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3 Carolina Panthers offseason moves to help Bryce Young live up to draft status

Bryce Young
Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2023 NFL Draft process, the Carolina Panthers identified Alabama quarterback Bryce Young as the player they’d like to build their franchise around. Based on the perception at the time, the Panthers weren’t the only ones fascinated with the former Heisman-winning QB.

Yet, the Panthers were the ones who paid the price to trade 1,000-yard receiver D.J. Moore, the ninth and 61st picks in last year’s draft, plus a 2024 first-round pick (projected No. 1 overall pick), and a 2025 second-round pick in exchange for the rights to draft Young. It was a heavy bounty, and now the Panthers are dealing with the aftershock.

In most cases, struggles can be expected for rookie quarterbacks. They rarely find immediate success, yet C.J. Stroud’s performance in Houston has some wondering why the Panthers haven’t been able to do the same with their top pick.

Yet, the truth is, the Panthers just set Young up to fail in his first season as a pro. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be ready to turn their back on the 22-year-old QB after one year. Owner David Tepper quickly identified former head coach Frank Reich as part of the problem, but who can be part of the solution?

Here are three moves the Panthers should make this offseason to help Young come closer to realizing his potential as a former No. 1 overall pick.

Related: See where Bryce Young ranks among fellow starting QBs this season

Detroit Lions hire Ben Johnson as head coach

ben johnson
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A year ago, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was reportedly Tepper’s top target. We can’t imagine things have changed since after watching Jared Goff and the Lions maintaining the fifth-highest-scoring offensive attack in the NFL.

Goff is a former No. 1 pick who once fell out of favor with his original team, leading to the Rams paying the Lions two first-round picks for Matthew Stafford. However, despite not having a bonafide No. 1 wideout either, Goff has reduced his interception rate to under two percent under Johnson’s tutelage.

We haven’t seen Young run into the same turnover woes, but if Johnson, who’s touted for his creativity, can help the Panthers connect on more explosive plays, their offensive struggles should diminish. Johnson understands the importance of establishing the run to help set up the pass, but the Panthers haven’t found enough success even to do that in 2023. With two years of play-calling experience, Johnson should have no trouble getting comfortable in Carolina too, but first, the personnel needs to improve.

Sign wide receiver Darnell Mooney

NFL: Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears
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Adam Thielen, who’s only under contract through the 2024-25 season, has proven more than capable of winning on short and intermediate routes. But the Panthers also need a field-stretcher with speed like Darnell Mooney.

At 5-foot-11, he’s like Young in that he’s not what NFL scouts ‘prefer’ as far as size, but Mooney more than makes up for it with his quickness, shown by his 4.38 40 time. Yet, he’s not just a player with potential. The Panthers have plenty of those already, including Terrace Marshall.

Mooney has shown, even on the Bears’ inconsistent passing attack, that he can be a highly productive receiver, evidenced by his 1,055 receiving yard season in 2021, his second year in the NFL. Mooney is the type of player who can help the Panthers become a much more explosive offense, and after battling a few injuries leading to reduced production, he shouldn’t break the bank in free agency.

Related: David Tepper ‘incredibly accountable’ for recent Carolina Panthers’ mistakes, targeting rising star

Sign offensive guard Kevin Dotson in free agency

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
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Heading into Week 17, the Panthers have allowed their franchise QB to be sacked 53 times, the third-highest rate in the NFL this season. Unless they want their cornerstone, who already faces questions about his size, to get hurt, Carolina might want to place a heavy priority on shoring up the offensive line.

While there have been growing pains, the Panthers feel good about their offensive tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor Moton is arguably playing the best football of his career, earning an impressive 86.3 pass-blocking grade since Week 10, the second-best among all offensive linemen. On the left, Ikem Ekwonu will still be just 24 years old next season and has shown progress as a run blocker. The Panthers will continue developing their former sixth-overall pick.

The interior is an entirely different story, where nothing is set in stone after a season of injuries. One player the Panthers could target in free agency is guard Kevin Dotson. He arrived in Los Angeles this past offseason and quickly became one of the Rams’ best offensive linemen. There’s no guarantee the Rams will let the 27-year-old leave in free agency, but perhaps a big enough offer from the Panthers could persuade a move to Carolina.

Playing 796 snaps at right guard, Dotson has committed just two penalties and allowed four sacks while grading as the third-best run-blocker among guards, according to PFF. By improving Young’s protection in the pocket and also opening up holes in the run game, the Panthers’ offense should be able to take multiple steps forward in 2024.

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