It is 2017, and the Carolina Panthers are still trying to figure out who they have in the wide receivers corps. Kelvin Benjamin has shown promise, but also inconsistency. Devin Funchess has never really caught on as a reliable target for Cam Newton. From there, the roster is only filled with more and more question marks. So who will step up and make the most impact for the Carolina Panthers this season?
I am starting to think it could be Russell Shepard.
The Panthers picked up Shepard back at the beginning of the free agency period this year. A former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Shepard was always in the shadow of marquee players like Vincent Jackson. There are no such players casting long shadows on the Panthers field, unfortunately. This could mean it is Shepard’s time to shine.
Through the first week of training camp, Shepard has been the most impressive wide receiver on the field. Whether it is working the outside or in the slot, Shepard has been running textbook routes and catching with consistency. “I take price in being able to play all three receiver positions” Shepard told the media recently. That pride appears to be translating to plays being made.
Shepard just does everything right, no matter how small the detail. Take the following route against Daryl Worley for example
Shepard vs Worley pic.twitter.com/mINGH5i6Nr
— Bill Voth (@PanthersBill) July 28, 2017
Notice the every so slight look to the left, causing Worley to bite on the long ball just before Shepard cuts off the route. Textbook. Equally as impressive is this catch from Cam Newton from last Friday.
So why not Russell Shepard? Why not now? It may take quite a bit of effort, but that is nothing new to Shepard. “This is going in my fifth year” Shepard said. “Prior to this year I have been fighting for a roster spot every year. I’ve always had my back against the wall.”
The Panthers receiver positions have been there for the taking for years now. The door is wide open for a receiver with grit to step up and claim their place on the offense. Want to know who I would not bet against in that situation?
A player accustomed to having his back against the wall. That’s who.