The Carolina Panthers have been looking for a complimentary wide receiver to play opposite of Steve Smith ever since Muhsin Muhammad departed via free agency in 2004. It’s time they focused on adding a legitimate outside threat in the 2014 NFL Draft.
They’ve padded every other unit on offense with a no. 1 draft pick under center, a consistently solid offensive line and a deep stable of running backs. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they haven’t tried to find a reliable no. 2; it’s just that they’ve swung and missed on the likes of Keary Colbert (second round, ’04), Dwayne Jarrett (second round, ’07), Brandon LaFell (third round, ’10), and Armanti Edwards (third round, ’10).
Recently signed Ted Ginn has played well through three games in 2013, pulling in seven receptions for an impressive 143 yards and two touchdowns, good for more than 20 yards a reception. But there’s a reason he’s on his third team in the last five years. He’s not a reliable or consistent deep threat, despite his jaw-dropping speed.
So now is the time for the Panthers to throw a bone to not only Smith, but also third year QB Cam Newton, the franchise savior. Newton is having a decent year (577 passing yards, six TDs and two picks), but it’s still below his considerable standards, and the Panthers have stumbled because of it, leading to a 1-2 record. The Panthers’ passing attack is third to last in the league in passing yards per game (192.3).
You could realistically make the case the Panthers need to draft not one, but two receivers in the next draft. After all, Smith is 34 and isn’t getting any younger. Despite coming off two outstanding seasons in Newton’s first two campaigns, where Smith hauled in 152 receptions for 2,568 yards, he’s been a shell of himself in 2013. Through three games, Smith has pulled in 14 receptions for only 143 yards, good for a paltry 10.2 YPR.
So now that we’ve established the Panthers need at least one, but probably two receivers in the next draft, who should they focus on?
The Panthers will probably be picking in the middle of the first round, so Marqise Lee (Southern Cal) and Sammy Watkins (Clemson) could be off the board. Mike Evans (Texas A&M) would be an outstanding fit, and should still be available. At 6-foot 5, 220 pounds, he’d finally give the Panthers and Newton the big outside threat they’ve been looking for. Brandon Coleman (Rutgers) also could figure into the mix here as well, despite being under just about everyone’s radar (for now).
Some second-round options, should the Panthers once again forgo selecting a receiver in the first round (Rae Carruth in ’97 was the last time they took a wideout in round one), would be Allen Robinson (Penn State) and Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss), more receivers with outstanding athleticism and size.
The bottom line is the Panthers finally need to invest a premium pick on a receiver. More than likely, they’ll look for a receiver with some good size to compliment the 5-foot 9 Smith, and also provide a reliable red zone threat for Newton. The 2014 NFL Draft can provide this to the Panthers, so long as they use the opportunity wisely.