NFC South Camp Preview: Panthers Play Out The String
NFL Offseason - Baker Mayfield tries to save the Carolina Panthers from themselves. Marcus Mariota must stay healthy enough to hold off Desmond Ridder. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must make sure that their kicking situation doesn't become Tom Brady's Achilles heel. And the New Orleans Saints are out to prove their doubters, creditors, and people who scream "OMG that dude threw 30 interceptions the last time we saw him!" wrong. Walkthrough's 2022 NFC South Training Camp Preview will get you ready for all of the preseason action, from camp battles to joint practices to preseason games that might actually be worth watching.
Atlanta Falcons 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading Into Camp: Falcons fans—bless their traumatized, delusional souls—seem to think that their team will be competitive in 2022. The rest of us will just be watching to determine what sort of roster Arthur Smith can spackle together and whether Desmond Ridder is a viable quarterback of the future. Oh, who am I kidding? The rest of us won't be watching at all.
Camp Battles to Watch: Ridder vs. Marcus Mariota won't really be a competition. Mariota will remain the starter until he gets injured stepping off a curb or reaching for something on a high shelf, then Ridder will get an extended audition. At least both quarterbacks are easy to root for.
Any job not held by Kyle Pitts, AJ Terrell, Jake Matthews, or Grady Jarrett should be up for grabs. The trouble is that the Falcons have zero depth and little interesting young talent behind their weak starters. Jalen Mayfield is still expected to start at left guard, for heaven's sake.
Newcomer to Obsess Over: Falcons fans may think the team is deep at the skill positions because they are double-counting Pitts as both a tight end and a wide receiver and Cordarrelle Patterson as both a running back and a wide receiver. In reality, their receiver corps is rice-paper thin and they will need a major contribution from Drake London right away. A best-case scenario for the Falcons: Pitts and London establish themselves as a credible 1-2 punch of playmakers for Ridder or whomever the Falcons draft in 2023. It will also help if fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier can provide a little Michael Turner-type thunder so Patterson can be used more as a change-up than a battering ram.
Circle-It Date: Falcons-Jets on ESPN on August 22 should give us an extended look at Ridder, London, and Allgeier. After that, we can safely ignore the Falcons until the 2023 NFL draft.
Carolina Panthers 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading Into Camp: No one wants to be here.
- Matt Rhule doesn't want to be a lame-duck coach with Ben McAdoo looking over his shoulder.
- McAdoo doesn't want his NFL comeback opportunity, such as it is, tied to Baker Mayfield.
- Mayfield doesn't want to be trapped in a shotgun marriage with a coaching staff whose mandate was "find a quarterback, any quarterback, or else!"
- Sam Darnold would probably rather be washing windows at this point.
- David Tepper would love to just fire everyone and start over, but he doesn't want to be labeled a "meddlesome, impatient owner," so he's waiting for Rhule to tie his own noose.
Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief when this let's-mix-stuff experiment blows up. Until then: smile for the team photo!
Camp Battles to Watch: The Panthers roster consists of a handful of truly exciting young players (Brian Burns, DJ Moore, Jaycee Horn, a few others) and lots of guys who should be in the USFL. As such, the only real camp battle of interest is Rhule vs. Inevitability.
Tepper saddled Rhule with McAdoo as a designated grownup-in-the-room and potential midseason replacement. He insisted on Mayfield so Rhule couldn't play the "golly gee, give me time to develop Matt Corral" card. Rhule will spend training camp trying to assert his authority and fast-track Mayfield while avoiding obvious own-goals, all the while knowing a 1-3 start might sink him. Can he do it all while maintaining his nice-guy/schlubby genius persona? Now that's some compelling human drama, folks.
Newcomer to Obsess Over: Corral is exactly the sort of pesky pepperpot who scrambles and RPOs his way into the hearts of fans (and teammates, and coaches who desperately need to look like they are doing something, and not-at-all meddlesome owners) and snatches a job away from a flailing veteran. A healthy Mayfield should have no trouble outperforming Corral, but a healthy Mayfield will also be the darling of the free-agent market in 2023. So add "develop Corral without making it look like a quarterback competition" to the Rhule/McAdoo to-do list.
