, you can still comfortably keep six; you just have to find Roberts' spot from some other position.

Beyond the starters, Higgins has been reliable throughout camp. Smith has flashed and has the ability to get open in tight spaces. Marshall's among the most talented but hasn't been able to stay on the field. Zylstra is one of the best special teams players on the roster, and that matters a lot. Saunders was having a good camp until an ill-timed injury seemed to steal some momentum, and Wright stepped into the void as the undersized undrafted guy who you can see them keeping around in some capacity because he always shows up on tape.

Shi Smith


Last year kept: 5

Currently on roster (6): Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Giovanni Ricci, Stephen Sullivan, Colin Thompson, and Josh Babicz.

They didn't stay with five long last season, trading Dan Arnold to Jacksonville in September in the CJ Henderson deal (which looks better now than it did last fall). This group is hard to get a read on this year, because so many of them have been hurt through camp. Thomas is a steady blocker who hasn't added the pass-catching to his resume many anticipated. Tremble's still a multi-purpose player who hasn't stepped into a larger role yet, either. Ricci can play fullback and is also a core special teamer, so his roster spot is secure. Beyond that, it's a lot unknown. Sullivan has size and talent, but had an unfortunate turnover last week. They'd probably like to keep four, but at the moment, it's hard to know if the fourth one is already here or not.


Last year kept: 3

Currently on roster (5): Christian McCaffrey, D'Onta Foreman, Chuba Hubbard, Spencer Brown, and John Lovett.

They actually had two on the roster for the 2021 opener (McCaffrey and Hubbard), as special-teamer Trenton Cannon made the initial 53 but was let go before the first game. Foreman provides a more physical complement to McCaffrey and has looked good in short-yardage work in camp. He stood out on his own last year in Tennessee when Derrick Henry was hurt. Brown was having a good camp on offense and special teams before he injured his ankle last week, and that could complicate things when they start making cuts this weekend.

Spencer Brown


Last year kept: 10

Currently on roster (14): DE Brian Burns, DT Matt Ioannidis, DT Derrick Brown, DE Yetur Gross-Matos, DE Marquis Haynes Sr., DE Amaré Barno, DE Darryl Johnson, DE Austin Larkin, DE Drew Jordan , DT Daviyon Nixon, DT Bravvion Roy, DT Phil Hoskins, DT Frank Herron, DT Marquan McCall.

Perhaps more than any spot, this is where the Panthers could line someone up against the Browns who is not on the roster at the moment. The defensive tackles thin out quickly behind the starters, and there are always veterans available at that position this time of year. There are individual things to like about Nixon, Roy, and Hoskins (and even Herron and McCall), but they have thus far been unable to combine all those traits into a single person they can put on the field at one time. There's also a chance they go find some defensive end depth elsewhere. Haynes is solid as a third end, and Barno has had an impressive rookie camp. But if they have 10 linemen by the first game, there's a decent chance that two of them weren't in camp with the team all summer.


Last year kept: 6

Currently on roster (9): Shaq Thompson, Frankie Luvu, Damien Wilson, Cory Littleton, Julian Stanford, Brandon Smith, Arron Mosby, Isaiah Graham-Mobley, and Josh Watson.

This is one of those spots that could be impacted by how they define receiver roles in trying to find a spot for Roberts as a returner-only. The first four names are solid, giving them plenty of options on defense. Littleton showed during Thompson's time off during camp that he's capable of stepping in and playing at a high level, and with Thompson back, he'd likely become one of their top special teams players. Smith has had an excellent rookie camp, and if they keep five, he's probably the fifth one. That sixth spot, if it exists, creates some interesting philosophical discussions. Stanford led the team in special teams tackles last year, and looked good leading the second defense last week against the Patriots. Mosby is an interesting project since he can play as a stand-up linebacker and rush end. Again, there's a difference between keeping your best five or six players at a position and what will end up on the roster since the construction of special teams units will be a big factor in the makeup of the 53-man roster.


Last year kept: 9

Currently on roster (15): CB Jaycee Horn, CB Donte Jackson, S Xavier Woods, S Jeremy Chinn, CB CJ Henderson, CB Keith Taylor Jr., CB Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, CB Kalon Barnes, CB Tae Hayes, CB Madre Harper, S Myles Hartsfield, S Sean Chandler, S Sam Franklin Jr., S Juston Burris, S Kenny Robinson.

This is another spot that defies conventional categorization. The first three corners (Horn, Jackson, and Henderson) are locked in, along with Woods and Chinn at safety. After that, several of them have such unique roles that it's sometimes hard to project a depth chart. Hartsfield can play nickel and also safety. Chandler and Franklin are closer to traditional safeties and also stand out on special teams. Taylor built on a solid rookie season in 2021, and Thomas-Oliver is another one of those players (like Ricci) who should make the roster based on special teams ability alone. Hayes would normally be considered a long shot, but all he does is make plays in practice and games. It's complicated, because this group could be nine or 10 players deep and leave some quality players on the outside looking in.


Last year kept: 3

Currently on roster (3): K Zane Gonzalez, P Johnny Hekker, and LS JJ Jansen.

Finally, something easy to describe. The kicking and punting jobs were a revolving door last year, but this is now a stable and productive special teams room. Gonzalez proved himself reliable last year, and Hekker has been one of the best punters of the last generation (and he can throw too). Jansen fought off a challenge for his job by being dependable and a better athlete than people realize (as evidenced by the way he's getting downfield in coverage in the preseason). This is a blessedly normal group, and after a year in which they frantically looked for answers on a weekly basis, they'll take that.

View photos from practice on Tuesday as the Panthers prepare for Friday's home game against Buffalo.