One of the biggest question marks heading into the 2019 season for the Carolina Panthers was how well was the offensive line going to perform. On paper, the unit looked very promising and poised to dominate. The retirement of long time team captain and leader, center Ryan Kalil, left a void that was filled in free agency with the signing of former Denver Broncos center, Matt Paradis. Paradis was graded the number two center overall in the NFL in 2018, in spite of missing several games with a broken leg. Four time Pro Bowler, Trai Turner, was coming back at right guard. Third year player, Taylor Moton, maintained his spot at right tackle after having a very solid breakout season the year prior. Coming in on the left side of the ball was left guard, Greg Van Roten, who was the only player on offense to play every single offensive snap in 2018. After not landing a big free agent contract, the Panthers re-signed former 2017 2nd team All Pro, Daryl Williams, to a one year prove-it deal to play at left tackle. Williams missed all of the 2018 season after suffering two serious injuries to the same knee. As far as the depth goes, the Panthers traded up ten spots in the 2019 NFL Draft to get left tackle Greg Little, who was known as one of the top elite pass blockers of this draft class. Later in the draft, the Panthers spent their sixth round pick to draft offensive lineman, Dennis Daley. Finally, center/guard Tyler Larsen comes back for his fourth year with the team to play backup at center and both guard spots. However, after ten games played so far, this unit has been inconsistent and disappointing overall in both the run blocking and the pass blocking execution. Let’s take a deeper look at each player to find out why.
Matt Paradis: (Pro Football Focus Grade is 48.3, was 79.0 in 2018)
He is ranked dead last as the worst starting center in the NFL. He only has one penalty but has given up three sacks and dozens of QB pressures and QB hits. Why has he fallen from being #2 down to #32? On Nov. 4, 2018, he broke his right leg against the Houston Texans. He was placed on injured reserve and immediately had surgery. When he signed his free agent deal of 3 yrs/ $27M back on March 12, it was thought that he would be able to fully practice with the team by the June mini camp. Yet, it was until the later half of training camp before he was able to fully practice in pads. That means from November 2018 until August 2019, Paradis was unable to do any of the normal offseason gym workouts and conditioning drills that is mandatory to build strength and increase agility. After watching several hours of the All 22 coaches film, it is painfully obvious that his lower body is unable to consistently do what his mind is telling and what his eyes are seeing. He does a good job of taking the right step and getting proper head placement on the defender most of the time. However, when he is met with a more powerful defensive linemen who has leverage on him, he is unable to maintain the desired position. Typically, it takes a few games to play yourself back into shape, but it is likely going to take a full complete offseason in 2020 for him to regain the strength he needs to place him back as one of the elite centers in the game. It is painful to watch now, but it is the belief that he will get a whole lot better after this season.
Trai Turner: (PFF Grade is 59.9, was 64.5 in 2018)
Why has he fallen from his Pro Bowl caliber of play? Since missing three games with a high ankle sprain after Week 3 win @ Arizona and returning Week 8 @ San Francisco, he has not been the consistent mauler that we have known him to be. He will show powerful flashes here and there, but last four games he has sputtered more than sparking. Several times he has been easily moved out of the way on run blocks. The assumption is that his high ankle sprain is still bothering him since his play was above average for the first three games this year. It also needs to be said that it is the assumption that Turner is one of the players that tight end, Greg Olsen, was referring to in his post game comments after the loss to the Falcons. He said “Guys in this locker room got to realize playing in the NFL is a lot more than just running around and looking cool. You’ve got to play.”
Taylor Moton: (PFF Grade is 70.7,was 76.2 in 2018)
Why has he fallen from his stellar level of play from 2018? Last season, while playing 1054 snaps, he had six penalties and two sacks in 16 games. As of Week 11, he has played 676 snaps and he already has six penalties and has given up four sacks in 10 games. This sophomore slump has more to do with lazy effort moreso than it being a talent issue. The All 22 shows him repeatedly lunging forward towards his defender, which leaves his footwork unbalanced while also giving up the leverage advantage. Frustration comes also because he will play like a top ten guy at his position on several plays. This inconsistent ability to properly execute now starts putting doubt that Moton is our long term answer at right tackle.
Greg Van Roten: (PFF Grade is 63.6, was 59.8 in 2018)
He has by far been the most consistent and most reliable offensive linemen out of the five starters. In 2018, he had only two penalties and gave up just two sacks. So far in 2019, he has only two penalties and one sack given up. The run blocking aspect of his game has become more nasty with execution and more solid with good technique. He has yielded a few pressures sometimes when faced with superior defensive linemen but he backs down from nobody and stays looking for extra work. His game is not flashy but it is solid and consistent.
Daryl Williams: (PFF Grade is 58.3, was 77.2 in 2017)
The biggest fall from grace in terms of football play that has happened in a long time. After suffering two back to back major knee injuries in July and September of 2018, it is depressingly clear that Williams is not anywhere remotely close to being the 2nd team All Pro he was in 2017. During his All Pro year, he had two penalties and had given up four sacks. So far in 2019, he has only one penalty but has given up TEN SACKS!!! As a total unit, the Panthers have given up 25 sacks in 10 games. Williams is responsible for 40% of them by himself. There is very little positive that can honestly be said about his performance. Bad footwork. Bad waist bend. Bad hand placement. Bad leverage. Bad effort. Bad play recognition. He also has given up multiple sacks at all three positions of left tackle, right tackle and right guard this year, as he’s played all three. Truly sad to see him go from 2nd team All Pro to 1st team All Hell No!!!
Dennis Daley: (PFF Grade is 67.0)
His play at left tackle has exceeded many expectations so far, as there were several question marks about him in the pre-draft process. Daley has two penalties and given up one sack. When the season started, head coach Ron Rivera stated that he felt comfortable with Daley playing at both guard spots, as well as both tackle spots. Once he got his chance Week 5 vs. Jacksonville, he has played very efficient and solid for the most part. He has had a few rookie moments where he was overwhelmed and took some poor steps, but seven out of ten plays he is doing his job and brings some aggression with his blocking as well.
Greg Little: (PFF Grade is 56.4)
He has spent the vast majority of his rookie season so far, on the NFL concussion protocol. But when he has played it has been mixed results. With only 170 snaps in 3 games, he had two penalties and given up two sacks. His debut came splitting reps at left tackle with Daryl Williams during Week 3 @ Arizona. He played fairly well and held his own against Suggs and Chandler. The following week @ Houston, he played extremely well pass blocking wise by not allowing a single QB pressure or QB hit. Still much work needs to be done in the run game to be more physical at the point of attack. Unfortunately, after the game he had a return of concussion symptoms that originally started in the preseason @ New England back in August. This past Sunday vs. Atlanta, he returned to the starting lineup after Daley was ruled out with an injury. It was a very ugly performance, as he gave up (by himself) two sacks and 14 quarterback pressures. The rust from being out for almost two months clearly was showing. It will be very interesting and crucial to see how Little performs from here on out.
Tyler Larsen: (PFF Grade is 63.8, was 52.6 in 2018)
He has only gotten 20 snaps at right guard this season when Trai Turner went out with his ankle injury. He has two penalties and has not given up any sacks. Larsen can play center and both guard spots. Some fans have wondered why he has not replaced Paradis yet. If you go back and watch from the preseason, Larsen was getting owned way too often by opposing defensive tackles. Crazy part is, he has been the top performer in the weight room the last two years during the offseason. But all those muscles are wasted if you come out to block with high pads and bad feet. He is serviceable at best and knows the playbook by heart. Thanks for taking the time to read Knowledge with Kevin.