Ranking the Best Players on the Carolina Panthers' Roster Bubble

Max Garland@@MaxGarlandNFLContributor IIIJuly 23, 2014

Ranking the Best Players on the Carolina Panthers' Roster Bubble

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers have several players currently battling for a spot on the final 53-man roster. Here we’ll rank the five most talented players on the Panthers’ roster bubble, including Joe Webb, Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin.

    The rankings are based on the following criteria:

    1. The player must have enough talent and ability to be worthy of a roster spot on any NFL team, not just Carolina’s specifically.
    2. The player can’t just be a long-term stash—the sooner he can contribute the better.
    3. Younger players are preferred, as they have more upside and coaches are more willing to tolerate their mistakes.

    Carolina found a couple of gems who were battling for roster spots in 2013—Robert Lester and Melvin White both made surprising contributions as undrafted rookies for last year’s NFC South champion.

    Will that happen again this season? Let’s find out.

5. Edmund Kugbila, Guard

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Edmund Kugbila was taken in the fourth round of the 2013 draft as a mauling guard with high upside, serving as depth on the interior while he became acclimated to the NFL’s speed.

    However, a left-knee injury and the addition of rookie Trai Turner could derail that development plan and force Kugbila to look for work elsewhere.

    Luckily for him, that knee injury is nearly healed, and he should be ready to go soon, according to Josh Alpert of Pro Football Talk.

    A strong showing at camp with a healthy knee would definitely ensure Kugbila’s place on the 53-man roster. At 6’4” and 325 pounds, he is too talented to let go of this early in his career. Plus, the Panthers’ guard positions are anything but solid, with the inconsistent Amini Silatolu and the rookie Turner manning both spots.

    The only question is how quickly Kugbila can get used to practicing and playing football again. He was placed on injured reserve last August, which means he was gone a long time without snaps. And Kugbila is a raw player who needs all the reps he can get.

    The Panthers have invested more in Kugbila than any other player on this list, but he couldn’t start in a pinch, at least right now. The top three players have more to offer immediately, and the next player on this list plays at an infinitely more important position.

4. Joe Webb, Quarterback

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Joe Webb experiment has ended in Minnesota. Now a Carolina Panther who doesn’t have to worry about a position change, Webb will fight for the backup quarterback spot with incumbent Derek Anderson.

    Any scenario where Webb has to start several games will not be pretty, barring a major improvement from him in both accuracy and decision-making. He completed 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards in his last start—a playoff loss versus the Green Bay Packers.

    However, Webb has one major advantage over the more experienced Anderson—his running ability.

    Like a very poor man’s Cam Newton, Webb can extend plays with his feet and scramble for first downs if necessary. Webb is more about speed than strength, but at 6’4” and 220 pounds, he certainly has the attributes needed for a dual-threat quarterback.

    And that’s a good thing, as the Panthers' playbook features several designed runs for its quarterback, so a Newton-for-Webb switch would require less pages being torn out than a Newton-to-Anderson switch.

    Keeping three quarterbacks is a rarity in 2014, so Webb is facing an uphill battle against Anderson. However, his athleticism should make Carolina's coaching staff think long and hard about a potential cut.

    Webb has always had the tools, but his quarterbacking skills have likely plateaued. The next three players on the list have much more hope for their NFL future.

3. Anderson Russell, Safety

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The Panthers’ secondary had to throw undrafted rookies Melvin White and Robert Lester into the fray last year due to injuries.

    Why can’t that happen again this season with Russell?

    In the 2013 preseason, Russell looked like a potential special teamer and quality backup safety. He excelled at stopping the run, something Lester struggled with throughout the regular season and generated several turnovers. He recovered two fumbles, forced one and totaled 13 tackles in four games, according to CBSSports.com.

    Russell remained on the Panthers’ 2013 roster until September, when an injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. He’s back again this year, but the climb will be much more difficult with the Panthers being deeper at safety. And at 27 years old, keeping him as a developmental stash won’t reap many rewards.

    However, Russell has more NFL experience than any other player on this list, sans Webb. If injuries ravage the Panthers’ secondary yet again, Russell could step up in a hurry and prove that his strong 2013 preseason was not a fluke.

    Russell is the best football player on this list right now, but his longyet uneventfulcareer prevents him from being higher in the rankings.

2. Brenton Bersin, Wide Receiver

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Brenton Bersin is used to being on Carolina’s roster bubble. The receiver has been waived by the Panthers the last two seasons during training camp. He did manage to latch on to Carolina’s practice squad in 2013, but he was never promoted.

    This year will be different.

    The Panthers have a much, much larger problem at wide receiver than they did last season. Behind Kelvin Benjamin and the two veterans are several castoffs looking for a chance. Plus, Bersin is much more experienced with the Panthers offense than any other receiver on the roster, since he spent the past two offseasons in Carolina.

    Bersin’s strengths as a player don’t hurt, either.

    The 6’3”, 210-pound receiver spent the majority of his college career blocking in Wofford’s run-heavy offense. That translates well to the Panthers, as they have a deep running back group and one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL.

    Bersin is also a smooth route-runner with strong hands. His ability to create separation will be difficult at the NFL level, but his height should ease issues in that department.

    Bersin certainly has a better chance of sticking on the roster than Kugbila, Russell and Webb do. According to Joseph Pearson of The Charlotte Observer, "Newton is a fan of Bersin's, and coaches like the fact that he can play every receiving spot."

    The only thing keeping Bersin from the top spot on this list is his lack of athletic ability. That means he will likely be nothing more than a complementary receiver in his NFL career if he makes an active roster.

    The next guy on the list, however, can become a featured weapon immediately—as a receiver or a returner.

1. Philly Brown, Wide Receiver

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Get used to the name Philly Brown—he offers the best combination of immediate contribution and upside of any player on this list.

    Brown was undrafted out of Ohio State, due to his lack of size (5’11”, 178 lbs) and a 40-yard dash at the combine that was slower than expected (4.51 seconds).

    Brown’s unimpressive measurables don’t seem to hinder him on the field. He led Ohio State in receiving yards in 2012 and 2013 and was used much like Percy Harvin was in Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense. He also returned punts during his time in Columbus. That’s crucial for his roster chances, as punt returner is a position in flux with the Panthers due to Ted Ginn Jr.'s departure.

    Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer wrote that Brown was reliable for the Buckeyes as the primary option in the "intermediate passing game." If Newton’s new batch of receivers turn out to either be too raw (Kelvin Benjamin) or too slow (Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant), Brown could quickly become a favorite target to move the chains with a strong training camp and preseason.

    Brown is a versatile, reliable target and can contribute early on as a punt returner. His measurables won’t do him any favors on Sundays, but he managed to grab 10 touchdowns in his final collegiate year, despite his lack of size. If it’s possible, Brown will do it.

    Brown will still need some time to adjust to the big leagues—he’s a rookie in an unfamiliar offense. However, he has the best chance of all the players on Carolina’s roster bubble to make it—and thrive—in the NFL.