It’s not a question anymore if the Carolina Panthers will draft a number one receiver this year, or even when since it will likely be in the first two days. The only question is who. Carolina will be trying to replace a potentially Hall of Fame caliber player in Steve Smith, but they’ll get into trouble if they try to find a player with similar attributes to Smith and expect the same results. Smith is a fantastic player, but his NFL production is an outlier when compared to his height and athleticism.
The truth is, players under 6’2” don’t become successful in the NFL as number one threats very often. Think of the top receivers in the game right now: Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery all are tall touchdown machines. How many receivers under that height are there that are true game changers? Smith, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson maybe. Of those, Jackson is really the only speedster that has excelled as a true X wide out. Experts like to say, “Speed stretches the defense,” and it does, but getting first downs and scoring touchdowns is what the game ultimately comes down to, and you need a big number one receiver to accomplish that.
So whom should Carolina draft? First, let’s look at some popular names the team should avoid.
BRANDIN COOKS – Along with some impressive game film, Cooks shot up draft boards when he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash. Cooks has all the traits to be successful. Except of course, the fact he’s 5’10”. Cooks is the perfect type of wide out for teams who already have a number one guy, because he can provide big plays and stretch the defense. But for a team like Carolina that has NO truly capable targets, he’s a luxury that the team can’t afford. All his highlights won’t help Cam Newton throw more touchdowns.
ODELL BECKHAM JR. – Beckham is in the same situation, only he’s slightly less athletic that Cooks. Plus with Beckham you have to worry about if his college production was aided by a very talented supporting cast in the passing game. Once again, just because these players look like they could be game-breakers, doesn’t mean they’re going to help the offense on a weekly basis, especially if they’re the primary target.
Luckily for the Panthers, this draft is stacked at wide receivers with the size and speed to make an instant impact for this offense. If they decide to draft one in the first or second rounds, their best options are:
JORDAN MATTHEWS – Jordan Matthews is the third best wide receiver in this draft. Analysts had him in the third round when the season ended and now has climbed to the middle of the second round in many mock drafts. However, I think NFL scouts are going to be willing to draft him much higher. At 6’3” with big hands, 4.46 speed and plenty of starting experience, the guy is a baller with Alshon Jeffery type potential. He has that fiery competitiveness in him the great receivers always do and you can see it in his play. His biggest knock seems to be on him gaining separation from corners, but he has the size and speed to become a master at this with good coaching.
MARTAVIS BRYANT – The fact that analysts aren’t jumping on Bryant astounds me. He’s 6’4” with a huge vertical leap and 4.42 speed. He’s not polished and has had some drops, but his ceiling is through the roof. I wouldn’t draft him 28th overall, but if they moved back a bit or he fell to them in the second, this pick is a no brainer.
ALLEN ROBINSON – At 6’3”, his speed shouldn’t concern you (ran a 4.6 40). He has the tenacity, the build, and the hands to be a great NFL player. If you watch his film the guy is explosive. He had a ridiculous 10 foot, 7 inch broad jump at the NFL Combine which details his acceleration. If the team decides to get an offensive lineman in the first round as our mock draft projects, Robinson would be a great pick in the second.
As an obvious note, drafting tall receivers just for their height isn’t a good idea. Kelvin Benjamin is huge, but he’s slow, can’t accelerate, can’t run routes, drops balls as often as he catches them, and is not the direction Carolina should go at 28thoverall.