Friday, February 7, 2014
MVP replacements: Carolina Panthers
By David Newton
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.
So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
Despite all that middle linebacker Luke Kuechly does on the defensive side, the MVP of the Carolina Panthers has to be quarterback Cam Newton.
The Panthers could fill the void at middle linebacker with another player capable of being the quarterback of the defense. He probably wouldn't make as many tackles as Kuechly, Carolina's leader during his first two NFL seasons, but the team could survive.
Carolina has nobody who can do all that Newton does.
As well as the offensive line played this season, a pure pocket passer without Newton's ability to play Houdini would be a sitting duck for sacks. Without Newton's 585 yards on the ground, the team would have been 25th in the league in rushing instead of 11th.
Forty-five of Newton's 111 rushes resulted in first downs and accounted for 427 of his 585 yards, not to mention all six of his rushing touchdowns. That explains why Carolina was so efficient in time of possession and third-down conversions.
Four of Carolina's biggest wins this season -- against San Francisco, New England, Miami and New Orleans -- were the result of Newton making plays in the final minutes to set up either a field goal or touchdown.
When the Panthers say Newton is their franchise quarterback, they mean it. He's also the player they can least do without.
Potential pick: Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
Long-term durability is a concern for Shaw, a late-round prospect. At 6-foot and 209 pounds he’s lean, he’s had problems staying healthy, and he exposes himself to too many big hits trying to make plays for his team. His arm strength is just adequate, too, but he’s capable of developing into an effective backup to Newton. He’s a hard worker who prepares well and excels at extending plays with his feet.
-- Steve Muench