Carolina Panthers: Predicting Brandon LaFell's 2012 Season

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Carolina Panthers: Predicting Brandon LaFell's 2012 Season
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A few months ago, Adam Schefter from ESPN reported that the Carolina Panthers believe that Brandon LaFell is “poised for a breakout” in the 2012 season.

But, what reasons are there to believe that LaFell really is "poised for a breakout?"

There are two reasons.

First, unlike last season, LaFell will have more opportunities to make plays because he'll not only start, but he'll play the whole season. And secondly, LaFell's teammates and coaches seem to have a lot of confidence in him.

Some might criticize LaFell’s ability to become a great No. 2 wide receiver because they think that if he hasn’t done anything in the time he’s been with the Panthers, he probably won’t be any better in 2012.

However, things are much different for LaFell now than they were in prior seasons.

What has changed?

For one thing, Cam Newton. Newton actually gives a lot of wide receivers opportunities to make big plays.

Take Steve Smith for instance, who had a declining NFL career before Newton took over. It's true—Smith had more than twice the amount of receiving yards in 2011 than he did in 2010. He also scored five more touchdowns.

Then there's LaFell. In 2011, LaFell was given more opportunities to make plays, especially after he started to play the number two wide receiver spot over Legedu Naanee. Keep in mind that players cannot make plays if they are not given opportunities.

When LaFell was given opportunities, he made some great plays.

LaFell had 36 receptions in 2011. With that, he managed 613 yards and three touchdowns. Compare these numbers with Naanee’s, who had 44 receptions for 467 yards and one touchdown. LaFell managed to get about 17 yards per reception, whereas Naanee only managed to get about 11 yards per catch.

Of course, LaFell's touchdown in the Panthers' second game against the Tampa Buccaneers probably helped out with those numbers as well.

Nevertheless, LaFell has made some great catches. Take, for example, the game against Minnesota, where the Panthers were 4th-and-14 with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter. Newton found LaFell for a 44-yard pass and a first down.

The Panthers unfortunately lost that game, but that play definitely gave them a shot to win. 

This play, and many others, had given the Panthers reason to believe that LaFell is clutch. In fact, LaFell has a catch rate of 64.3 percent.

But a more important reason for why LaFell will do well in 2012 is perhaps the confidence his teammates have in him. With all the talk about the Panthers needing another wide receiver, Steve Smith recently expressed his thoughts on why the Panthers don’t need to add another receiver.

Why is that according to Smith?

LaFell.

Recently, Smith made an appearance on Dave Dameshek Football Program and had this to say about LaFell:

"[LaFell] brings to the table the versatility and the ability to become a very very good receiver in this league.  And so I don't really say that we need to have a viable second option. I think people need to understand and respect that he will be a phenomenal player. He is number 11, Brandon LaFell, starting wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers." 

When you get a great wide receiver, like Smith, to believe in you, it’ll do wonders to your confidence. At the same time, Smith is not going to just praise any receiver on the roster—especially if he didn’t believe in him.

But, Smith isn't the only one who believes in LaFell.

Pat Yasinskas from ESPN wrote about Rivera's growing confidence in LaFell. In Yasinskas' article, Rivera had praised LaFell on the progress he's made in the offseason.

Rivera also said that there is developing "rapport" between LaFall and Newton now, which is great considering there wasn't much time last season to develop such a comfort level. 

After the 2012 season, LaFell will probably be praised by a lot more. It’s going to be a big season for him and the Panthers.

And, anyone who denies that must have not been watching the Panthers last season. 

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