Panthers’ Yetur Gross-Matos May Remain Starter

Panthers edge defender Yetur Gross-Matos is coming off a disappointing 2022 season, but he has a good chance to continue operating as a starter, per Joseph Person of The Athletic (subscription required). In new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero‘s 3-4 scheme, that would mean lining up across from two-time Pro Bowler Brian Burns at outside linebacker.

In Person’s estimation, Gross-Matos is ill-suited to serve as a stand-up rusher at OLB. On the other hand, it’s not as though the Penn State product has excelled as a defensive end in a 4-3 look, so perhaps a position change will allow him to unlock some of the potential that made him the No. 38 pick of the 2020 draft.

Despite playing in 17 games (all starts) last season, and despite a significant 73% snap share that represented a sizeable playing time increase over his first two years in the league, Gross-Matos tallied just 2.5 sacks. That is the same number he posted in his rookie campaign, when he appeared in just 48% of Carolina’s defensive snaps, and one fewer than he recorded in 2021, when he had a 38% snap share.

The underlying metrics do not suggest that Gross-Matos in on the verge of a breakout. He is averaging under seven quarterback hits per year, and Pro Football Focus assigned him a subpar 49.5 pass rush grade in 2022. PFF has been similarly bearish on his run defense efforts, so he is not necessarily compensating for his pass rushing deficiencies in other areas.

However, as Person notes, the Panthers — who are eyeing a lucrative extension for Burns — are presently disinclined to spend for a free agent defender like Yannick Ngakoue or Leonard Floyd. As long as that remains the case, Gross-Matos will have ample opportunity to impress Evero and secure a meaningful role on Carolina’s defense in his platform year.

For what it’s worth, Evero says he is pleased with the progress Gross-Matos has made in spring practices.

“Just like most of our guys, from the first day we were on the field to now, you’ve really seen a lot of growth [from Gross-Matos],” Evero said. “He’ll continue to work through it, but we’re really happy with the progress he’s making.”

Person cautions that GM Scott Fitterer will continue to monitor the edge rusher market, and any price drops on current free agents or roster cuts from other clubs could compel him to make a move that would bump Gross-Matos — along with situational rusher Marquis Haynes and third-round rookie D.J. Johnson — down the depth chart.

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