Steve Smith was drafted in 2001, the year the Panthers had possibly the best draft in their history. Taken in the 3rd round, all of the draft gurus had already pinned him as a return specialist, for there was no way a person at his height was going to be able to be a productive receiver in the NFL right? 40 times, college production, and all of the statistics all thrown out the window they took one look at his height and his draft stock flew down the drain.
Steve Smith set out in his career to prove them wrong. 4 Pro Bowls, 5 years with 1000+ yards, and all in a career that isn't hardly half over yet. Steve Smith is a deep ball threat on every down with his speed, yet he has the possession skills to make shutdown corners look silly in the short game. If the game is on the line and the Panthers are behind then you no problem. Steve Smith has shown time and time again that he has the ability to catch balls in double coverage and save the game for you in the end.
Steve Smith 2008 Highlights (via AMadden13)
With a six year contract extension signed in 2007, Steve Smith looks to be a Panther for life. It goes without saying that he will be the starter in Week 1. No one will question that. He is a natural leader whose presence cannot underestimated in the locker room or on the field.
100% Possibility to start
Muhsin Muhammad - Projected 2nd receiver - 6,2 215 pounds ((14th year, Michigan State))
Moose is a household name in Carolina. He is our current record holder in almost every career record in the receiving category we have as a team, and besides a 3 year stint in Chicago he has played in Carolina his entire career. He hasn't been exceptionally awesome. He's only had 3 seasons with 1,000+ yards in the regular season, one Pro-Bowl appearance. However, he has been consistent, and the blocking skillset he brings to the table is something a lot of other people don't catch onto when they look at Moose. Breaking off a big run is much easier when there is a big physical receiver to take out a safety or a corner out of the play. He's a good part of the reason that Deangelo Williams had his breakout year, and one of the reasons he will stay a starter on the Carolina offense in spite of being 36 years of age.
Does Moose stand to break 1,000 yards this season? Probably not. In spite of his rapport with Jake Delhomme, our running game is just too great to figure Moose getting much over 60 receptions again in his career. Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will get the ball early and often with our coaching staff in remembrance of that fateful 5 INT day by Jake Delhomme. Their success sets up the deep ball game perfectly with Steve Smith once the safeties get sucked up in the running game, and Moose is left with possession catch duties when the Panthers are stuck in crucial 3rd down situations as well as the odd pass here and there.
I would imagine a 55+ reception year for the aging veteran in which may be his final year with the Panthers, depending on whether or not the following receiver is ready to take over.
80% possibility to start, 95% possibility to make roster
Dwayne Jarrett - Projected 3rd receiver - 6,4 219 pounds ((3rd year, USC))
While his USC teammate Steve Smith has went on to win a Super Bowl in his rookie year with the Giants, Dwayne Jarrett has yet to nail down his starting roster spot even though he was hyped as a tough, physical that could have went in the 1st round if he had a better pro-day showing and a faster 40' time. So far, he's been a disappointment. Dwayne Jarrett didn't get the start over Keary Colbert in his rookie year, and since then he has been reduced to slot receiver duties until further notice. In 2009, it's going to be even harder for him to hit the field thanks to the success of Double Trouble keeping the 3 WR set off the field.
However, there is some reason to hope.
Dwayne Jarrett is entering his 3rd year, which is the traditional time for receivers to break out and have a big year. Dwayne Jarrett is not without talent and playmaking ability, as he flashed last year with a couple of 3rd down receptions in the game against the Chargers, leading to a dramatic conclusion we all remember and treasure deep in our hearts. Finally, he will not have D.J. Hackett stealing snaps from him on 3rd down so he will be able to see the field more and finally start flashing those physical catches in traffic that we drafted him to see.
This is a make or break year for Jarrett. If he has a strong showing, the Panthers will take him under their wings as the 2nd receiver for now and for the future. If not, except the Panthers to work harder to sign that contract extension for Julius Peppers so that they can free up some cap space to search for Dwayne's replacement in FA. Dwayne Jarrett will make the team this year, but what happens after that is up for his play on the field to decide.
Dwayne Jarrett has an outside chance to start if he shows signs of improvements and Moose takes a heavy step back. If not, expect John Fox to go with the longtime veteran.
20% chance to start, 100% chance to make roster
Ryne Robinson - Projected in 5 WR set/Kick Returner - 5,9 179 pounds (3rd year, Miami)
Like Dwayne Jarrett, Ryne Robinson is at a crossroads with the Panthers. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2007 NFL Draft, he was taken in hopes that he would provide a reliable return man for the Panthers. Instead, he was inconsistent in his rookie year and suffered an injury the following year that put him on IR. With Mark Jones leaving via free agency, Ryne Robinson has one more chance to prove that he can contribute to the team.
