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The Search for a Second Wide Receiver in Carolina

Cam Newton more than survived the trials, tribulations and growing pains of his rookie season in the NFL.  His prolific year was aided by Steve Smith, his stable of versatile running backs and his extreme athletic ability.  But Newton knows that to make it to next level and win the respect of his arch-nemesis Alex Smith, he is going to need another weapon on the outside.  There are a bevy of contenders, but who has the right measurables, skill set and desire to help turn the Panthers into a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy?  Let’s meet the applicants:

Brandon LaFell
6-3, 211, going into his 3rd season

LaFell has the size and height to make plays down field, and is an excellent blocking wide receiver.  After only catching 38 of his 76 targets in his rookie year (50% target percentage) for 468 yards (12.3 ypc), he greatly improved on these numbers in 2011 after finally earning his playing time of the underwhelming Legedu Naanee, whose awesome name and, more likely, experience in Panthers’ Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense led to some early season starts.

In 2011, LaFell converted 36 of 56 targets (64% target percentage) and 613 yards (a healthy 17.0 ypc).  Indeed, if you extrapolate those numbers over 100 targets, you end up with 64 receptions and 1,090 yards.  Bump his 2011 touchdowns up from 3 to 5, and that would give you 203 PPR fantasy points, good enough for the WR21 last year between Laurent Robinson and Julio Jones (in just 13 games, but that’s a whole other issue).  LaFell’s catching ability, concentration and field awareness were all on display in this week two game against Green Bay last year:

[vsw id=”f5_pf8AMCao” source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

Ron Rivera has been steadfast that LaFell will be the Panthers’ WR2 in 2012, and these numbers make it seem that this is a wise decision.  His ADP of WR55 according to Pro Football Focus’s DynastyADPdata makes him look like a good value pick as well.

Now just because this decision seems apparent from the outset should not prevent us from looking at the other candidates.

David Gettis
6-3, 217, going into 3rd season

Although Gettis tore his ACL last year, at least he had the good sense to tear it in August, giving him almost an entire year to get healthy before the start of the 2012 season.  In all seriousness, it was a disappointing turn of events for a receiver that had a decent rookie season considering that Jimmy Clausen (essentially a paperboy) was throwing him the ball the majority of the 2010 season.  Despite that handicap, Gettis caught 37 of 67 targets (55% target percentage) for 508 yards (13.7 ypc).

Indeed, in the limited time he played with Matt Moore, whose arm strength more favorably compares with Cam Newton as opposed to Clausen, Gettis was able to flash his impressive athleticism and abilities.  In Week 7 against San Francisco, with Moore under center, Gettis converted 8 of 9 targets for 125 yards and two touchdowns.  If Gettis develops chemistry with Newton, he could end up challenging LaFell for the WR2 position, especially if LaFell is unable to take advantage of his opportunity early on.

As an interesting side note, all reports indicate that Gettis is on track to participate in training camp and should be a go for the regular season.  If he ends up starting as the Panthers WR3, Carolina will end up with the unique circumstance where its WR1 is 5-9, and its WR2 and WR3 are both 6-3.  But we all know that Steve Smith plays much bigger than 5-9.

Joe Adams
5-11, 179, Rookie

The Panthers selected Adams in the fourth round after he ran a disappointing 4.55 40 at the Scouting Combine.  The 2011 Special Teams Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference, he should get an opportunity to make an immediate impact in the return game.  He needs to bulk up and work on getting off press coverage, but may see some immediate work in the slot.  Although some will knock his size, don’t forget that Steve Smith is 5-9, 185.  Adams plays faster than that 4.55 Combine time and is a player to watch.

Kealoha Pilares
5-10, 201, going into 2nd season

Pilares only appeared in 12 games last year and was featured mostly on the kick returns.  He averaged a respectable 25.7 yards per return with 590 yards on 23 returns, including a 101 yard touchdown return against the Lions in Week 11.   While he doesn’t possess game-breaking speed, he does run precise routes and has good run after the catch ability.  At the end of the day, the guys above him on the depth chart are someone with just 74 total catches, a guy coming off ACL surgery and a rookie (I’m sure that’s a joke somewhere, 3 WRs walking into a bar).  While I’m not advocating grabbing Pilares in any but the deepest of leagues, he is someone to keep an eye on.

The Rest

Seyi Ajirotutu
6-3, 211, going into 3rd season

Armanti Edwards
5-11, 182, going into 3rd season

Darvin Adams
6-2, 194 going into 2nd season

Rico Wallace
6-3, 210, rookie

Ajirotutu was signed due to his experience with Chud’s system in San Diego to provide needed receiver depth after Gettis’ injury.  It says a lot then that he only had one reception for four yards last year.  The Armanti Edwards Experiment seems to have ended with the Joe Adams pick — I suggest you try their earlier albums.  Darvin Adams had experience with Cam Newton after leaving Auburn a year early and then going undrafted.  He was activated for two games last year and has a chance to earn the final spot on the roster.   Wallace is raw (out of Division III Shenandoah), and will likely end up on the practice squad if he makes the team.

Having passed the test of his rookie season with flying colors, Cam Newton and the Panthers offense needs to develop the wide receiving corps to complete its transformation into one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.  The final phase of this transformation must start with the emergence of a WR2.  While the smart money for that role is on LaFell, make sure you monitor the rest of the wide receivers mentioned above, because Steve Smith and whoever becomes the Panthers’ answer at WR2 has the potential to be a combination like Nicks and Cruz, White and Jones, or Jennings and Nelson for several years to come.

If you’re a premium content member, make sure you check out the Carolina Team Capsule and their accompanying sleeper for even more on the Panthers and their prospects.

Be sure to follow Jarrett on Twitter as well: @EyeoftheGator.

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Boobam13 *
10 years ago

Does Lafell’s tattoo say “GODS GIFT”?

For that reason alone I am hoping that Gettis is the WR2

Bowser
10 years ago

As a Panthers fan my money is on Gettis. Not early on, but by the end of next season.

Steve Wyremski
Reply to  Bowser
10 years ago

I’m with you. Gettis was solid before his injury. He’s my snail in this race.

SJ
10 years ago

Surprised no mention of Olsen in here.

I understand this is for the second “WR” in Car, but theres a distinct possibility Olsen could become the second leading “receiver” there. Hes at least worth considering as so. Keep in mind he spit time (with Shockey) at TE last year, just like LaFell split time at WR. Plus hes guaranteed to be out there more snaps than any other TE on the team, and could end up having more snaps than LaFell or Gettis, depending on how things work out at WR.

Alls I’m saying, is that Olsen has no competition at all while LaFell seems to have quite a bit. Of course anything could happen, but Olsen has some chance to be the “receiver” to take after S.Smith goes off the board. No one cares about older TE’s ;(

SJ
10 years ago

And Chud did use the TE position extensively at his stops in CLE (Winslow in that monster CLE offensive year) and SD (some guy named Gates there).

I realize Olson isnt anywhere close to them in talent back in those two hayday’s, but hes still pretty good in his own right.

..could be a bit of a sleeper, is all im sayin’. Dude is dirt cheap, cheaper than LaFell

MR ROURKE
10 years ago

I like Olsen and think he’s been under utilized his entire career. It’s time for a break out and he’s the #2 WR on the team.

10 years ago

Love LaFell, especially the value you get. I bid league min in dynasty league. For an awesome WR4 with upside that is a bargain…

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