Brandon LaFell and 7 Young Carolina Panthers with High NFL Ceilings

Tyler Horner@BR_TylerHornerCorrespondent IIDecember 30, 2011

Brandon LaFell and 7 Young Carolina Panthers with High NFL Ceilings

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    We saw a few young players step up last week when the Carolina Panthers took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cam Newton's record breaking 91-yard touchdown pass to youngster Brandon LaFell was a prime example of this and it bodes well for the future of this franchise. 

    The majority of this talent exists on the offense, something that needs to be addressed in the offseason, but there are defensive players that are beginning to bloom as well. 

    The rules for this list are as follows: 

    • -26 years of age or less
    • -Four years of experience or less
    • -Originally drafted by the Panthers

Cam Newton, Quarterback

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    Age: 22

    Experience: Rookie

    In his rookie season, Cam Newton has taken the NFL by storm and at this point, his supreme talent is undeniable. He has a rocket arm and his accuracy has surprised scouts that believed he would struggle at the NFL level. 

    It's almost impossible to put a limit on where Newton's talent can take him. His accuracy has improved at a rare pace and he is arguably the most athletic quarterback in the game right now. 

    Newton's potential could make him an elite NFL quarterback within two seasons. 

Jonathan Stewart, Running Back

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    Age: 24

    Experience: Fourth season

    In a two-back—and at times a three-back system—Stewart's abilities have shown through and it is clear that whenever DeAngelo Williams' time runs out in Carolina, his teammate will be more than capable of handling the starting role. 

    Stewart is an aggressive runner who plays with great balance and explosiveness. He can beat you with speed, but more often relies on his strength to get to open space. He's a guy that can be a Pro Bowl running back with more playing time. 

Brandon LaFell, Wide Receiver

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    Age: 25

    Experience: Second season

    LaFell has solid size for a receiver, standing at 6'2", and has enough speed to make him a great target in this offense. He has quickly improved his hands and is much more physical than he was in his rookie season.

    After David Gettis fell to an injury in the preseason, LaFell had to step up and became more of a receiving threat. He's done exactly that and has nearly 600 yards on the season to go with three touchdowns. 

    LaFell also offers great commitment in the run game and is one of the better blocking wideouts in the league.

    LaFell has the potential to be a very good starting receiver but is not physically dominant enough to become a Steve Smith type of player. 

David Gettis, Wide Receiver

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    Age: 24

    Experience: Second season

    After a great rookie season, Gettis has been out of action with a knee injury. He has the speed and frame to become the heir apparent to Steve Smith as this offense's top receiving target. 

    Gettis is a blazer who has the raw talent to become an outstanding player if he can stay healthy in the future. He needs improvement on the mental side of the game, but after watching his growth in his rookie season, I have every belief that he can be in the Pro Bowl as early as next season. It would surprising to some, but with Cam Newton's ascension, it's a real possibility. 

Jeff Otah, Offensive Tackle

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    Age: 25

    Experience: Fourth season

    Jeff Otah was once an elite offensive tackle, but injuries and lack of work ethic have derailed his career for the time being. He can still get on track with an entire offseason of rehabilitation, but he'll have to show a renewed commitment to getting healthy. 

    He is a mauling lineman at it's purest definition.

    He's an average pass protector but makes his money in the run game where he can be an unstoppable force when he plays to his potential. 

    When on the field, Otah is an obvious Pro Bowl talent and can be a Hall of Fame player if he stays on the field and fully commits to being a professional athlete. However, until that happens, he will be a wasted talent. 

Greg Hardy, Defensive End

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    Age: 23

    Experience: Second season

    Greg Hardy has barely tapped into his natural ability, and it's already evident that he's a key player on this defense. He has the size that makes head coach Ron Rivera drool and the intelligence that has made him a much improved player in his sophomore season. 

    Hardy is very quick off the edge and can be a disruptive force as a pass rusher. Although he may not have the numbers yet—7.0 sacks in two seasons—he constantly gets in the quarterback's face and has more pass deflections than any defensive lineman in the NFL this season. 

    Hardy will always be a solid player for the Panthers and with added bulk and a better understanding of the game, he could be just off the elite defensive ends in the league. 

Charles Godfrey, Strong Safety

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    Age: 26

    Experience: Fourth Season

    A cornerback in college, Godfrey has come into the Panthers defense and developed into a great player.

    A Pro Bowl alternate in 2010, Godfrey has struggled with injuries this season. However, he's one of the toughest players on this team and doesn't miss time unless he's truly unable to play. 

    When focused, Godfrey can be an elite player.

    He has great athleticism and instincts that allow him to make big hits from sideline to sideline and occasionally in the backfield. He also has the ability in coverage to make impressive reads and came away with seven interceptions in the past two seasons. 

    As Godfrey becomes more adept at understanding his responsibilities in coverage, he will become one of the top strong safeties in the NFL. He is already a force in the run game, but with improvement against the pass, he will undoubtedly gain the recognition he deserves.