Returnee to Obsess Over: Christian McCaffrey was getting +750 odds for Comeback Player of the Year at press time, fourth behind Derrick Henry (+300, not worth it, don't do it), Jameis Winston (+550, maybe) and Michael Thomas (+700, don't touch it until you have seen him run a live drill). The fantasy community expects McCaffrey to operate out of the slot more often after two injury-ruined years, even though neither McCaffrey nor Rhule thinks that's a good idea. Walkthrough thinks McCaffrey is Skinny Saquon Barkley and has penciled him in for lots of 15-carries-for-40-yards, five-catches-for-30-yards Sundays. But our KUBIAK projections disagree. Maybe he'll turn into Deebo Samuel—or back into McCaffrey—after Rhule is fired in October.
Circle-It Date: The Patriots will host the Panthers for joint practices on August 16 and 17. It will be a great opportunity for the Panthers to take the Mayfield show on the road while Bill Belichick scouts all the players he will pilfer as soon as the Panthers perform their inevitable regime change.
New Orleans Saints 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading Into Camp: Like The Office without Steve Carell, the Saints bravely soldier on into another year without Drew Brees, promoting minor characters into larger roles and pretending that little if anything has changed. Like The Office, the Saints have suffered a significant dip in quality, but they are still better than much of what is on network television, and they'll keep telling stories about Dwight (Jameis Winston), Pam and Jim (Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis), and Andy (Taysom Hill) as long as someone keeps writing checks. But the heart and soul of the franchise is gone, so we're tuning in more out of habit and curiosity than excitement.
Camp Battles to Watch: The Saints drafted Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning 19th overall to replace Terron Armstead (Dolphins) at left tackle. The rumblings out of Metairie, however, suggest that Penning is more of a project than anticipated. James Hurst, a solid multi-position substitute, will likely start unless Penning's lightbulb flickers on quickly.
At guard, Andrus Peat is returning from a pectoral injury that erased much of last season, while 2020 first-round pick Cesar Ruiz is still shuttling between guard and center. Calvin Throckmorton filled in at both guard positions last season and was pretty awful, while former Chargers first-rounder Forrest Lamp arrives to provide either a push for Ruiz or insurance for the oft-injured Peat. Ruiz and Peat are the likely starters, but there are several variables at play.
Newcomer to Obsess Over: Tyrann Mathieu was born and raised in New Orleans, and he returns home with a reputation as one of the NFL's most versatile high-impact defenders. He also lingered on the free-agent market for a long time, in part because he's not the easiest guy in the universe to coach, in part because Mathieu's "versatility" requires coaches to carve out a very specific set of roles for him. The murmurs suggested that Mathieu was still in the early stages of learning Dennis Allen's playbook as of minicamp. That's fine for now. But the Saints are gonna need the real Honey Badger in 2022, not an aging safety who can almost still shut down slot receivers.
Circle-It Date: Saints camp opens for veterans on July 26. If we haven't seen a GIF of Michael Thomas running an actual route and catching a pass from Winston by August 1, abandon ship on any Saints "Over" prop bets.
Also, Alvin Kamara's court hearing for felony battery is scheduled for August 1.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2022 Training Camp Preview
Heading Into Camp: Don't look for much excitement in late July or August. Tom Brady and his Howlin' Commandos will probably be getting as many "veteran days" as practices days. Meanwhile, television talk-show personalities will do their darndest to manufacture some drama out of the Brady-Todd Bowles-Bruce Arians relationship, because soap-operatic tiffs are spicy, and the much more likely reality (Arians took a cushy desk job because he's too old to for Florida summer and wanted to ensure Bowles got an opportunity) is both unthinkable and unclickable.
Camp Battles to Watch: Mike Edwards, Logan Ryan, and Keanu Neal are vying for the vacant safety spot next to Antoine Winfield Jr. Boring! Neal will end up the "heavy nickel" guy, Ryan the matchup slot corner guy, Edwards the traditional strong safety and nominal starter.
