The Carolina Panthers have seen many changes this offseason. No position has seen more change than the wide receivers corps. To make things even more interesting, the drafting of Christian McCaffrey likely means the Panthers may only keep five receivers this season. McCaffrey’s versatility as a receiver will allow for more depth elsewhere on the roster.
Here is my best guess as to who those five players will be. Of course, we are very early in the process. Players have plenty of time to make a positive impression. But as of today, this is how I see it shaking out.
Of course, Kelvin Benjamin makes the team. His weight has been in the news lately, and rightfully so. But the Carolina Panthers still have high hopes for him to fully reach his potential. Yesterday they picked up his 5th year option, but that only guarantees his pay check through injury. He could still be cut next year, so he will really need to prove himself in 2017.
Devin Funchess enters his most important year as a Panther yet. As Funchess just saw with Kony Ealy’s trade and Tre Boston’s release, GM Dave Gettleman gives a player 3 years to develop and reach his potential. If he doesn’t, he is leaving himself open for undesirable consequences. The good news for Funchess is that he has improved since his rookie season. If Funchess can continue that trend, and I suspect he will, he should be a key contributor this year and years to come.
Second round draft pick Curtis Samuel is a lock to make the roster, obviously. Samuel will be an integral part of the Carolina Panthers new “evolved” offense. Look for a quicker passing game featuring him out of the slot.
Charles Johnson was acquired as a free agent and will likely make the final roster. At 6’2 and 217 pounds, Johnson provides the size necessary to fill in for Benjamin or Funchess. His main competition for his roster spot will come from Brenton Bersin and Keyarris Garrett. Could they overtake Johnson? Possibly, but it will be an uphill climb. If you haven’t learned by now, you can never really count Bersin out.
Finally, Russell Shepard should also make the final roster and may be the most exciting players that isn’t talked about very often. Think of Shepard as the player the Panthers feel is an upgrade over Philly Brown. He is taller, faster, and a special teams standout to boot. If he can develop the same kind of chemistry with Cam Newton as Philly Brown did his rookie year, the sky is the limit.