It’s surely a tough pill to swallow for the team, organization and it’s fans. Many were looking forward to the Carolina offense, specifically the passing attack taking a huge step forward. Cam Newton was to have possibly his most complete group of pass catchers in his young career, with the news of Kelvin Benjamin(KB) out for the year with a torn ACL.
The Carolina offense finished 16th in the league last year, whereas they were 10 spots lower in 2013. In terms of just the passing attack, the Panthers jumped up 10 spots from 29th to 19th in Benjamin’s rookie season. Keep in mind, the Panthers have been a run first or run heavy team for some time now, so take that in consideration when absorbing the numbers that were just shared. Prior to the injury they were certainly planning on improving even more this season, now the question is if they can make up for the loss of KB.
The receiving corps after the Benjamin looks as such: Cory “Philly” Brown, Ted Ginn, Devin Funchess, Brenton Bersin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jarrett Boykin and Damiere Byrd. Of that group, the proven are Brown and Ginn. Brown’s flown under the radar a bit, but he seemed to have earned the job opposite Benjamin in their first preseason game after spending most of last year in the slot. Again, it’s preseason, but now with KB’s injury that may be where he spends most of his time this season. On the perimeter. He’s an extremely shifty player, has the ability to make plays all over the field. Like any pass catcher on the smaller side, he has to show that he can make plays on the perimeter and he should. Although he caught just 21 passes last season, he showed his playmaking ability by averaging 14.1 yards a reception.
In Ginn, the Panthers know what they have. As a special teams guy only, for every other team he’s played for in his career, he’s found a home in Carolina as a pass catcher. He and Newton have built a solid rapport. Ted spent last season with the Cardinals, his ability to stretch a defense will be counted on even more with the absence of KB.
Cotchery is the reliable veteran in the group, not too fast or explosive but knows how to get open. He had 48 receptions last season, that experience was evident as he routinely found pockets in opposing team’s defenses to sit down and give Newton a target.
The rest of the group is largely unproven, but definitely have the ability to make plays. Consistency will be the determining factor, rookie Devin Funchess will now be counted on a bit more to grasp the NFL game and be a reliable target for Cam. Of the group, he’s the only one with a similar stature to Benjamin at 6’5, 240 pounds. The former Michigan Wolverine was drafted because of the potential problems he can create for a defense. At that size he has enough speed to stretch the field vertically and line up all over the field, similar to Benjamin. While he’s not the same type of player that KB is, there is a possibility that he can come close to replicating the production made by last year’s top rookie wideout.
In terms of the offense as a whole, still expect the Panthers to do what they do best. Run the ball. Johnathan Stewart and company will be a load to deal with and the main focus of opposing teams to stop. Tight end Greg Olsen may have to play an even bigger role with the absence of Benjamin, but he had the most catches on the team last year and should be counted on to do even more this season. If the young wideouts can stretch the field, it’ll give Newton the opportunity to attack opposing defenses on every level. It’s only the second week of preseason, but eyes will definitely be glued to the Panthers young pass catchers from now until the end of the regular season. Who if anyone, will make a Kelvin Benjamin type impact out of that group this season? Someone needs to, their how far their season goes this year may depend on it.
In the same practice that Benjamin tore his ACL in, Funchess appeared to have a hamstring injury, they can’t afford to lose both of their big perimeter targets.