Kicker is where the real action's at. Former Lou Groza Award winner Jose Borregales will challenge Ryan Succop after spending a year on the practice squad. Fourth-round punter Jake Camarda (Georgia) will add intrigue as the new holder. The Bucs are scraping cap nickels and dimes, which is why they may end up relying on novice specialists during a Super Bowl run. Fun stuff!
Newcomer to Obsess Over: The Buccaneers added Akiem Hicks to replace Ndamukong Suh? Now that's just unfair. Hicks and rookie Logan Hall (Houston) are going to add a new dimension to the Buccaneers' defensive fronts, offsetting the losses of Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Circle-It Date: Monday, August 29. That's when training camp and the preseason are over and Rob Gronkowski can safely un-retire, having skipped all the extra sweaty/boring parts.
45 comments, Last at 18 Jul 2022, 6:08pm
#1 by theslothook // Jul 14, 2022 - 10:49am
The Panthers serve as an interesting case of a team that was facing an interesting fork in the road moment.
They had a playoff worthy team that decided to detonate everything. Now, Cam was injured but it wasn't obvious at the time that that he was washed up. And Rivera was a good coach that they chose to move on from.
It will be three seasons since that decision and the Panthers are going to be counting on a miracle turnaround from Baker Mayfield...not great Bob!
#19 by JustAnotherFal… // Jul 14, 2022 - 12:18pm
There’s disappointment. Scratching to 9-8, the last NFC wild card berth and an early playoff exit? That actually would be a mildly positive season for several NFC teams. We will politely decline to mention examples of true disappointment.
#18 by Pat // Jul 14, 2022 - 12:16pm
They had a playoff worthy team that decided to detonate everything.
Worse, last year they didn't have a playoff-worthy team and decided to try anyway! They threw $12M at Newton and Gilmore for a handful of games from them both. And heck, they had a half-decent QB (Bridgewater) and tossed him aside for likely 2 seasons of worse QB play.
It's more like the Panthers are an interesting case of a team that constantly makes extremely wrong decisions.
#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 14, 2022 - 11:01am
Walkthrough thinks McCaffrey is Skinny Saquon Barkley and has penciled him in for lots of 15-carries-for-40-yards, five-catches-for-30-yards Sundays. But our KUBIAK projections disagree. Maybe he'll turn into Deebo Samuel—or back into McCaffrey—after Rhule is fired in October.
That's kind of harsh for a guy whose middle two years were "Peak Marshall Faulk."
Arians took a cushy desk job because he's too old to for Florida summer
Is it possible to age out of a Florida summer? Florida and Arizona are hell's waiting room precisely because old people no longer have the circulation necessary to maintain body temperature without external insolation (this is in part why they start to physically resemble lizards), and because the moist swelter acclimates the soul to Satan's damnation.
Arians just needs to trade his baseball cap for a bookie visor or a Panama hat and he's good to go.
#41 by LionInAZ // Jul 16, 2022 - 12:40pm
Your typical Florida senior isn't standing out on a sweltering practice field for hours.
Your average Arizona senior flees the state May-October. They're called 'snow birds' for a reason. Only the poor, Indians, and Mexicans have to bake in the desert furnace.
#44 by serutan // Jul 18, 2022 - 9:52am
And those year round people who can afford AC/swamp cooling suffer from acute cabin fever from the first of June to (at least) mid September.
There's a reason that I-17 between Phoenix and Flag is a disaster area on summer weekends.
#11 by Raiderfan // Jul 14, 2022 - 11:43am
Probably not everyone.
Vince will probably continue to predict that he will be the most likely qb to underperform compared to last year.
Nick Wright will probably continue to predict that this is the year Brady plays his age.
Kacsmar will undoubtedly continue to deny Brady was ever good, just the Luckiest Of All Time.
#13 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 14, 2022 - 11:48am
That would be an interesting article -- luckiest QB of all-time.
