One of the most intriguing Carolina Panthers camp battles beginning next week belongs to the wide receivers. On the roster is a good mix of Panthers veterans, newcomers, and rookies. Throw in the fact that they are being coached by Lance Taylor and not Ricky Proehl and things get even more interesting. As of today, here is how I see the roster shaking out.
The Roster Locks
Kelvin Benjamin is a lock, obviously. Benjamin has taken quite a bit of heat lately for coming into offseason workouts in less than stellar shape. How will he look on day one of camp? Hopefully, the improvement he showed throughout the Carolina Panthers OTA’s and minicamp continued on throughout the break. The Panthers need a Kelvin Benjamin that is ready to go on day one.
Devin Funchess is lock number two. This is a huge year for Funchess. In many cases, year three for a wide receiver is their final chance to prove they are a marquee player that deserves a significant contract. So far, Funchess has not proven that. He has the size, he has the ability, he just needs to settle into the position more and understand just how much of a physical advantage he has over smaller defensive backs. If he can do that, the sky is the limit.
Curtis Samuel, the second round pick, may be the most intriguing prospect of the group. In Samuel the Carolina Panthers have a truly dangerous slot receiver who can take it to the house at any time. Samuel will not only add a big-play threat, but also go a long way in keeping Cam Newton healthy. Getting rid of the ball early is something the Panthers hope to improve on this season, and Samuel plays a big role in that respect.
I feel like newcomer Russell Shepard is also a lock on this roster just from how well he did and how often he was used in offseason practices. Shepard was a consistent play maker that showed excellent hands. Think of him as an upgraded Philly Brown.
If I am right, that means four wide receiver spots are already taken. Given the fact that the Carolina Panthers will only keep five or maybe six receivers, it looks like we have a real fight to round out the depth chart.
Brenton Bersin and Damiere Byrd both spent time on the Carolina Panthers regular roster last season, however, a spot this year is not guaranteed. Both players are on the bubble and need a strong camp and especially preseason to state their case. Byrd can take a step ahead of the rest if he can prove to be a dynamic punt returner, which he flashed late last season.
Charles Johnson was brought in from Minnesota and is a bit of an unknown, as he was injured for all offseason practices. Johnson has to make up for that quickly as camp starts or he may not recover. Even though he was just signed a few months ago, his status on the team is very much in flux.
Local favorite Austin Duke is a player to keep an eye on. Duke, an undrafted free agent, was as impressive in OTA’s as any rookie wide receiver I have seen in recent years. It would be incredible for an UDFA to make this roster his rookie year. If he can, who boy, this kid’s future is bright and the Carolina Panthers can thank Dave Gettleman for one final undrafted gem.
Keyarris Garrett, Fred Ross, Mose Frazier, Cameron Posey, and Kaelin Clay round out the roster. The biggest obstacle for these guys will be the limited number of reps they receive. It is so tough for receivers far down the lineup to make any real impact and gain any ground. For them to move up, the must take advantage of every single rep they are given. A single dropped ball will keep them from gaining extra reps the very next practice.
Stay tuned for update from Spartanburg next week. I will check back in frequently to update you on this topic.Agree? Disagree? You can sound off right here with thousands of Carolina Panthers fans.