On one side of the field, the Carolina Panthers have wide receiver Steve Smith, a 13-year veteran, five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. Smith has 12,197 career receiving yards and 836 receptions and has seven times eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark.
On the other side of the field is wide receiver Brandon LaFell or Ted Ginn Jr. Or, in the past, Louis Murphy, Legedu Naanee or David Gettis. The list, unfortunately, goes on and on.
The Panthers haven’t had a real No. 2 wide receiver threat since Muhsin Muhammad in 2009, and that’s just far too long ago. They also haven’t enjoyed a top-10 passing offense in the NFL since 2004, when Carolina ranked ninth in the league after throwing for 3,643 yards.
|Carolina Passing Offenses: 2004-2013|
|Season||NFL Rank||Passing Yards|
Carolina won 12 games this season and earned its NFC South crown because of its top-notch defense. The offense did just enough to win football games.
In 11 of Carolina’s 17 games (the playoff loss is included), the Panthers either lost or their margin of victory was 10 points or less. Only six times did the Panthers win by 11 or more, and five of those came during Carolina’s streak between Weeks 6 and 13 where the Panthers were considered the hottest team in the NFL.
Adding a wide receiver in the first round isn’t the entire answer to making sure the Panthers erupt on offense in 2014, but it’s the best first step the team can take.
Why is it so important for Carolina to have a solid No. 2 wide receiver?
Because the Panthers don’t have a dangerous threat right now on the opposite side of Smith, opposing defenses are able to double Smith. If they don’t put two men on him, they can roll coverages his way and put a guy above him and below him on the field to make passing his way hazardous.
Tight end Greg Olsen, who led the Panthers in 2013 with 73 catches and 816 yards receiving, occupies a ton of attention in the middle of the field. Teams are focusing the majority of their attention from the middle of the field over to Smith’s side.
A second wide receiver, who could catch 70 passes a year while being a consistent deep threat or guy who could move the chains as well as Smith and Olsen, would open up the field by forcing opposing teams to equally distribute its defensive pieces.
If teams decided to continue focusing on Smith or Olsen, this new No. 2 receiver would have to make them pay. When focus moved over to this new No. 2, then it would be Smith’s turn to shine.
Can a rookie wide receiver cause this much trouble for defenses?
San Diego Chargers rookie receiver Keenan Allen caught 71 passes in 2013 for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. Jacksonville Jaguars rookie receiver Justin Blackmon caught 64 passes in 2012 for 865 yards and five touchdowns.
In 2011, two rookie receivers made noise. Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns, while Julio Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons.
There are usually receivers in every draft who can immediately impact an NFL offense. Who are they in the 2014 draft?
Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Marqise Lee from USC could all fit the bill of breakout rookie wide receivers. But they likely won’t be available to the Panthers, who pick in the No. 28 spot in the draft.
There are eight names that could come into play for Carolina at the end of the first round.
|First-Round WR Options for the Carolina Panthers|
|Player||Size||2013 College Stats|
|Kelvin Benjamin, FSU||6'4", 232||54 rec. | 1,011 yards | 15 TD's|
|Odell Beckham Jr., LSU||5'11", 193||59 rec. | 1,152 yards | 8 TD's|
|Allen Robinson, Penn State||6'3", 210||97 rec. | 1,432 yards | 6 TD's|
|Brandin Cooks, Oregon State||5'10, 186||128 rec. | 1,730 yards | 16 TD's|
|Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt||6'3", 209||112 rec. | 1,477 yards | 7 TD's|
|Jarvis Landry, LSU||6'0", 195||77 rec. | 1,193 yards | 10 TD's|
|Davante Adams, Fresno State||6'2", 216||131 rec. | 1,718 yards | 24 TD's|
|Paul Richardson, Colorado||6'1", 172||83 rec. | 1,343 yards | 10 TD's|
|CBS Sports & ESPN|
Three of the names that are starting to gain some momentum for the Panthers in mock drafts are Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State), Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) and Davante Adams (Fresno State).
Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
The first thing that jumps out about Benjamin is his daunting size. At 6’4” and 232 pounds, Benjamin will win a lot of jump balls and has the size to be an awesome red-zone target.
Benjamin averaged 18.7 yards per reception last year with the Seminoles and caught 15 touchdown passes. His 1,011 receiving yards came on just 54 catches.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Matthews is another big-bodied receiver at 6’3” and 209 pounds, and he used that big body to pound out reception after reception as the SEC’s all-time leading receiver.
Matthews caught 112 passes last season for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns. He went over 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons. He also turned heads at the Senior Bowl, where his play on the field might be a result of hard-core preparation.
According to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, Matthews watched game film of the defensive backs he’d be going up against in the Senior Bowl prior to arriving at the weeklong pre-game practice sessions.
Davante Adams, Fresno State
In two seasons Adams caught 233 passes for 3,030 yards and 38 touchdowns. Look at those numbers again and remember that it's just two seasons.
Adams is sure-handed and an accomplished route runner who isn’t afraid of running across the middle of the field. At 6’2” and 216 pounds, he could also be a huge target for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
The Panthers have addressed and fixed issues on the defensive side of the football and built an all-world defense. It’s now time to bring the offense up to as close to the skill level of the defense as possible. The first step in doing so is to add a talented wide receiver who will be more than just an afterthought opposite Smith on offense.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.