I think the early leaders have to be Otto Graham and Tom Brady. Earl Morrall (or any 70s Dolphins QB) might make some noise.
\for RB, it's got to be Emmitt Smith, right?
#17 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 14, 2022 - 12:14pm
I think his surrounding circumstances are worse than Brady or Graham's.
I'm not sure his events are any luckier, either. I could give you a list of Brady that's as long without getting to the second half of his career. Remember, the best QB season he's ever faced in-division is Chad Pennington's.
#5 by mehllageman56 // Jul 14, 2022 - 11:20am
David Tepper would love to just fire everyone and start over, but he doesn't want to be labeled a "meddlesome, impatient owner," so he's waiting for Rhule to tie his own noose.
Tepper should have fired everyone last year, and no one would have called him meddlesome at all. Rhule fired his OC for not running the ball enough, when McCaffrey was out for the year. Maybe not everyone needs to be fired here, just Matt Rhule. Too bad Tepper gave Rhule that huge 62 million dollar contract. And to think I was so mad at the Jets for trying to force Gregg Williams on the guy with one year of pro experience and thereby losing him to Carolina.
#10 by theslothook // Jul 14, 2022 - 11:41am
Rhule signed a 7!!!!! year contract. So firing him last year meant you are going to be paying him for 5 additional years worth of coaching he isn't going to be doing while simultaneously paying another coach who will. I know Tepper is rich and all, but that just sounds like bad for business unless he's a Urban Meyer level disaster.
Handing out a 7 year contract was a ridiculous mistake that I mentioned way back when it was announced Rhule was being hired for the job. That said, those coordinator mid season scape goat firings are extremely common in the NFL so I am not sure its any kind of indictment on Rhule.
Hilariously, I think it was the 49ers who were paying 4 head coaches at the same time. I think it was Harbaugh(fired), Tomsula(fired), Chip Kelly(fired), and Shanny
#9 by Jetspete // Jul 14, 2022 - 11:40am
There are three stages for an NFL franchise in the current pass first era: QB hell, QB purgatory and QB heaven. The panthers were in QB purgatory with Bridgewater and shot for the fences with a Sam/Brady combo. That of course sent them down to QB Hell. Now they’re back in purgatory with Mayfield, he’s good enough to keep you in games and if one score games regress to the mean Carolina could be a fringe playoff contender. Or if they don’t, Carolina will be a 6-11 afterthought. The problem of course is that 6-11 isn’t going to get you young or stroud.
atlanta went from heaven to purgatory with the same qb as Matt Ryan aged. I can’t imagine Mariota is an upgrade, though If Smith could scheme last year’s roster to 7 wins they could get 10 in 2022. But more likely smith keeps it vanilla and this is a young/stroud landing spot.
#12 by theslothook // Jul 14, 2022 - 11:45am
I am engaging in obvious pedantry, but there's a wide gap of between QB purgatory and QB heaven. What were the lions in with Matt Stafford? Or the Vikings with Cousins? Or the Falcons with a typical(non mvp) season from Ryan? and on and on.
I think functionally, QB purgatory and QB hell aren't all that dissimilar. QB hell usually is reserved for rookies and injury replacement low round QBs - so basically par of the course or unplanned. Most teams don't volunteer for QB hell, so purgatory pretty much is the floor most of the time. And purgatory can be pretty broad as I listed above.
#21 by theslothook // Jul 14, 2022 - 1:02pm
Well, there are two arguments to consider. First, the lunacy of trading actual assets for Darnold. That to me is an unforgiveable decision that I am not even going to haphhazard a defense for.
But if instead Darnold was cut, is he worth signing as your week 1 starter? Would that be volunteering for obvious QB hell? I think it would be, but I have to accept the other side that says - its all the fault of Gase and the rotten Jets offense that held poor Darnold back and maybe just maybe Darnold is in fact a very good qb. This is something people say all of the time when they are trying to brush past the fact that maybe(probably?) the qb isn't any good. This is basically the line of argument Tanier is taking with Fields. Again, could be true.