As a receiver, Ryne Robinson is a small, speedy guy. He's not going to win many jump balls, but he has that speed that can stretch the defense and give defensive backs some trouble. However, he needs to improve his hands and hold onto the football better, as he was the result of two fumbles in his limited time as a rookie. With a little work he can be a contributor in the 5 WR set.
He is also expected to return to his kick return and punt return duties in 2009. Don't expect for him to keep them long though if he struggles early in the preseason. Jonathan Stewart has experience in kickoff returns and did well in the Pac-10, and Jason Carter along with a few other receivers have the skills needed to try out as well. Ryne has flashed the skills to do his job well near the end of his rookie year, but he needs to prove that he can be more consistent for the Panthers to commit to him long-term.
95% chance to make roster
Jason Carter - Suspected in 5 WR set/Kick Returner - 6,0 205 pounds (3rd year, Texas A&M)
Jason Carter started his career with the Vikings in 2006. He stayed on their practice squad and made it onto the active roster near the end of the year before being cut at the 07 training camp. Then he came to the Panthers, and Jason Carter turned some heads and amazed the fans in training camp. It would have been enough for him to make the team, but then he blew out his knee and ended up on IR for the year. In 2009, it looks to be another developmental year for the young receiver, and he may develop into a long-term answer at slot receiver if Dwayne Jarrett takes the #2 spot later on.
Jason Carter made his mark in training camp with his speed. Excellent hands, he'll soar up and make some circus catch that makes you scratch your head and wonder how he did that. And once again, he has that 3rd year breakout label working for him too. I'd be very surprised if he's cut at the end of training camp, Jason Carter should continue to rise into the roster and make the team through one reason or another, whether it be Punt Return, Kick Return, or another man on the 5 WR set. He is a playmaker, and it would be a waste for him to ride the bench.
80% chance to make the roster
Kenny Moore - Suspected WR - 5,11 195 pounds (2nd year, Wake Forest)
With Mike Goodson being tried out for the slot receiver position, Kenny Moore's roster spot has been put into doubt. He will have to fight hard to prove worthy of being kept by the Panthers. The ceiling of our other wideouts are far too high, and if Mike Goodson can prove himself to be a capable receiver it would make Kenny Moore obsolete, and he would be cut so the extra spot could be used at other positions. Depending on how Goodson performs, it's a virtual coin-flip on whether or not he makes the final roster. Will the Panthers go with 5 wideouts and accept Mike Goodson as a 6th? Or will they elect for 6 wideouts like they have in the past? The job of Kenny Moore hangs in the balance.
50% chance to make the roster
Larry Beavers - Suspected cut - 5,10 167 pounds (Rookie year, Wesleyan)
Averaged 39.5 yards per kick return and an amazing 29.2 yards per punt return as a senior at Wesley. He has a chance to make the team as a kick and punt returner. Though at 5.10 and 167 pounds, he is extremely tiny for his size. He's going to have to bulk up a bit to withstand the pounding he'll receive from other teams, one good lick will knock this kid out cold.
25% chance to make the roster
Jason Chery - Suspected KR/PR - 5,11 185 pounds (Rookie year, Louisiana-Lafayette)
A fellow Rajun Cajun from the same school as Panthers Jake Delhomme, Jason Chery declined offers from the Steelers and the Saints after the draft to sign an offer with the Panthers. A little-known player that was on the rise as the draft approached, he didn't manage to crack the 7th round. He listed Carolina as his choice mainly because he believed that Carolina would be his best bet to make the team as a Punt or Kick returner. He will attempt to do this during training camp, but with more skilled players ahead of him the chances of him making it are very little. He seems destined to make the practice squad on some team.
20% chance to make the roster
Kevin McMahan - Suspected cut - 6,2 196 pounds (2006 Mr. Irrevelant, Maine)
After being thrown around from team to team, practice squad to practice squad, the 2006 Mr. Irrevelant makes it to Carolina with a interesting skill set. He's 6,2 and runs a 4.4, yet he's never been able to put it all together to be a starter in the league. His desire to play the game is questionable, he once left a game while playing with the Raiders because he had bit his tongue. Seems like just another camp body.
5% chance to make roster
Marcus Monk - Suspected cut - 6,4 222 pounds (2nd year, Arkansas)
Monk is a big body, but he doesn't have the speed to provide for anything other than an endzone possession receiver. Never latched onto a practice squad during his rookie year, which is worrisome. He has a high ceiling as a possession receiver, but not enough to justify keeping him around. Expect him to be cut.
0% chance to make roster