Many fans and experts view the Carolina Panthers‘ 2014 receivers as inferior and weaker than the 2013 squad. Veterans with name notoriety like Steve Smith, Ted Ginn, Jr., Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon are all on different rosters this season. That being said, the sum of the parts on the current Carolina roster will actually turn out to be better than that of their predecessors.
Losing Smith, one of the greatest to ever wear a Panthers uniform, is an emotional punch to the gut. A ripple of apprehension and fear will roll through any fanbase when the top four receivers on a depth chart are sent packing. However, if you break down the numbers going out with the numbers coming in, things don’t look as gloomy as one would think.
Kelvin Benjamin, the towering rookie out of Florida State, was the most recent addition to an already stocked core of experienced veterans. He will be counted on early to make an impact on the outside and to help Cam Newton as his prime target in the red zone. Standing at 6-foot-5-inches, 240-pounds, Benjamin has a rare blend of height, hand size and athleticism that already has the coaching staff in awe after putting on a display during the rookie mini-camp.
WR Coach Ricky Proehl made a bold, yet logical statement when he said that the 23-year-old Benjamin would be better in 2014 than a 35-year-old Smith would have been on this team. This is where the logic and numbers game starts to illustrate the sum of the parts being better this season.
The addition of Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but they are sure-handed veteran receivers who move the chains and find the end zone. Avant and Cotchery are both 31 years old and have been complimentary receivers everywhere they have played. Underwood is 27 years old and has been utilized much like Cotchery and Avant, though Underwood has electric speed and can be a serious weapon on special teams.
The aforementioned Smith, LaFell, Ginn and Hixon all had a role in Carolina’s offense last year, but Smith is not a No. 1 receiver anymore and the other three are better suited as third options.
Smith has been a beast over his 13-year career, and for several seasons was a premier receiver in the league. His production and focus on the field has declined over the past two seasons, and at 35 years old, Carolina had to question how much of an impact he would continue to have.
LaFell has underachieved since being drafted and was a below-average No. 2 receiver. Carolina might have wanted to keep him, but not at the price tag he received in free agency. Ginn resurrected his career last year and was a huge factor on special teams. He frustrated coaches and fans by dropping way too many passes and would disappear far too often. Hixon never rose above a No. 4 receiver role and only had 55 yards total in 2013.
These four players accounted for a combined total of 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013.
The newest arrivals Avant, Cotchery and Underwood combined for 1,489 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. So you’re probably noticing a difference of 504 yards favoring the previous crew. Enter Kelvin Benjamin.
Benjamin will be a starter from day one and contribute heavily this year. He is still raw in his route running and will need to expand his route tree in order to dominate, but the attributes he does bring to the field are scary. He will be counted on to replace the production that Smith took with him and help Newton continue his path to being a dominating signal caller.
500 yards is achievable by Benjamin, though 750 yards and six touchdowns will be a closer target for him. If he puts up the latter number, he will exceed Smith’s 2013 production and push the grand total of the four newest Panther receivers ahead of the 2013 clan.
Losing the players that Carolina had in 2013 hurt fans emotionally, and the memories of that fun 12-4 season of a year ago are hard to forget. Once the emotion is removed, however, fans will realize that Carolina’s offense is in a good place. The sum of the parts this year will prevail and fans will be happily cheering on Benjamin, Avant, Cotchery and Underwood all season long.