As the Carolina Panthers head into their third and most important preseason game, the wide receiver corps are starting to solidify. Time is quickly running out for any player on the bubble to make a positive impression and earn a jersey on game days.
Here is how the wide receiver depth chart is solidifying like week old pudding.
Kelvin Benjamin looks to be back to his dominant self after an offseason of conditioning controversy. In fact, Derek Anderson has a perfect passer rating when targeting Benjamin. Perhaps lining up across from standout corner James Bradberry has done Kelvin well. Iron sharpens iron, or so I hear.
Carolina Panthers fans are really down on Devin Funchess lately, but he has not dropped in the depth chart at all according to his practice reps. Funchess is still practicing with the first team. Anyone expecting that to change anytime soon should prepare themselves for disappointment.
Second round rookie Curtis Samuel is now practicing and could quickly rise in the ranks to see real playing time. Some are starting to wonder if the extra time Samuel has spent with his nose in the play book has been such a bad thing. The Panthers are desperate for a receiver who will stretch the field and keep the opposing defenses honest. Look for Samuel to play that role and also take the occasional end around now and then, as Mike Shula loves to do.
Russell Shepard has not made much noise this preseason, but he also continues to practice with the first string offense. His best play that has gone overlooked was drawing a pass interference play in the end zone against Tennessee. Look for Shepard to catch three or four balls a game this season. In other words, the role left vacant by Philly Brown.
The players listed above are the locks to make the team. This leaves one maybe two spots for players to fill. If you take a look at the snap counts against Tennessee, the picture starts to become clear.
Damiere Byrd is first in line and is very close to being a lock on this roster. His playing time decreased from week 1 to week 2, which could indicate the coaches have seen enough of him and don’t want to risk injury. If Byrd is indeed a lock, then that could be all she wrote for the following players should the Carolina Panthers keep only five receivers.
Up next is Brenton Bersin who has had a solid showing despite being injured. Bersin can play all receiver positions on the field which gives him an advantage over others.
Two players that could also stretch the field for the Panthers are Austin Duke and Kaelin Clay. Both have the potential to eventually be on the Panthers roster, but neither have done enough at this point. There is still time, however, for one of these players to impress enough to force the Panthers to keep a sixth wide receiver. The next two preseason games will be as important for these two young players as anyone else on the playing field.
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