#22 by Pat // Jul 14, 2022 - 1:14pm
But if instead Darnold was cut, is he worth signing as your week 1 starter? Would that be volunteering for obvious QB hell?
Actually to flip it a bit, trading for Darnold wasn't super-dumb. Giving anything more than a conditional 5th was dumb. Picking up the year 5 option was dumb. If he had been cut and the Panthers signed him for $5M/yr, that's fine. It is volunteering for QB hell, but it's also just bog-standard tanking. (Now, trading for Gilmore and throwing money at Newton, that's different insanity).
the qb isn't any good. This is basically the line of argument Tanier is taking with Fields. Again, could be true.
No, I disagree - Fields is a year 2 QB. You expect improvement from year 1 to year 2. Statistically, you see it on average for all QBs. So saying "blah blah bad QB" or "bad GM" or "bad WRs" or whatever is just additional fluff. You don't need any of that. You expect him to improve. It's year 2.
Darnold was in year 4. Expecting a sudden jump from him requires that "Gase and the rotten Jets" argument and you're right, it's total wishcasting.
#23 by theslothook // Jul 14, 2022 - 1:23pm
Presumably, Tanier is making that point because he expects Fields to be bad and that is because they have a big 0 on offense. So, one could argue that Fields is still an unknown even next year. And if its more of the same from a supporting cast point of view, once again, you can say we just don't know.
More than a few people basically said this about Darnold. Three terrible years of coaching + bad teammates + a lousy organization with 0 track record of success on offense. And Darnold had the benefit of being super young so you could kind of talk yourself into thinking he was just about to enter his improving years.
And on and on. I just don't buy any of it. Josh Rosen has taught me that when the offense descends into the unthinkable, unplayable variety; circumstances be damned, you have a really bad QB.
#25 by Pat // Jul 14, 2022 - 1:59pm
Well, no, I think Mike's making the point because it's Chicago and their QBs are always bad. But I do agree if people are making excuses for Fields next year then no, it's just wishcasting.
But keep in mind we're not talking like Fields has to be epic or anything. Just above replacement's fine. Darnold was horrendous with the Jets (and Rosen was historically awful). Expecting improvement at that point's crazy. I mean, I think the Giants are wacko for sticking with Daniel Jones, but if Jones settles in as a slightly above average QB with a few years of very good, that wouldn't shock me. Darnold's a whole other level of nutcasery.
#35 by Jetspete // Jul 15, 2022 - 8:58am
We had what, three months of qb heaven in our lives?
- one half of one game with vinny in 99
-six weeks of Pennington in 02 when it looked like there was a legit Brady/penny battle for a decade brewing.
- a month of favre in the weeks before he got hurt
that feels about it. Can you think of any more?
#36 by Jetspete // Jul 15, 2022 - 9:04am
Right now, kc, San Diego, Buffalo, Denver, gb, tampa, cincy, Vegas and probably Jacksonville (and Cleveland eventually). I’d say Baltimore and Arizona but they don’t want to pay their qbs so who knows. Tannehill led the league in passer rating recently and was top five two years ago but they drafted Willis so you can’t say Tennessee. And winning a title or not, stafford throws too many picks to be considered in qb heaven.
#39 by theslothook // Jul 15, 2022 - 11:03am
Stafford does not = QB Heaven but Derrick Carr does?
Also, your post cements the standard thinking about Kirk cousins. For whatever reason there's a Grand canyon size chasm between his reputation and his actual ability.
#45 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jul 18, 2022 - 6:04pm
Favre and Stafford int rates are a bit interesting. Neither really threw as many as people think. Favre seems high because we are used to thinking about INT in modern numbers not 90's numbers. Stafford feels high because we have so many examples of the QB's throwing less than 10 a season in the modern era so anyone who doesn't isn't good at avoid INTs. More to it than that but modern perceptions are colored by those things.
