Off to a surprising 3-2 start, the Carolina Panthers just suffered a massive blow to their 13th-ranked scoring defense. With Kawann Short’s season coming to an abrupt end, first-year head coach Matt Rhule needs his top draft pick to step up.
Can the Panthers overcome the loss of their Pro Bowl defensive tackle? Or will their defense experience a drop-off without Short in the lineup?
Kawann Short has developed into an elite defensive tackle
The Panthers found a Pro Bowl talent at a discount price when they selected Kawann Short with the 44th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The former Purdue star may have entered the league as a second-round pick, but it didn’t take long to realize he should have gone much higher.
After flashing intriguing pass-rush potential as a rookie, Short started nine games in his second season. However, his breakout campaign came in 2015 when he earned Pro Bowl honors after racking up a career-high 11 sacks and 18 quarterback hits.
Following another strong season, the Panthers smartly placed the franchise tag on their star defensive tackle. Carolina then signed Short to a five-year, $80 million contract extension that included a $20 million signing bonus.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pounder responded by totaling 7.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits for the Panthers’ 11th-ranked scoring defense. Short earned his second Pro Bowl berth in 2018 despite totaling just three sacks—his lowest mark since his rookie season.
Panthers lose their $80 million star
Unfortunately for Kawann Short, a rotator cuff injury ended his 2019 campaign after just two games. Once again, the Panthers will have to get used to life without No. 99 in the middle of their defense.
The 31-year-old sustained another brutal injury in Carolina’s Week 5 victory against the Atlanta Falcons. On Wednesday, Rhule delivered the bad news to Panthers fans.
In speaking with the media, the former Baylor head coach announced that Short will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery for the second straight year. Rhule did clarify that the injury did not occur to the same shoulder that ended Short’s 2019 season prematurely.
Losing a veteran leader this early in the season certainly hurts a team that features a number of inexperienced players on defense. However, the Panthers do have a young, talented defensive tackle who can help ease the loss of their $80 million star.
Who will step up with Short sidelined for the season?
Derrick Brown may be a rookie, but the former Auburn star has no choice but to take on a more prominent role moving forward. In four years with the Tigers, the athletic defensive tackle racked up 170 tackles (33 for loss), 12.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. Carolina selected the 6-foot-5, 326-pounder with the seventh pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and he has started every game this season.
In fact, Brown outplayed Short before the veteran suffered his season-ending shoulder injury. The 22-year-old has already racked up five tackles for loss and recorded two passes defended on 195 snaps. Meanwhile, Short didn’t record a single sack, quarterback hit, or tackle for loss on 123 defensive snaps before he got hurt.
Moving forward, Brown will have to maintain that level of play while carrying a much heavier workload. Plus, with Short out of the lineup, offensive lines could double-team the talented first-year pro, which could make it difficult to get pressure on the quarterback.
Should that occur, that means Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos will have to win their matchups on the edge. Burns has racked up two sacks and four quarterback hits after recording 7.5 and 16, respectively, as a rookie. Gross-Matos just arrived as a second-round pick and has incredible upside given his combination of size and athleticism.
Ultimately, the Panthers need all three of their young defensive linemen to play up to their potential if they want to remain atop the NFC South, especially given Kawann Short’s season-ending injury.