In 2008 the Carolina Panthers made a bold move trading their second and fourth round picks along with a 2009 first round pick to select offensive tackle Jeff Otah from Pittsburgh. Panthers fans, myself included, sat with stunned faces as they saw the “king’s ransom” that had just been traded to Philadelphia. Now in his third season, Otah may be the most important piece of the Carolina Panthers offense. Unfortunately for Otah, the mammoth RT can’t seem to stay on the field.
As a rookie Otah started 12 games at RT becoming the first Panther since Jordan Gross to start 10 or more games at the position during their rookie year. With Otah solidifying the right side of the offensive line, the Panthers won the NFC-South and were considered one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl. That is before they were derailed by the Arizona Cardinals and Jake Delhomme’s six turnovers. With Otah, the Panthers finished seventh in the NFL in total offense and third in rushing yards averaging 152 yards per game.
In 2009, with Otah playing 13 games, the Panthers were once again dominant in the running game averaging 156 yards per game. Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart also became the first duo to rush for over 1,100 yards in NFL history. In 2010 Otah had offseason surgery on his knee and what was thought to be a minor injury turned into a trip to injured reserve in November. The impact of Otah’s absence was devastating to the Panthers who saw their rushing yardage drop by 40 yards per game and gave up a league high 50 sacks. They also struggled to get their offense going, limping to a 2-14 record.
Now as training camp has come to an end the Panthers need Otah in the worst way and he’s still on the sidelines with swelling in his knee. With it likely that rookie QB Cam Newton will be the starter on opening day the Panthers would like to have the luxury of a top ten run game to rely on. Without Otah, that may not be realistic. So while Otah may not be the flashiest offensive player or the guy everyone wants on their fantasy football team he may certainly be the most important.