One of the biggest question marks surrounding the 2014 Carolina Panthers has always been what to make of the receiving corps. The post-Steve Smith era is here but that may not mean it’s time to freak out. A big addition in the draft and busy free agency means this group could be poised for a decent year with Cam Newton. Let’s take a look ahead at what to expect at the wide receiver position as I do my best to predict the Panthers 2014 receiver depth chart.
1.) (left) Jerricho Cotchery
2013 was a season to forget for the Pittsburgh Steelers but not because of Cotchery. While not always Ben Roethlisberger’s first target, Cotchery was a huge red zone threat, leading all Steeler receivers with ten touchdowns. After celebrating his 32nd birthday last week, some might be skeptical that he’s past his prime but hopefully the glass-half-full crowd can see a solid veteran presence who is still a beast in the red zone.
1.) (right) Jason Avant
I’m tempted to put Kelvin Benjamin here but there’s no need to rush things. Jeremy Maclin’s injury should have meant an increased role for Avant last season for the Philadelphia Eagles but his numbers were generally down, from 53 catches in 2012 to 38 in 2013, good for fourth on the team. He’s also never had a season with more than three touchdowns and has combined for just four in four seasons. That said, last year notwithstanding, he was fighting for breathing room with Maclin and DeSean Jackson most of the time so should get the rock more in 2014 than he ever has before.
2.) (left) Kelvin Benjamin
Ah, the rookie. Hard to argue with the guy’s value as the 28th overall pick and he looks poised to have a chance to start long-term. Ultimately though, barring an outstanding training camp, Avant will start the season in a role commanding more snaps than the first-year guy. Look for Benjamin to be a regular part of red zone packages with his 6’5 build.
2.) (right) Tiquan Underwood
In a passing game dominated by Vincent Jackson, Underwood still made an impact for the 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, catching 24 balls and grabbing four touchdowns. He’ll get an upgrade in Newton over Mike Glennon at QB and will have a chance to be a top-3 receiver with an impressive training camp. Look for he and Benjamin to battle for snaps as the third wide receiver target for Newton this season.
Pilares has been out most of the past couple of seasons but looked good in OTA’s and will almost definitely make the team to return kickoffs. His speed and quickness underneath will be interesting to watch in camp.
Considering the weapons in Denver, there’s no shame to be had in spending a season on their practice squad and that’s what King did in his rookie season last year. He also played in a school-record 56 games at the University of Georgia.
The University of Iowa’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns, McNutt was largely a practice squad guy for the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins before being picked up off waivers by the Panthers last fall. He’s played in five games without a catch.