Having an intellectual conversation as a Panthers’ fan, or writer, gets tougher by the day. It’s difficult to talk about Carolina’s upcoming 2014 season without someone blurting out, “BUT THE PANTHERS DON’T HAVE ANY RECEIVERS!”.
News flash: they didn’t have any in 2013, either. Long gone are the days of the Smith and LaFell show, as now we are set to watch a band of ‘misfits’. Did the receiving talent in Charlotte actually decline from 2013 to 2014, though? Let’s find out by first focusing on the #1 of the past, and the go-to guy of the future:
|Carolina Panthers||New Orleans Saints||11-9||Panthers|
|Carolina Panthers||Atlanta Falcons||9-11||Falcons|
|New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||14-6||Saints|
Ouch. While Smith had almost had 20 more receptions than Cotchery, he was only able to put up 143 more yards. Had Cotchery been targeted as often as Smith, he would’ve put up almost 850 yards. Not only that, but the TD totals
aren’t even close. It is probable that Cam Newton would have had a lot more success with Cotchery in 2013, as the Panthers were hurting for a weapon inside the opponents’ 20. While neither receiver is No. 1 material, the ex-Steeler certainly had a better ’13. The fact that Jerricho was able to put up superior stats as a 3rd option in Pittsburgh speaks volumes. Edge: Cotchery
Now here is where things get tricky. Brandon LaFell was the #2 receiver for the Panthers last season, and it looks like rookie Kelvin Benjamin will fill that role in 2014. Seeing that Benjamin hasn’t played an NFL game, I’ve compared LaFell’s 2013 statistics to Benjamin’s predicted rookie numbers, which I have gathered from the projections of Dave Richard and Jamey Eisenburg.
While KB’s 2014 stats are an educated guess at this point, 740 and 6 TDs seems like a modest, yet very realistic ballpark. The main thing to set your sights on, however, is LaFell’s disappointing lack of production. While Smith is aging and declining, LaFell has his youth before him, and therefore is ineligible for excuses. He had the perfect opportunity to step up in 2013, and his failure to do so resulted in a spot on the Patriots’ roster. Under Benjamin, the #2 position should have a great impact in 2014. Edge: Benjamin
Moving on to the 3rd receiving slot, we see two very similar types of ballplayers, with speed that kills. Let’s take a look:
For the 3rd receiver position, Ted Ginn of Old actually bested Tiquan Underwood of New in every category. However, it is important to remember the situations of each receiver. Before Ginn came to Carolina, he had 6 career
receiving TDs. In 2013, he scored 5 times. Why is this? A large contributor is the strong arm of Newton. Cam desperately needed a burner to sail the ball to, and that’s exactly what Ginn was brought in for. So, isn’t it reasonable to assume that the young, speedster in Underwood would produce even greater in the same situation? Unlike Ginn, Underwood has reliable hands and his best years are ahead of him, while Ginn was simply a product of a complimentary offensive system and Newton’s strong arm. For those reasons, Underwood is and will be a better #3 than Ginn was in 2014. Edge: Underwood
Now, I could dive into the stats of the #4 receivers, but it is a given that Jason Avant had a far better 2013 season than Domenik Hixon. When you also consider Carolina’s plans for an increase in two tight-end sets, and Cam’s success throwing to TEs , the Panthers receiving situation in 2014 will be considerably better. If the Panthers won their division last season with a lackluster receiving core, what will they be able to achieve in 2014 with an even better unit?