From the spring until the summer of 2011, the Carolina Panthers were hoping to have incumbent quarterbacks JIMMY CLAUSEN and/or MATT MOORE keep the starting quarterback job warm until CAM NEWTON was ready to go. Those plans died when Newton’s development was ahead of schedule, which led to Clausen’s demotion and Moore’s release. Newton played in every game of the preseason and earned the starting job by Week 1. Newton’s rookie season was not perfect but it sure was exciting, in many aspects it was stellar, and it brought busloads of hope to a franchise that needed a boost.
His rookie campaign also yielded his selection as the consensus Rookie of The Year, a Pro Bowl invitation, it re-started the great STEVE SMITH’s career at wide receiver, and he had the top-selling jersey not only on the Panthers but his jersey also was one of the top sellers in the entire NFL. All this from a guy who was thrown out of the University of Florida for academic rules violations and played only one full-year of major college football (but it was legendary) at Auburn University, and whom numerous “experts” deemed a big risk to draft and just a one-year wonder.
What will have the biggest impact on how far he can go in 2012 is the receiving corps around him, as every quarterback needs someone to throw to. Below is a review of the receivers that are part of the Carolina Panthers’ 2012 active roster as of mid July 2012, and who may or may not be able to aid in Newton’s development.
Second-year man DARVIN ADAMS was played like a flute by Carolina’s front office and some of their coaches in 2011. He was cut, he had to wait to be picked up by the Panthers or some other team while he was a free agent, then he only saw action in two games with no catches. Adams is young but posssesses talent and good hands, and he must prove it in 2012. He isn’t a blazer (ran a 4.71 at the 2011 NFL Combine) but he can make plays and he has good body control.
Rookie 4th round draft pick JOE ADAMS was Arkansas’ second-leading receiver and one of the most dynamic players in the SEC in 2011. Opposite Smith, the Panthers need another dynamic or explosive option and Adams could be that guy. Hopefully he doesn’t hit the rookie wall or he ends up being more needed in the return game, because the Panthers could really use his perimeter speed.
The Panthers just signed HUBERT ANYIAM from the San Diego Chargers after he was cut by San Diego. Like in San Diego, he has to navigate a cavalcade of receivers who are either better than him or fighting for a roster spot like him.
SEYI AJIROTUTU is an underrated talent who could really help the Panthers, and he’s getting just under $550K for just one year to see if he can do so. Rookie MICHAEL AVILA from San Jose State is one seven receivers vying for a spot on the Panthers’ 2012 active or practice rosters. Avila was criminally underused in college and that is one of the main reasons why he is a big unknown outside of San Jose, California. Avila has decent speed, some quick body fakes, and a feel for hurting a defense. But he is in an uphill battle to make this team.
Rookie BRENTON BERSIN who went undrafted out of Wofford (an FCS or Division 1-AA program) in 2012 is an interesting prospect. He played for a traditionally run-based school and so his receiving talents got limited exposure. Bersin did have a big 66 yard touchdown catch versus Clemson last year in which he got behind the defense with his speed and blown coverage on Clemson’s part. Bersin must make the transition from an FCS school to the big leagues and he must do it amid a crowded rookie receiver class.
Rookies LAMONT BRYANT, RICO WALLACE, and JARED GREEN all have abilities of their own and need good training camps to make the team. Green who showed his talents at the 2012 NFLPA Showcase back in January, may have the most upside of those three. But Wallace may be the best overall athlete of the trio. Every one of them were undrafted in this past draft, and they all come from non-Division 1-A schools, which makes them that much hungrier.
ARMANTI EDWARDS is a potentially dynamic complementary receiver, but for the past two years he hasn’t been able to prove it. He has played in 19 games since 2010 and hasn’t caught a pass yet. Part of it is his own developmental schedule, former head coach JOHN FOX and his offensive staff’s ignoring of Edwards, and other receivers cutting into his playing time.
DAVID GETTIS was one of the team’s receiving leaders as a rookie out of Baylor in 2010, but his second year (2011) was squelched by a knee injury before the season even started. Newton and the Panthers need for Gettis to stay healthy because they don’t have a lot of receivers who have one or more years of experience.
Third-year receiver BRANDON LAFELL has been one of the Panthers leading pass catchers for the last two years, which means that he must take his game to the next level as a possible number 2 or 3 receiver.
KEALOHA PILARES used his rookie year to learn the intricacies of playing receiver for the Panthers. It would be nice in his second year to see him catch passes and be more of a vital cog in Carolina’s offense. Like other young receivers on this roster, he didn’t catch a pass in 2011 although he did play in 12 games. Pilares is an occasional deep threat with good hands and the ability to find holes in defenses. In college he was an asset to the Hawaii Warriors offense and in time he could become equally important for Carolina.
Smith had one of the better years of his career last year, leading the team with 79 grabs for 1,394 yards and 7 scores. It was the first time he had 1,000 yards receiving in a season since 2008. Smith is getting old but he can still bludgeon a defense with his speed, routes, and excitability. He’s the best receiver the Panthers have and when he goes down or isn’t himself, the whole offense suffers.
BOTTOM LINE: Newton has talented receivers on hand to help with his development, but it’s just too bad many of them are very young, inexperienced, or not ready to be one of his go to options. Receivers like LaFell, Edwards, Pilares, Adams, Ajirotutu, and one of those undrafted rookies need to be held accountable because Smith cannot do everything, although at times it seems like he can.
By Matthew Robinson