In this series of pieces, Pro Football Focus is hammering into the value of players. To us it’s a “Janke Value Model” number, telling you what players were worth (by our grading) in 2013. You can read about the work we’ve done to create it HERE, but in short:
• It’s solely about what a player did on the field in 2013
• Players are grouped by positions so their play essentially earns them a portion of the positional salary pool
• It’s all about cap hits (these values are approximate)
Here are 2013′s most undervalued and overvalued Carolina Panthers:
(* Denotes player missed significant portion of time through injury)
1. Greg Hardy, Defensive End
We recognized Hardy’s potential when we named him Carolina’s Secret Superstar back in 2011, and he’s since steadily developed into one of the league’s best edge defenders. His +27.0 overall grade this season was the third highest of any 4-3 defensive end, and only three players in the league topped his 82 total quarterback pressures. While fellow bookend Charles Johnson has been a much better pass rusher than run defender, Hardy was one of only four edge defenders to post a +10.0 grade in both phases of the game. He’ll have a tough time outproducing his projected $13.1m cap hit this coming season under the franchise tag, but he was an absolute steal for the Panthers during his rookie deal.
2013 Cap Hit: $1.3m
2013 Performance Based Value: $11.2m
Value Differential: +$9.9m
2. Captain Munnerlyn, Cornerback
The Panthers defensive turnaround in 2013 was a true team effort with many players posting career-high grades, and the poster child of that breakout in the secondary was Munnerlyn. The fifth-year veteran had always been an active run defender who didn’t hurt Carolina too much in coverage, but he raised his game to a whole new level this season with our 11th-highest grade by a cornerback. In addition to his usually effective run defense, he only allowed one touchdown in coverage all season. He played a big role inside, where he took the second-most coverage snaps in the slot of any cornerback in the league. After being signed for a bargain one-year deal last offseason, he’s looking at a big pay raise in the coming days.
2013 Cap Hit: $1.1m
2013 Performance Based Value: $7.1m
Value Differential: +$6.0m
3. Jordan Gross, Left Tackle
Even in his twilight years Gross was one of the league’s most reliable left tackles. His worst season grade in the PFF era was a +12.8 in 2009, a year when he missed almost eight games with injury. However, even the biggest Gross fans may not have imagined him putting together a vintage season at age 33. Gross earned the third-highest grade of any tackle in 2013, along with a spot on our Pro Bowl squad. His 95.7 Pass Blocking Efficiency rate placed him among the Top 10 left tackles, and he was no slouch in the running game either. It’s rare to see a cornerstone player stay with the same team for a decade and still go out at the top of his game. As he rides off into retirement, Gross can be certain that the Panthers will miss him.
2013 Cap Hit: $4.9m
2013 Performance Based Value: $10.6m
Value Differential: +$5.7m
4. Cam Newton, QB – Cap: $6.0m, PBV: $11.0, Value Differential: +$5.0m
5. Drayton Florence, CB – Cap: $600k, PBV: $4.4m, Value Differential: +$3.8m
6. Kawann Short, DL – Cap: $800k, PBV: $4.5m, Value Differential: +$3.7m
7. Travelle Wharton, LG – Cap: $3.0m, PBV: $6.1m, Value Differential: +$3.1m
8. Star Lotulelei, DT – Cap: $1.7m, PBV: $4.8, Value Differential: +$3.1m
9. Robert Lester, S – Cap: $400k, PBV: $3.4m, Value Differential: +$3.0m
10. Graham Gano, K – Cap: $700k, PBV: $3.6m, Value Differential: +$2.9m
1. Jon Beason, Linebacker
In what might seem like a familiar story to Panthers fans, Beason was drafted in the first round, quickly took over the middle linebacker spot, and earned heaping praise and multiple Pro Bowl selections thanks to high tackle totals and strong leadership. Though we never ranked him among the league’s best linebackers, the Panthers gave him the richest middle linebacker contract in NFL history in 2011. Unfortunately, a plague of injuries limited Beason to just five games in the next two seasons, and Luke Kuechly’s arrival made him expendable once he finally returned healthy in 2013. Though the Panthers smartly traded Beason to the Giants after Week 3 (he would finish the season with the worst coverage grade of any inside linebacker), they still took on most of his hefty salary.
2013 Cap Hit: $5.3m
2013 Performance Based Value: $100k
Value Differential: -$5.2m
2. Charles Johnson, Defensive End
The first time mainstream NFL fans were introduced to Johnson was when he signed his monstrous 6-year, $72m contract in 2011. There have been times where he’s lived up to that salary, like a 2012 season where his +27.7 pass rush grade ranked second at his position. However, Johnson had a bit of a drop-off in 2013. His 12 sacks and 11.6 Pass Rushing Productivity were right behind Hardy’s totals, but Johnson didn’t generate his pressure nearly as quickly. His run defense, never a strong suit, resulted in a paltry nine defensive stops. It’s a testament to the Panthers’ teamwork that their defense could show such improvement without one of their franchise players at the top of his game.
2013 Cap Hit: $8.7m
2013 Performance Based Value: $3.7m
Value Differential: -$5.0m
3. DeAngelo Williams, Halfback
One day, we’ll learn that Marty Hurney was a time traveler from the 1950’s trying to re-create the Million-Dollar Backfield for the 21st century. That might be the only explanation I have for the lucrative contracts the former Panthers general manager handed out to running backs. Williams carried the tenth-largest cap hit of any halfback in 2013, yet rushed for just 843 yards with a 4.2 yards per carry average. It’s been a long time since Williams led all halfbacks with 63 forced missed tackles and a +13.8 running grade in 2008; he posted 35 missed tackles and a -0.9 grade this season. With another $10.6m of the cap devoted to Williams and Jonathan Stewart this season, the Panthers will continue to be haunted by the missteps of their former regime.
2013 Cap Hit: $5.0m
2013 Performance Based Value: $1.4m
Value Differential: -$3.6m
4. Charles Godfrey, S* – Cap: $3.7m, PBV: $100k, Value Differential: -$3.6m
5. Jonathan Stewart, HB* – Cap: $3.0m, PBV: $900k, Value Differential: -$2.1m
6. Ryan Kalil, C – Cap: $6.4m, PBV: $5.0m, Value Differential: -$1.4m
7. Steve Smith, WR – Cap: $5.8m, PBV: $4.7m, Value Differential: -$1.0m
8. Brandon LaFell, WR – Cap: $1.6m, PBV: $700k, Value Differential: -$900k
9. Geoff Hangartner, RG – Cap: $1.1m, PBV: $400k, Value Differential: -$700k
10. Dwan Edwards, DT* – Cap: $1.6m, PBV: $900k, Value Differential: -$700k
Summary – Team Value Differential: +$42.9m
The Panthers got an enormous bang for their buck this season, thanks to some solid drafting, value signings, and a franchise quarterback on an affordable rookie contract. Just as importantly, Carolina does not have any albatross contracts left on their books outside Williams and Stewart. Their ledgers will fall back a bit in 2014, as three of their Top 5 undervalued players are set to depart in the next few days and Hardy’s salary will skyrocket. Nevertheless, they are still set up well to retain their reservoir of young talent in the coming years.
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