May 30, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. catches a pass during the practice held at the Carolina Panthers practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Franchise Spark or Merely A Hired Ginn?

First-year Carolina Panthers WR/KR Ted Ginn, Jr. has been a career under-achiever, no doubt about it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t even be a Panther.

Drafted Ninth overall by the Miami Dolphins in a completely botched 2007 draft, he has never lived up to his potential and has yet to even remotely approach having a thousand-yard season with his best effort coming in 2008: 59 catches for 790 yards and 2 TDs on offense – all career bests.

But why?

Well, I recall what I was thinking regardless of the Josh Beck the “quarterback” in the second round. They had really messed up.

More to the point with Ginn, the knock on him at the time was that while he had great top-end speed, he lacked the acceleration to get there as a wideout on the NFL level.

While you can get away with that enough in college, the ability to mask marginal acceleration makes running shorter routes pretty useless. That’s why he “peaked” in his second season. Opponent corners knew he was a one-trick pony once they had seen enough of him to know what he’s all about.

He will have a great practice once in a while, then he’ll back to his “old self” once again…dropping easy passes.

Apparently, his hands aren’t consistent enough to rely upon and QBs and OCs – and DCs for that matter – have adjusted accordingly.

The Special Teams are completely different arrangement.

Kickoff returns are inherently steam-building territory. He has 6 career TDs, divided evenly between punts and kickoffs. Just ask the New York Jets about his tantalizing taste of talent. 2 of his kickoff return TDs came in a game vs. Ginn’s Dolphins that the Jets dominated on both sides of the football and lost by virtue of those two plays.

It was clearly a career game for him.

Now, he’s got his third lease on life with the Carolina Panthers with a great situation for him. If he can avoid the Butterfingers Virus that seems to infect the Panthers’ Special Teams somehow at times, that true NFL-level top-end speed is something he can burn opponents with.

I’m pretty sure it would be hard to find any particular special-teams tackler that would want to be one on one with Ginn in space after he’s been running for 20 yards. You won’t run him down and the kicker doesn’t count as help.

However, his career high 5 fumbles (with 0 lost, luckily for him) came the same year he had career highs as a WR, and with 15 career fumbles, I cannot put a whole lot of faith in his ability to hang onto the rock, and it won’t take but one for the Eye of Horus to be upon him for the time he fumbles again and he’ll be joining Joe Adams on the “Group-W Bench” there, 2 fumbles lost or not.

Meanwhile, he has as level a playing field as anyone entering this season’s Carolina Panthers training camp. The team has a minimal investment in him with a very cap-friendly 1-year contract so he’s going to be on a short leash.

He will still have that clean slate to work with and that’s most certainly to his advantage. He’s entering his 7th season at age 28 and will have the benefit of a lot of experience with his first six divided between Miami and more recently San Francisco.

Oct. 29, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver (19) Ted Ginn Jr against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps he was over-drafted at 9th overall (by a round or two) but he has flashed the world that talent that he has just enough to be able to make rosters for his return skills with 100+ yard kickoff returns in two different years and with an 87-yard punt return in a third – his rookie year.

Whether or not he will be able to be a viable and sustainable deep threat seems dubious at best, given his past. At 5’11” 180 he’s too small to overpower anyone, so he would seem to be at a bit of a disadvantage on the outside on the NFL level and that has so far proven to be the case.

Without great size, hands, or acceleration but with the ability to “stay gone” and score in the open field, he could very well be enough of a difference-maker over the course of a season in the return game. The potential is certainly there and the return game is clearly an area the team can use a lift, and that’s precisely where he’s most likely to be able to do it in reality.

It really helps the offense to be able to start at the 35 or 40 yard line once or twice a game, even, I’m certain of that. Nobody seems to point that particular aspect out, but psychologically it has to be significant.

I only played a single season of organized football myself, but played a ton of youth baseball and the best analogy there I can make is it’s like coming out to bat with a small lead, whatever the inning is. There’s just a small but inherent lift in the offensive line, the skill positions are a quarter-step quicker than usual and the QB sees that endzone blood that much more easily to begin with.

“Now would be a good time,” as the saying goes, for Ted to step into that special teams role and not look back.

He shouldn’t anyway. Once he can get that head of steam built up, there aren’t many guys that can run him down if he gets behind the defense. Guys like this are easy to misjudge. You see them start to run and figure he’s fast, but really don’t factor in the fact that the longer he GETS TO run, the faster he gets. It can cause that last-line guy to figure the wrong intercept point and Ted will be past him. That’s how he’s made his NFL living so far.

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