The Carolina Panthers enter their bye week with a 4-8 record and in dead last of the NFC South division. The Panthers' playoff hopes for the 2020 season are all but dead and now, it's time that the team focuses on the future. Carolina has four games remaining and two of which are very winnable games (vs Denver, at Washington). If the chalk holds, the Panthers will likely finish with a 6-10 record, which may not be good enough or should I say bad enough to earn a top pick in the 2021 draft.
With the team's season essentially over, there are four things I believe the Panthers need to look at to not only save the future, but help the future by being in a good drafting position. Let's take a look at those four things.
Shut down Donte Jackson
This may already be a conversation that has taken place between head coach Matt Rhule and the front office. Jackson has been dealing with a nagging toe injury all season long and has never been able to play at full strength. He would repeatedly have to remove himself from the game because the injury would be re-aggravated and would be too painful to finish. He has missed the last two games and with just four games left, it may be best the Panthers just let that foot heal and have Jackson return fully healthy for the 2021 season.
Consider shutting down Christian McCaffrey
I know, I know, everyone wants to see McCaffrey on the field. Who wouldn't? Like I mentioned with Jackson, there are only four games remaining on the schedule. What is having McCaffrey on the field going to do that will benefit the team this season? The playoffs are well out of reach and winning games at this point will only hurt your draft position. After missing six games to a high ankle sprain and three games to a shoulder injury, why risk any further injury to your best player in a meaningless four-game stretch? If the playoffs were still a possibility, it would be a different story. Do the smart thing and protect the future.
Keep starting Jermaine Carter Jr. over Tahir Whitehead
Jermaine Carter Jr. showed some promise last year racking up 31 tackles in limited action. I figured he would play a much bigger role in the Panthers' defense in 2020 but according to Matt Rhule, it took him some time to get accustomed to the new defense. Starting MIKE linebackers Tahir Whitehead has been dealing with a rib injury and Carter Jr. has filled in quite nicely totaling 21 tackles over the last four weeks, including eight tackles in Sunday's loss to Minnesota. Even with Whitehead healthy, I think Carter Jr. gives the defense a better chance to succeed. Whitehead has been a bit of a disappointment and I wouldn't be surprised if he's not on the Panthers' roster in 2021.
Don't tank, but don't win too many games
This kind of coincides with shutting down McCaffrey and Jackson. Having those guys out there certainly gives you a better chance to win, but is it worth it? At this stage of the game, I think it would make the most sense to play all your younger guys in more significant roles to see what you really have moving forward. You know what McCaffrey, Jackson, and some of the other vets bring to the table. Now is a good time to evaluate the guys that are found deeper on the depth chart and preserve the health of your banged up starters. I'm not saying rest everyone, but don't be surprised to see some guys that you normally wouldn't see get some more opportunities.
I'm not a big advocate for tanking, but you don't want to continue finishing with a 6-10 or 7-9 record and not be in position to draft in the top five. It's okay for Carolina to have a top five or so pick in the 2021 draft - that's what many anticipated and expected in the first year of the rebuild.
You can follow us for future coverage by clicking "Follow" on the top righthand corner of the page. Also, be sure to like us on Facebook & Twitter:
Facebook - @PanthersOnSI