Using INT%+ from pfr and then weighting that by attempts per season we can get a career INT%+ number. Remember 100 is league average and higher numbers are better with all the pfrr '+' stats, where most league leading seasons are in the 120 - 130 range. Stafford is at a 102.8 career INT%+ and Favre is a 98.4 INT%+. Stafford has only been worse than league average 3 times, rookie 09, 2013, and 2021. He doesn't actually throw a lot of INT he throws about league average INT. Favre did throw at a slightly higher than league average rate but it was fueled by a few years. Of his 20 seasons 11 of them he threw INT at a lower than league average rate, 1 season was right at league average and 7 seasons he threw more than league average. The really bad years were final season in MIN when age and injuries caught up to him, 2005 GB where the results of Sherman as GM were really felt in the 4-12 season and the 2008 Jets season where he played like 5 games with a torn bicep in his throwing arm.
It is worth noting though that Stafford was an 88 (his 2nd worst rate outside of the 66 in the 10 games in the awful 2009 rookie season) came last year. This goes directly against the "he just needed to get out of Detroit and stop playing from behind all the time" narrative.
Favre and Stafford also have reps for taking a lot of sacks. But both were better than average at that too. Staffod 104.5 and Favre 110.9.
Of course it's completion percentage and TD% where Favre really pulls away from Stafford and why Favre is HoF and Stafford is just better than an average starter. Favre was a 110.9 on CMP%+ vs 101.8 and Favre was 112.8 TD%+ vs 103.0.
Really Stafford when you do career '+' stats for him is just a bit better than average across the board and Favre is significantly better than average at everything but INT.
Player Y/A+ NY/A+ AY/A+ ANY/A+ Cmp%+ TD%+ Int%+ Sack%+ Rate+
Stafford 103.8 104.6 104.3 104.9 101.8 103.0 102.8 104.5 103.8
Favre 105.3 108.7 106.0 108.3 110.9 112.8 98.4 110.9 109.1
#16 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jul 14, 2022 - 12:03pm
They should've just kept Cam for that last year of his contract. If it didn't turn back around, let him go, pray for a comp pick, and then really start over.
But they reset their timeline ASAP and spent how much on Teddy and only got a 6th out of it (was eventually traded but the guy had 1 AV in 17 career games, not a difference maker in that range)? Then they rushed it again with a pre draft trade overpay of Darnold that indeed turned out to be horrible for them.
Now they're still trying to do the quick fix with Baker. Who's idea was it to trade for Darnold? Corral? Baker? Re sign Cam for that ridiculous amount? Seems like it changes every time and I can't tell if there's any cohesion in the org. Wasting assets left and right with no timeline/plan of getting out.
Not a bold prediction but the next few years of Carolina are gonna be rough. Lesson: there's not really many shortcuts to QB and, although the defense is actually not bad, all that really matters is the QB. And it's been bungled since Rhule got there.
#29 by MilkmanDanimal // Jul 14, 2022 - 3:24pm
As such, the only real camp battle of interest is Rhule vs. Inevitability.
Yet another glorious Tanier-ism. I do think the worst possible scenario for the Panthers is mediocrity; it's not likely, but I could imagine a vaguely decent year from Baker, McCaffery doesn't get hurt, things bounce right for the defense, and they limp to a 9-8 record. I mean, I don't expect it, but the Falcons are a wreck and the Saints are just "Jameis goin' back to bein' Jameis" away from awful, and, sure, some tough games, but Giants, Lions, week 1 Watson-less Browns, maybe the Steelers suck . . . it could happen, right? In that scenario, it wouldn't take much for a heavy sigh to lead to giving Baker a new contract, keeping Rhule around, and, well, you know.
I don't expect it at all, but it's I would say the worst possible case for the Panthers. They need to utterly suck, blow it all up, keep those core young defensive pieces, and just start over.
#31 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 14, 2022 - 3:59pm
There are some fun parallels between the Rhule Panthers and Belichick's go-round with the Modell Browns, including dismissing the popular old QB (Kosar) and desperately bringing in a washed top pick (Testaverde) after their prior reclamation project (Tomczak) had failed.
Granted, this all ended with the team moving cities and the owner never being allowed to re-enter the city limits or let the old fans know where his grave was. I hear the coach did okay in his third job, though.