Cam’s Still Looking For Help, but Carolina’s in Good Shape
Time to tap the 2014 receiver class
I’ve heard a lot of digs and complaints hurled at the Panthers’ front office over the last month or so, and I really have to wonder why. I fully understand the Panthers’ need and their fans' hunger for fresh receiving talent. That being said, while I am not a Panthers fan, I do know good strategy when I see it. The Carolina front office has gone about their offseason in an intelligent fashion. Sometimes that means ignoring public opinion, and when the draft gets pushed back a few weeks, as it has been this year, there is a lot more public opinion to deal with.
I got into this situation a bit last month with an article called Cam Newton's Bare Cupboard, and not a whole lot has changed. I will admit that Carolina has come in a little south of my expectations so far in free agency. In my initial piece, I projected James Jones and Jerricho Cotchery as the two receivers the Panthers might get. Now, I did get things half right, but Jones was the guy I really thought would help on the outside and take pressure off of the rookies, whomever they turn out to be. Instead they saved some cash and brought in Jason Avant, which was a solid though very unexciting move.
So now we have a Panthers depth chart that looks like this.
- Jerricho Cotchery
- Jason Avant
- Tavarres King
- Tiquan Underwood
- Marvin McNutt
- Kealoha Pilares
- Toney Clemons
- Brenton Bersin
Okay, not exactly murderers' row. However, there is more there than some may think. Both Cotchery and Avant are highly dependable and exceedingly professional receivers. They are exactly the kind of players you want around young impressionable talent, and they can still contribute significantly on game day. King, Underwood and McNutt are also talented players with varying degrees of potential, with King having the most upside. The trick for Carolina will be to come up with at least one very good receiver in this draft and a few strong prospects. That is not a tall order at all in this year’s draft, which features the most absurdly deep group of receivers I have seen in a long while and it is the depth that is most impressive. I have seen better classes at the top end, but I’ve never seen such depth, and this is largely due to all the players leaving college early this year.
So there’s still plenty of time to get things right for Carolina, and this draft is like an oasis if you are in painful need of receivers. I really can’t knock the Panthers in terms of how they’ve gone about their business the last few months. They retained DE Greg Hardy with the Franchise tag and that’s certainly put a bit of a damper on their free agent budget, but folks should consider the wisdom in that move. They retain cap integrity going forward and still have the option to pay or not pay Hardy long term if they so choose. With both Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly in position to get long term deals over the next two seasons, it may end up being wise to pay as they go with Hardy.
It was also wise, given their cap position, to avoid long term commitments to most of the receivers in this year’s free agent class. The value is in the draft and the aforementioned depth. If they play things well, the Panthers will be in position to get the last laugh here. Look for Carolina to draft as many as three wide receivers and no fewer than two. The amount of quality they get will depend on how much they choose to invest, but they can do very well this year without a pick in the first two rounds if they have to. That is how good this year’s class is. Then again, as recent rumors suggest, they could opt to move up early to make sure they get that one key chip. Personally, I would bet against that scenario. Look for them to play the numbers game and add as many talented rookies as they can.
My take is that Carolina needs to acquire two primary things.
First, they must add a receiver with legit size. Cam Newton has been lacking a truly physical presence on the outside ever since he came into the league. Assuming they do not trade up, The Panthers need to look at this group and decide who to select and when. I have the projected range of rounds that each player should be selected in parenthesis:
- Kelvin Benjamin (1-2)
- Allen Robinson (1-2)
- Jordan Matthews (1-2)
- Cody Latimer (1-3)
- Davante Adams (2-3)
- Martavis Bryant (2-4)
- Quincy Enunwa (4-7)
- L’Damian Washington (4-7)
Based on our film work, any one of these players would give Cam something he’s sorely lacked ... a big physical receiver. We see all of these players as long term upgrades on Brandon LaFell and most are significantly more talented.
The second thing the Panthers need is a receiver with speed, quickness and versatility. They need to replace some of the elements that they lost with Steve Smith’s departure, but it goes past just losing Smith this year. They also need to replace the Steve Smith of a few years ago. The decline in Smith’s skills started before 2013. It’s been a long while since Carolina had a truly dynamic receiver. So, again, ruling out a trade up for the likes of Sammy Watkins or Odell Beckham Jr., this is the group of hopefuls:
- Brandin Cooks (1)
- Marqise Lee (1-2)
- Paul Richardson (2-3)
- Bruce Ellington (3-4)
- Robert Herron (3-5)
- Josh Huff (3-6)
Based on our film work, any of these players can make an immediate impact. Cooks, Lee and Richardson could all start on the outside as rookies while all six are capable of playing meaningful roles early in their career. You can see that taking a receiver in the first round, while it has merit, is not mandatory. Carolina could easily wait a round or two and then try to play the numbers game.
This draft is uniquely stacked with receiving talent. If your team, like the Panthers, is in dire need at receiver going into this draft, they are either very lucky or very smart. Carolina's long term strategy is absolutely sound, and with a good draft, they could easily be better in the near term as well. It's not like last year's crew was anything approaching good.
So don’t fret, Panthers fans. The table is set and in a few weeks, dinner will be served. Receiving sustenance is on the way.
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Other 2014 Scouting Reports:
- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A & M
- Dustin Vaughan, QB, West Texas A & M
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
- Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
- Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
- Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
- L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
- Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
- Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
- Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
- Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
- Terrance West, RB, Towson
- Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
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