2003 NFL Preview

Posted: Friday July 11, 2003 11:31 AM

2002 Record: 7-9
Head Coach: John Fox
7-9 overall, 0-0 postseason
  Passing Rodney Peete
223-381, 2,630 yards, 15 TDs, 14 INTs
  Rushing Lamar Smith
209 carries, 737 yards, 7 TDs
  Receiving Steve Smith
54 catches, 872 yards, 3 TDs
  Kicking Shayne Graham
13-18 FGs, 21-21 PATs, 60 points
Schedule | Roster | Statistics | Stadium
By Ryan Hunt,

For all intents and purposes, one strike on a slant pattern paved the way to Jake Delhomme's $4 million jackpot.

The former Ragin' Cajun threw just 10 passes last season - and just 86 total in six clipboard-carrying seasons in New Orleans - but it was his third-down completion fresh off the bench to clinch the Saints' nationally televised victory over Tampa Bay that apparently opened Carolina's eyes.

Six years, four games, three touchdown passes yep, time to hand over the keys to the Panthers. Then again, if Randy Fasani can get a turn behind center, who says Delhomme isn't fully qualified to become an NFL starter? Hey, it worked OK for Trent Green.

One positive for Delhomme, who will compete with Rodney Peete for the starting job: The Panthers made a serious commitment to upgrading the skill positions in the offseason. After Carolina ranked 31st in total offense last season, the Panthers brought in three-time 1,000-yard rusher Stephen Davis from Washington. And Kevin Dyson would have been a big help, but he likely will miss the season with a torn Achilles' tendon.

Davis' arrival will go a long way to helping the Panthers, who still went 7-9 last season despite the NFL's second-ranked defense. And remember, with first-year coach John Fox and standout rookie Julius Peppers, Carolina improved from 31st in defense to second in one season. But don't expect that to happen on offense - even if Delhomme is the answer.

>> Impact Signing
A roster spot that was filled by the release of Sean Gilbert. Carolina's hands finally are clean of the worst move in franchise history. The Panthers gave up two first-round draft picks for five injury-plagued seasons and a total of 15 sacks. For $6.95 million in 2002, Gilbert only had 10 more tackles than I did.

>> Impact Loss
TE Wesley Walls -- He's been perhaps the face of the Panthers' franchise since its inception. Walls was perhaps the NFL's best tight end in 1999, when he caught 63 passes and 12 touchdowns. But age (37), injuries and a big contract finally caught up with Walls.

>> Fantasy Stud
RB Stephen Davis -- He was slowed down by knee and shoulder injuries last year, which led to his lowest rushing total in four years, although he did score seven TDs (but three came in one game against the Rams). Despite that, he's still the best fantasy option on the team with the passing game a gigantic question mark. Davis will carry the offense as much as possible, although opposing defenses will likely key in on him. Still, a 1,000-yard season isn't out of the question as Davis gets his career back in order.

>> Fantasy Dud
QB Rodney Peete -- The veteran signal-caller came out of mothballs last season and actually put up three 300-yard games but also had five games under 200 yards. He's way too inconsistent to have him as anything more than a third quarterback. Plus, he may not have a job much longer if Jake Delhomme takes over as the starter.

>> Fantasy Sleeper
WR Ricky Proehl -- The 12-year veteran has never had more than 877 yards or seven TDs in a season, but he somehow puts up enough stats to make for a quality fantasy backup wideout. With newly acquired Kevin Dyson already done for the year with a torn Achilles', Proehl will likely step into the No. 2 spot and put up some decent numbers opposite Muhsin Muhammad.

>> Panthers will make the playoffs because...
They leave the NFC South and accept John Swofford's invitation to become the ACC's 12th team, citing academic reasons and a promise for basketball tournament tickets. They hold off Miami in the ACC Championship Game and advance to the Orange Bowl.

>> Panthers will not make the playoffs because...
Still a long way to go on offense, they haven't officially nailed down the starting QB yet and oh yeah, the Bucs, Saints and Falcons. Carolina is improving, but it's tough being fourth in a four-dog pack.

Carolina Panthers
Signed  From  Lost  To 
P Todd Sauerbrun  Re-signed  TE Wesley Walls  Released 
RB Brad Hoover  Re-signed  RB Lamar Smith  Packers 
QB Jake Delhomme  Saints  T Jay Humphrey  Jaguars 
QB Rodney Peete  Re-signed  DT Sean Gilbert  Released 
G Doug Brzezinski  Eagles  LB Hannibal Navies  Packers 
RB Stephen Davis  Redskins     
WR Ricky Proehl  Rams     
WR Kevin Dyson  Titans     
RB Michael Bates  Re-signed     
LB Greg Favors  Bills     
G Tutan Reyes  Re-signed     
Unrestricted  Restricted 
G Jamar Nesbit  FB Brad Hoover 
WR Isaac Byrd  G Jeno James 
CB Terry Fair  TE Jermaine Wiggins 
LB Brad Jackson  LB Lester Towns 
CB Emmanuel McDaniel   
DE Fernando Smith   
2003 Draft Picks
Rd.  Pick  Player  Pos.  School 
8(8)  Jordan Gross  OT  Utah  
18(50)  Bruce Nelson  Iowa  
12(76)  Mike Seidman  TE  UCLA  
18(82)  Ricky Manning Jr.  CB  UCLA  
22(119)  Colin Branch  Stanford  
10(145)  Kindal Moorehead  DE  Alabama  
12(226)  Walter Young  WR  Illinois  
33(247)  Casey Moore  FB  Stanford  

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