Carolina Panthers fans should be all too familiar with Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.
The Panthers and Seahawks have faced each other so often over the last five years that one could be forgiven for mistaking them for division rivals.
Since Pete Caroll took over as Seattle’s head coach the two teams have faced off seven times. The first five didn’t go very well for the Panthers, as the Seahawks defensive juggernaut got the better of Cam Newton and company. 2015 saw that trend reverse, with Carolina besting Seattle both in the regular season and the playoffs.
One constant in this rivalry has been the play of Jermaine Kearse, who has done more than his fair share of damage.
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In the divisional round game Kearse caught 11 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. The year before in the playoffs he put up 129 yards and a touchdown on just three targets. In the 2013 season opener Kearse also caught the game-winning catch.
Panthers fans will surely remember this one:
This is no accident. If nothing else Jermaine Kearse has proven that he’s a receiver that comes through in big games. That’s why he’s the perfect candidate for the Panthers to sign when free agency opens next week.
Kearse made some headlines this week when he announced he would not be returning to Seattle, despite being a fan-favorite and growing up in Washington. He’s smart to do so. Kearse can earn much more on the open market than he can with the run-first Seahawks, especially now that Tyler Lockett and Jimmy Graham are in town.
Meanwhile, Carolina’s wide receiver problems are well-documented. Last season Cam Newton lost more yards to drops than any other quarterback in the NFL.
Kearse’s career numbers may not wow anybody but he is extremely consistent. He ranked in the top five in DVOA and passer rating when targeted this past season. More importantly, he only dropped one of his 68 targets from Russell Wilson all year. That is consistent with what he’s done his whole career.
At 6’1″ and 209 pounds, Kearse is the kind of wide-bodied, long-limbed receiver that Newton needs to account for his accuracy troubles. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen are solid red zone options, but adding Kearse will make defending the Panthers at the goal line a very difficult proposition. He’s also an excellent run blocker and solid contributor on special teams.
The greatest attribute that Kearse may bring though is a flair for the dramatic.
Prior to last season, Kearse caught the game-winning touchdown in the previous two NFC Championships and also came through with big plays in both Super Bowl 48 and Super Bowl 49. We already know that Carolina is extremely close to reaching the top of the NFL mountain. A playmaker who comes through on the biggest stage may be the final piece of the puzzle.
The really beautiful part of it is very few people realize how great Kearse can be. Because he’s been relatively hidden in Seattle’s offense, he might be a secret superstar in the making.
If the Panthers can sign Kearse to a deal that averages six million dollars a year or less it might be one of the great coups of 2016.