One of the big stories this year for Panthers fans is going to be the development of our young wide receivers. As much as we would like to keep Steve Smith and Moose 27 forever, the reality is that Smitty is now 30 and Moose is 36. What of our youngest receivers? Will they be able to fill the shoes of their predecessors now and in the future? Let's take a look at those most likely to be making an impact on the Panthers for years to come after the jump...
Dwayne Jarrett - #80 - Age: 22 - Experience: 3yrs.
Everything hinges on Jarrett, and how he matures in his Junior year in the league.
Jarrett is a monster of a target @ 6'4" 220lbs. Which makes him suited for the possesion receiver role flanking Smitty. He is NOT a slot receiver, and we did not draft him to be. We drafted him as a replacement for Keyshawn Johnson. Where we screwed up was getting an itchy trigger finger and releasing Johnson right away. He could have been a great athletic mentor for the kid (definately not advocating a moral mentor here) because like him or not, he had sticky hands, he could make the tough catch over the middle, and we could have had his services for another year. Remember, it is not often a rookie WR sees hardly any time his rookie year.
We got wise in his 2nd year, brought back a familiar target in Moose, and in the process gained a VERY valuable mentor for Dwayne. A character mentor, an athletic mentor, and better yet... someone who can teach him to use that big body to BLOCK. However, as we all know, Moose is in his twilight and we need to find out this year if Jarrett can be the guy to replace him. We won't be able to judge that by his receiving numbers. We need to watch the kid on playaction, and see how he does. If I'm the Panthers, running a run-oriented offense out of a 2 or 3 WR set, I watch and see if Jarrett gets that initial block at the line of scrimmage to shake up his man, then can release properly, find a seam, and give Jake a nice open target just behind the linebackers to hit. Once he has proven that, I say you give him a rep or two at flanker, and let him block on normal run plays. If he can do that, and make the catches necessary, we don't need to seek someone else next year. If he proves ineffective yet again next year, it is time to declare him either a bust or a very long term project. At which time, depending on Moose's health we will need to either retain him, or bring in another veteran Possession/Blocking WR to replace him. Hines Ward perhaps? Hey, we can dream right?
Ryne Robinson #10 Age: 24 - Experience: 3yrs.
Ryne Robinson appears to be the #2 speed WR option on the roster behind Smitty. Standing 5'9" 179lbs. he is the exact same size as Smitty. His 40 time is clocked at 4.47 according to his NFL combine results in 2007. Steve Smith runs a 4.38. While the comparisons here look very good as far as numbers go, it has yet to be determined if Ryne Robinson has the big play ability Steve Smith has. He hasn't got many reps at WR, so we don't have a good idea of his hands or his tenacity in going up to get the ball which we know Smitty does better than anyone in the league. We did get a look at his elusiveness as a return man, but, I don't remember seeing anything spectacular. Look for him only to see play time in 4WR formations for now. He will need to dearly impress the coaching staff this season to convince them not to spend a high pick on a true speed WR in next years draft to groom as "the next big thing" in Charlotte.
Jason Carter - #11 - Age: 26 - Experience: 3yrs.
After blowing out a knee 10 months ago, Jason Carter is back on the field at OTA's and is showing little signs of regressing after the injury. He is apparently making cuts without hesitation, and working without a brace. That is good news for him, because to make the roster he will need to be very impressive throughout the summer. I bet the Panthers give him the longest look of any WR on the fence due to his potential, but it will still take a lot to grab a roster spot. Standing 6'0 205lbs. and turning in a 40 time pre-injury of 4.65 he does not clearly fit the speed or possession WR roles. The knock against him in college was poor hands, if his hands have not improved, combined with the knee surgery fallout this may be his last chance.
Mike Goodson - #33 - Age: 22 - Experience: Rookie
Yes, I know that Goodson is listed as a RB. But what we have here folks is a true athelete. Standing 6'0 196lbs. with a combine 40 time of 4.54 he was a dual threat RB in college, and expected to be as such on the Panthers roster. Scouts rave about his hands and elusiveness, and the tape is there to prove it. He also possesses some of the best vision I have seen when it comes to his running, even in the open field. The Panthers have been giving him time at slot WR, and while that is expected to be Dwayne Jarrett's temporary role, it is not where he is suited long term. He is expected to make the roster for a number of reasons, mainly as another component to our powerhouse running game, but over time he will probably see looks in the passing game, as well as return duties. Considering the youth we have at RB, he may make a transition to officially being a WR. who knows?
This is a critical year for the Panthers at the WR spot. We have a selection of 3rd year guys who need to prove they can be the future, and they need to do it now. The Panthers have a sterling reputation of building through the draft, but if these younger guys do not pan out, we need to be prepared to sign a veteran as a stop gap depending on Moose by the end of the year.
Although we have heard it before, I truly believe that Dwayne Jarrett will come around this year after having had the tutelage of Moose and the motivation of a "put up or shut up" year incoming. All the tools are there, and we need to make sure he spends a lot of time on the field on Sundays. I do not think we will be drafting another possession WR anytime soon.
That said, we should spend a 2nd or 3rd round pick on someone that we hope truly has a chance to replace Smitty someday. If not this year, then a first rounder the next. He is not getting any younger, and we need to start grooming someone as soon as possible. I do not think Ryne Robinson is the answer, and in fact, I dont know if his job is secure other than the fact we dont have much depth behind him. I'd really like to believe the successor to Steve Smith is on our roster right now, but I just don't see it.
Just for fun I will toss in a poll... those are always good for discussion.