The NFC South has been one of the toughest divisions in football in recent times, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have mostly been on the outside looking in.
One rival, the Carolina Panthers, have been in the fray more often than not and were most recently in the hunt for a Super Bowl title following the 2015-16 season. Turmoil has followed the franchise since their loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Quarterback Cam Newton had his worst season as a pro the following year, and while the team rebounded for a playoff appearance in 2017, the on-field resurgence was fogged over by the troubles and drama surrounding then owner Jerry Richardson.
2018 was a year with many coaching shifts, a new owner and seven straight losses leading to a 7-9 final record.
This season, the team is transitioning to a 3-4 base defense and looking to regain a spot in the NFL’s post-season.
Let’s take a look at what’s new with this division rival, especially now with the 2019 NFL Draft in the books.
BIGGEST LOSS: C, RYAN KALIL
The Panthers knew before the 2018 season this was the last run for their center, and more importantly one of their leaders, in Ryan Kalil.
While it’s unclear as to whether Kalil will one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, there’s no doubt he’s one of the greatest Panthers to ever wear their colors.
He’s also the only starting center Cam Newton has ever known in the league. Newton is already coming into a season with a lot of question marks surrounding his health and play.
Entering 2019 without Kalil snapping the ball is only going to make things tougher moving forward.
Other Key Losses: DE, Julius Peppers; LB, Thomas Davis; WR, Devin Funchess; OT, Matt Kalil
BIGGEST GAIN: C, MATT PARADIS (FA, DENVER BRONCOS)
The Panthers lost a captain at the center position so they went out and found a captain at the center position. Makes sense, right?
Well, this is one of those times it makes sense both for the team who signed him and the team who didn’t.
Carolina obviously wanted to prevent themselves from going backwards following the loss of Kalil, and while Paradis may not quite be up to where Kalil was status wise, he’s got the ability to contribute on the field and as a leader.
What he also has is an injury concern, which is one reason the Broncos balked at the idea of paying Paradis near top center money.
If he stays healthy, Paradis helps plug what was a huge hole on their offensive line and ensures Newton has a stud snapping him the ball moving forward; something he’s gotten used to and comfortable with during his career.
2019 1ST-ROUND DRAFT PICK: EDGE, BRIAN BURNS (FLORIDA STATE)
Buccaneers fans who are also Seminoles fans were likely very unhappy to see the top Florida State prospect in this year’s draft heading to a division rival. They’ll get to see him twice per year, but they’ll see him chasing fellow FSU alum, Jameis Winston.
Switching to a 3-4 meant the Panthers had a serious need in the pass rusher department and they went and got themselves one of the best ones in this year’s stacked class of edge rushing talent.
When Carolina does line-up in a four-man front, Burns still fills a role and is a guy who will never have to come off the field once his conditioning is up to snuff.
BEST DRAFT PICK: OT, GREG LITTLE (OLE MISS)
Last season, the Panthers hoped to have the combination of Matt and Ryan Kalil playing center and left tackle on their offensive line.
One year later, they don’t have either Kalil brother, but in addition to Matt Paradis they drafted Ole Miss left tackle Greg Little.
Not the best offensive tackle in this class, but not a far drop between him and the best. Little shouldn’t have a whole lot of issues taking the starting job for 2019, making him my favorite draft pick of the Carolina Panthers’ class.
BIGGEST REMAINING NEED: SECONDARY
I was a big fan of Donte Jackson coming out of LSU last year, and I still am for what it’s worth. Still, if there’s an area of Carolina’s team in 2019 which just doesn’t scare me, it’s the secondary.
The starters are decent. Good even. But behind Eric Reid, James Bradberry and Donte Jackson there just isn’t anyone who stands out. There may be a guy whose just waiting for his shot, so we’ll have to see, but as it stands right now this is a group Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich is probably looking forward to scheming against.