One of the biggest training camp positional battles to follow for the Carolina Panthers this season will be at wide receiver. While the team did not address the wide receiver position in April’s draft, the front office delved into the free agency pool, signing veterans Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon.
Ginn and Hixon figure to make the final roster, and veterans Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are roster locks heading into training camp. That leaves two or three open roster spots at wide receiver, depending on if the Panthers decide to keep either six or seven receivers on the final 53-man roster.
One veteran who will be vying for one of the final roster spots is fourth-year receiver/return man Armanti Edwards. The former third-round pick had high expectations when he arrived in Carolina, as he established notoriety as a dual-threat quarterback for FCS powerhouse Appalachian State.
Heading into the draft, Edwards’ speed and athleticism proved to outweigh his quarterback skills, which led to the Panthers selecting him as a do-it-all offensive weapon. However, through three NFL seasons, Edwards has fallen short of expectations, catching just five passes for 121 yards. All five receptions came in 2012.
As a return man he has had some value, returning 12 kickoffs for a total of 260 yards last season. His most extensive role came in 2011 as a punt returner, when he returned 32 punts for 176 yards. While Edwards certainly has the talent to be an effective return man, he has failed to show consistency on special teams, which prompted the Panthers to sign Ginn to become the team’s primary return man.
What helps Edwards in the roster battle is his experience on special teams, something that is always an edge for skill position players competing for a roster spot. Not only does he hold value as a backup return man, but the small flashes he displayed as a receiver in 2012 could translate to a role in the offense this season.
While he likely won’t outplay Ginn in the preseason, he is capable of outshining second-year receiver Joe Adams, a similar receiver to Edwards. Both thrive in the slot and use their speed and agility to make quick cuts after the reception. The experience that Edwards gained late last season could prove valuable as he battles Adams for a slot role.
So far this offseason, Edwards has earned plenty of praise from coaches, including wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl.
Proehl had this to say last month in an interview with the Charlotte Observer:
“He knows how to run routes and get out of his cut,” says Proehl. “But more importantly he knows how to read a defense and where the holes are, what we’re trying to accomplish offensively, what’s the concept of the route. He’s always been able to catch the ball and he’s a great athlete. And now he’s figuring out how to play the position, and you see it. He’s had a great camp.”
Perhaps after three years of learning the wide receiver position, this could finally be the year that Edwards bursts onto the scene.