- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Carolina Panthers lost their starting left tackle to retirement, their top four wide receivers as a result of being cut or signed by other teams in free agency, three-fourths of their secondary in free agency and their franchise quarterback for four months to recover from ankle surgery.
So it is no surprise that the reigning NFC South champions lost a lot of spots in ESPN.com's post-draft Power Rankings.
They lost more spots than any other team in the league. Eight to be exact, all the way to No. 11.
I'm actually surprised it wasn't more judging by the national reaction of the decision to cut Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, and quarterback Cam Newton's surgery to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle.
I also believe Newton will be better now that he has repaired an injury that has hampered him since college.
Questions on the offensive line aside, the Panthers are in better shape now than they were at the beginning of last season when they had a power ranking of 21.
Improving on last season's 12-4 record will be difficult, though, primarily because the rest of the NFC South should be better. New Orleans ranks No. 5 in the power rankings. Atlanta made the biggest jump, improving 12 spots to No. 14.
Tampa Bay, which had arguably the best free agency of the division teams, moved up four spots to 23rd.
And in case you're wondering, Seattle and Denver remained Nos. 1-2 just as they were at the Super Bowl.
As Carolina showed last season, there will be surprises. Will the Panthers surprise and record consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history? Or will they continue to suffer losses?