Carolina Panthers

Gerald McCoy will buy time for Panthers’ rookies

The Panthers have a lot of talent up front, but they lack experience on the edge. Signing Gerald McCoy fixes that problem for Ron Rivera. 

Julius Peppers’ retirement left the Panthers in need of edge rushing talent heading into this year’s draft. Carolina filled that void by spending a first round pick on Brian Burns and then grabbing Christian Miller in Round 4. The signing of Gerald McCoy will buy head coach Ron Rivera and his staff valuable time to bring their young players along at an appropriate speed.

McCoy visited the Browns, Ravens and Panthers before electing to sign a one-year deal in Carolina. The former Buccaneers star certainly has intimate knowledge of the NFC South. He was drafted by Tampa Bay and has spent his entire professional career inside the division.

The former Pro Bowler’s fit in Carolina could hardly be more perfect. Rivera’s team is in the midst of transitioning from a traditional 4-3 defense to a more versatile three-four system. McCoy has played almost exclusively on the inside during his time in the NFL, but he’s got the size and quickness to play defensive end in the Panther’s new scheme. Look for him to get reps at end on early downs and then for him to move inside on more obvious passing situations.

That versatility is going to really force Burns and Miller to earn their reps on the edge. It’s never good for a team to hand immediate playing time to a rookie, no matter their draft pedigree. Burns, in particular, profiles to be a very disruptive player in time. His lack of girth might cause him problems competing against top-notch offensive tackles early in his career. McCoy’s presence in the defensive line rotation will allow the Panthers to avoid the perils of throwing Burns into the mix too soon.

McCoy’s signing also gives the Panthers a lot of insurance against a down year from either Dontari Poe or Kawann Short. Poe, in particular, has struggled significantly with weight during his career. That’s one reason why Carolina made sure to insert an out in Poe’s contract after the 2019 season. If Poe doesn’t play up to his potential this season, the Panthers can simply insert McCoy into his spot in the starting lineup.

In fact, McCoy was actually a superior player than Poe last season. Pro Football Focus graded the former Buccaneers star as the 30th rated defensive tackle in the NFL while Poe checked in at No. 74. Both guys are going to get snaps in the middle, but there’s a strong chance McCoy will emerge as the starter in the middle before the year is through.

Next: NFL Draft grades: How did the Panthers perform?

Add it all up, and it’s clear that McCoy has the ability to give the Panthers defense a major boost this season. He can buy time for the team’s younger players while still playing like a Pro Bowler. Signing him is an excellent move by Carolina.

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