This past offseason, the Panthers signed veteran center Matt Paradis to a three-year, $29m contract, making him the medium-term replacement for the then-retiring-now-New-York-Jet Ryan Kalil. When the Panthers signed him, they expect him to offer more than just a stopgap in the center of the line, but also a key building block for a refurbished offensive line in a Panthers push for the playoffs. That push now looks highly likely to have come up short, and while not aided by injuries, that rebuild looks at best to be incomplete. So, where does Paradis feature in all this, is he a piece they can build around going forward or has he failed to live up to his contract thus far?
Matt Paradis wasn’t primarily signed as a run blocker, but given how much of the Panthers’ offense is built around the run, it has been – and likely will be – important for him to at least hold his own as a run blocker in order to be an effective piece of the Panthers’ offensive line. The Panthers’ run game asks players to do a range of different things and Paradis (#61) shows a nice ability to do a number of the more peripheral aspects of this, working to the second level well:
And shows the awareness and body control to be effective when asked to seal off defenders on the back side of plays:
However, in terms of the core technical aspects of the run game, he has shown a nice ability to keep defenders away from his frame:
Which, in turn, makes it comparatively easy for him to get inside hand placement on defenders, giving him control of the block the majority of the time:
He does, unfortunately, have one main weakness as a run blocker, and this is something that has carried over to his time in Carolina. He tends to play with straight legs, and this naturally raises his pad level – in order to compensate for this, Paradis has to lean forward into blocks in order to artificially lower his pad level:
This is fine when it works, but it also leads to him narrowing his base and putting him off balance with his weight out well in front of his feet, making it hard for him to retain his balance when a defender looks to work him laterally:
However, where this causes the biggest issue is when a defender gains a leverage advantage against him, as with all his weight going forward, it is then extremely hard for him to adjust. The most common example of this is on outside runs:
But where it possibly has an even bigger potential impact is when a defender moves either just before or just after the snap; if the target doesn’t end up being where he thinks it will be, he is pretty much out of the play:
It’s probably unlikely that this is something that radically changes at this stage of his career, though it is something he should continue to work at, but the biggest way the Panthers can compensate is through the use of scheme, and this is where we come to the biggest struggle that Paradis has had in the run game with the Panthers, and why it’s not really his fault – reach blocks.
A reach block is a block that attempts to gain outside leverage on a defender – an effective reach block essentially locks out an opponent and seals off pursuit from behind.
The Panthers ask their offensive linemen to reach block an awful lot, more than any NFL team I can remember, and this means the Panthers need their offensive linemen to play at a very high level in order for the run game to be consistently effective. The other thing that’s worth noting at this stage is that, at a fundamental level, the center is quite different from the other offensive line positions as they have to snap the ball.
What this means in practice is that for the first half a second of each play, their hands are not where an offensive lineman’s should be – this makes them hugely vulnerable immediately post-snap. Most teams look to address this by helping the center immediately post-snap, such as the Panthers did on the following play:
However, the Panthers seem to be really reluctant to help Paradis in this way, and far too often, he is asked to reach block without any help – quite frankly, this is a really difficult thing to do:
Because the defender is already starting either in-line or on the front side of the play and Paradis isn’t able to get hand placement immediately post-snap, if the defender doesn’t make a misstep off the snap, it can be really hard for Paradis not to find himself chasing the play. There is a reason why most offenses look to give their centers a little bit of help off the snap, especially against 1- and 0-techs.
With that said, he does do a lot of things well, showing nice foot speed to work around defenders:
And despite having to deal with the snap, he also does a consistently good job of getting inside hand placement, thereby allowing him to consistently control defenders:
But the really encouraging thing he does is that he focuses more on securing the block and then looking to get outside the defender; that way, even when he isn’t able to get outside, he is still able to prevent the defender from making a play on the ballcarrier:
Paradis isn’t an elite run blocker, and he would certainly struggle more in a scheme which asked him to actively move people in the run game, but with a little more help off the snap, he shows all the ability of being able to be a genuinely good run defender inside the Panthers’ zone-heavy scheme, but as will be dealt with further in the next section, the Panthers maybe need to just make his job a little bit easier in order to get the best out of him.
Up Next: Pass Protection