With training camp within three weeks, CatCrave proudly presents an analysis on each position on the Panthers roster. In an effort to prepare you for the excitement of watching your favorite team prepare for the season, we will analyze the projected strengths and weaknesses at each position.
In part three of CatCrave’s pre-training camp series, we review the most analyzed and discussed position of the Carolina Panthers this off-season; the main targets of quarterback Cam Newton — his wide receivers and tight ends. After the release of four starting receivers, which included the franchise’s leader in every receiving category and captain Steve Smith, it seemed Carolina nation declared a state of emergency following his release and that of Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr., and Domenik Hixon.
Similarly, I also originally proclaimed from the mountaintop, “The sky is falling.” But with the additions in free agency and the draft (as well as tight end Greg Olsen), perhaps we as fans and analysts jumped the gun too early on the Panthers receiving cast.
Strength: In an effort to establish a culture of stability and winning in Carolina, Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly were selected within the past three seasons to lay the foundation of a Panthers team which could be potential playoff contenders for the next eight to ten seasons. Attempting to acquire more pieces to create this tradition in Carolina, with their first round selection, GM David Getteleman selected wideout Kelvin Benjamin from Florida St. Early in camp, the former Seminole has shown dynamic play in OTA’s and has the natural talent to become the next great wide receiver for the Panthers.
While Benjamin was the team’s biggest acquisition in reestablishing the receiver position, veterans Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery were brought to the team this off-season to supply the offense with savvy, proven wideouts to help mentor Benjamin as well as provide dependability for Cam. Though not the greatest statistical season of his career, Cotchery (with Pittsburgh a year ago) was valuable in the redzone for Ben Roethlisberger. He hauled in ten touchdowns and should be a nice fit on the outside in redzone situations to pair with Benjamin for fade routes. Though not a touchdown machine like Cotchery, Avant is figured to lineup in the slot and, with his career yards per reception at 12.3 yards, the former Eagle has proven to make plays in the past.
With the backlash that was received by Panthers management this off-season following the upheaval at the receiver position, Gettleman brought back their most prolific and complete receiver last season, tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen was targeted 109 times (tied with Smith for most on the team) and recorded the most touchdowns and receiving yards of any Carolina receiver (six touchdowns, 816 yards). Look for Olsen to potentially have even higher numbers with the addition of former Baltimore Raven tight end Ed Dickson ; who will create more situations where Olsen will be in single coverage in the team’s two tight end set.
Weaknesses: Yes it was painful to part with Steve Smith, yet the team should improved by letting go of the franchises’ greatest player. Early in the season, however, expect signs of a lack of communication between Cam and his new targets. While Olsen has already formed an excellent relationship with Newton, Cam is currently building this rapport with Avant, Benjamin and Cotchery.
The best quarterbacks and wide receiver corps require a strong sense of knowing one another, and I expect at least a few times within the first month of the season Cam and his receivers will be on different pages. Cam has progressed in his accuracy and leadership ability, and with mostly veteran receivers around him, I do not expect this to be a lingering problem.
Entering the season, I expect the receiver most likely to struggle to be Benjamin. The most difficult position to adjust to from the college game to the professional level is the receiver position. Most receivers (barring outliers like Aquan Boldin and Randy Moss) struggle their first season in the NFL. Talented, yet still raw, the Florida St. product is still learning the professional game. It is likely that within the first season Carolina’s first round pick may make mistakes which could include: running an incorrect route, failure to break away from press coverage, and not understanding the subtle adjustments while running a route against a defense.
Ranking 29th in passing yards (190.2 per game) and having three receivers who failed to crack at least 65 receptions, there is much to improve upon from last season’s passing game. Cam made impressive strides from his second to third season, and I expect Cam’s ceiling to continue to rise this season. However, with a rookie attempting to adapt to the NFL game, and with two receivers over the age of 30 coming off of average seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Panthers struggle slinging the ball this season.