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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Carolina Panthers

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, we will compile a consensus NFL Power Rankings that averages the rankings of all 32 NFL teams.

Here is where the Carolina Panthers rank in terms of average, best and worst:

Below you will find a Week 1 roundup for the Panthers in our consensus 2021 NFL Power Rankings.

ESPN -- Rank: 25

Person on the hot seat: QB Sam Darnold

The hot seat could have belonged to coach Matt Rhule, who put his faith in Darnold after the quarterback's three failed seasons with the Jets when he could have taken Justin Fields or Mac Jones with the eighth pick. The belief was that Darnold and corner Jaycee Horn -- the Panthers' pick at No. 8 -- offered more value. Fortunately for Rhule, he's in the second season of a seven-year deal, so he isn't likely to be fired if Darnold turns out to be mistake. But if Darnold fails in 2021, Carolina will be in the quarterback market again -- even though it picked up Darnold's fifth-year option. -- David Newton

NFL.com -- Rank: 27

Sam Darnold Revenge Day is almost upon us. The new Panthers signal-caller gets his chance to send a message to a Jets team that unintentionally sabotaged the start of his career, even if the absence of Adam Gase -- Where is Adam Gase anyway? -- takes some of the helium out of the narrative. Darnold had an up-and-down preseason, and his future as a viable NFL starter will hinge on whether he can cut down on the turnovers that undermined his first three seasons in the pros. Carolina picked up the fifth-year option on Darnold's rookie contract, but it won't guarantee him job security beyond this season. It's put-up-or-shut-up time for the former USC star.

CBS Sports -- Rank: 28

Sam Darnold is the quarterback - for now. He's essentially in a prove-it year. If he struggles, you can bet they will be targeting a replacement next year. The young defense should be better.

USA Today -- Rank: 23

New QB Sam Darnold might put a once-promising career derailed in New York on track. He might also have trouble breaking bad habits with ball security, which first surfaced at USC before worsening with the Jets ... and still appeared to be evident in preseason.

The Athletic -- Rank: 24

Why they're ranked here: After a five-win season, the Panthers effectively swapped Sam Darnold for Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, and are hoping the change leads to more success in close games. The Panthers went 1-7 in one-score games over the final 11 weeks of last season. The return of running back Christian McCaffrey will help the offense, and the addition of cornerback Jaycee Horn, the No. 8 pick in the draft, should help the defense.

One big question: Can the Panthers help Darnold take another step? The former No. 3 pick averaged 6.6 passing yards per attempt in three years with the Jets, and never threw more than 19 touchdowns in a season. He's still just 24, but the Panthers are showing a lot of trust in someone who didn't develop as the Jets hoped.

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