The Carolina Panthers won the NFC South last season, but the division as a whole was less than stellar. Carolina wasn't even in the discussion early in the season, with most figuring either the New Orleans Saints or Atlanta Falcons would get things together and take control of the division down the line.
Instead, the NFC South limped to the finish and the Panthers were more than happy to take it all with a 7-8-1 record. But few think the Falcons, Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually regressed this offseason, so Carolina can't expect a similar result heading into next season.
But the Panthers also spent the offseason trying to get better as a team. Did they? That much is somewhat questionable, considering the team's limited draft picks and the lack of a big-name pickup on the free agent market. Below, we're going to look at three questions surrounding the team going forward.
Where doesend up?
The Panthers spent the No. 25 overall pick on Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson. He's a fantastic athlete with a high upside, but it's unclear where he fits in Carolina's defense at this point. The Panthers need starters in a lot of places, but not at Thompson's position.
Thomas Davis currently plays that position and he's one of the better linebackers in the NFL. They certainly aren't going to move Davis around to an unfamiliar position just to maximize on Thompson's potential. Figuring out where he should play will be the top task for Carolina's coaching staff this offseason. He's too talented to sit on the bench.
Has the offensive line improved at all?
The Panthers had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season, or at least the first half of last season, and most figured Carolina would spend a high draft pick on an offensive tackle. That didn't end up happening -- the Panthers didn't grab one until No. 102 overall when they took Daryl Williams of Oklahoma. Carolina had to trade up to get Williams, which was necessary given just how poor that line was at times last year.
The team got rid of Byron Bell and that might be an improvement by default. Michael Oher wound up being a free agent pick up this offseason, and Oher is currently slated to start on the left side. On the right side, Mike Remmers has the starting job but Williams should be able to compete with him for a starting spot from the onset.
Can Devin Funchess contribute as a rookie?
Carolina doesn't have a ton of depth at the receiver position. The team has tight end Greg Olsen -- who led the team in receiving with 1,008 yards and six touchdowns -- and Kelvin Benjamin, who managed the same yardage and nine touchdowns. But behind those two there's really not a whole lot to work with. Jerricho Cotchery is penciled in as the starter opposite Benjamin.
Cotchery finished last season with 48 receptions for 580 yards and one touchdown. He doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, while Funchess is athletic and may be able to play as a rookie. If Funchess is playing and Cotchery is not on the field, that's a positive for the Panthers. That all hinges on whether Funchess can pick up the offense quickly.