Are the Carolina Panthers a Top 10 Defensive Unit?

Where does the Panthers defense rank amongst the league?
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The Carolina Panthers young defensive core ranked a modest 18th in the NFL last season and look to improve with another year of experience. The defense is young and improving at key positions like edge, cornerback, and safety with the emergence of Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn to go along with rookie Jaycee Horn.

The Panthers had a respectable 22 takeaways in the 2020 season. However, this number can be somewhat deceiving in the long run. The Panthers' defense had an unusually high number of fumble recoveries, racking up 15 over the course of the season, leading the league in that category. The Panthers lacked the ability to force turnovers in the passing game, finishing with just seven interceptions, ranking second-to-last in the league. How can the Panthers address this issue?

The 2021 NFL Draft helped this Carolina squad take the first step in the right direction with their first-round selection of South Carolina cornerback, Jaycee Horn. The Panthers also made cornerback a priority during free agency, signing two veterans in A.J. Bouye and Rashaan Melvin. Between the two, Bouye and Melvin have started 109 NFL games, providing experience to an incredibly young secondary. 

The Panthers pass rush seems poised for improvement as well. After ranking 21st in the NFL in team pressure rate, Carolina went out and signed Haason Reddick. Reddick finished a dominant 2020 campaign with 12.5 sacks and 16 QB hits with the Arizona Cardinals. His presence alone will allow not only himself but up-and-coming stars like Brian Burns to live in opposing teams' backfields. With both the secondary improving at key positions and an already promising pass rush looking to take a leap, this Panthers defense will be much improved and will cause opposing offensive coordinators headaches. A lot of pressure will fall upon several young, inexperienced but truly promising players. Look for this defense to rank near the league's best, allowing the Carolina Panthers to make a push for the 2021 NFL Playoffs. 

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