This offseason, we have many hard decisions facing us as a team. One byproduct of the injury-riddled season is that we developed a lot of depth. However, because of that we may be cutting guys who in other seasons would be assured a spot on the roster. One such area that you will see that happen is at wide receiver. This is widely recognized as a top need of ours, and there are multiple ways we can address it.
Pictured Citadel WR Andre Roberts via www.nfldraftdog.com
Currently on the roster, we have one of the best in the league with Steve Smith. What more can I say here about him that hasn't already been said? He isn't going to be here forever though, so we should start looking for a replacement. It also wouldn't hurt to have another scoring threat to take away attention from Smitty. We also need a possession type receiver to make the tough catches on third down and to be a safety valve for Moore. We have multiple options for those two slots, some of them may even be on the roster. Former 2nd round pick Dwayne Jarret really came on late in the year. I'm not talking just the touchdown he scored in the finale. Starting with the Jets game, Jarret was running great routes, getting open deep, and making some excellent catches. Look at his highlights vs New Orleans, that's exactly what we drafted him to do.
We also have Kenny Moore and Charly Martin. Martin is a good STer, and may have some upside as a slot receiver. Moore's ceiling is a slot role, he doesn't do anything really well, but he does a lot decently. Working out with Smith like he did last offseason will help. Really the only guy I see being the answer is Jarret at split end. Having said that, Jarret hasn't been called a bust these past few years for nothing. He still has a lot to prove. More on our options after the jump.
While Jarret may be an in house answer as a possession receiver, we still need to bring in at least one other guy. That's one of the few guarantees of this offseason, we will bring in someone to play receiver. We have several options in free agency. Keeping in mind our general MO with FA, the cap situation, and our needs, there are a few guys that seem very likely to be looked at by Furney and Co. Kevin Walter is my favorite of the bunch. An unrestricted free agent from the Houston Texans, Walter disappointed this season. He may be let go, as he doesn't have a high ceiling, and should that happen he would be an ideal fit for Carolina. A blue collar possession receiver, Walter had a knack for getting open deep against the zone while in Houston, and I see no reason why he couldn't excel in that same role here. He's got good hands, is a physical guy, runs sharp routes, and is a decent blocker. He would be good at the #2 slot, with a speedster at #3 and Smith at #1.
Another likely option I see us pursuing is Nate Burleson. A solid receiver for the 'Hawks this year, Burleson is a quick guy with a second gear, good hands, fairly reliable, and a GREAT return man. He would be a good threat in the slot, or across from Smith. Defense's would have to account for him. However, he has his concerns. He has some injury concerns, as well as motivational concerns. Will he play up to par once he gets paid? His routes aren't the sharpest either. Ultimately, I think he would be a good option in the slot, we would need another possession receiver at #2 though (Jarret?)
Those two aren't our only options in free agency. Courtney Roby from the Saints, while he wouldn't address any pass-catching needs, would be an excellent replacement for Martin on ST and returns. Jason Avant was an excellent slot man for the Eagles, and could be out of luck with their deep receiving corps. He would be like a Proehl clone in our offense. Torry Holt runs sharp routes and likes Carolina, he could be an option at the #2 possession role, although he wouldn't take any pressure off of Smith. Chris Chambers is a deep threat, but he is 33, how much does he have left in the tank? Malcolm Floyd of the Chargers, while a RFA, would be a massive target at #2, and would do a lot for Moore's development. If he could be had for a third round pick, I would pull the trigger. Kelley Washington from the Ravens is a solid possession receiver, not so sure he's much better than Jarret though. Hometown favorite Muhsin Muhammad could even be an option, we are that desperate.
Even if we sign a free agent, I would wager a large sum that at least one receiver will be drafted. Quite literally nearly every prospect is a possibility, so I'll just give you my top ten who will realistically be available in our draft range. ; )
#1 Golden Tate, WR Notre Dame
Tate reminds me of Steve Smith. Short, fast, is excellent at YAC, and has excellent break tackle ability. Tate however doesn't have Smith's vertical ability. He will go deep, but he won't go up. Having said that, he is by far my favorite receiver prospect in the draft, he profiles as an immediate #2 across from Smith to take away attention. Given his experience in Weiss's pro style offense, and the situation and talent on offense, Tate could easily be OROY.
#2 Brandon LaFell, WR LSU
Once you get past the first 50 or so picks, you get receivers who project as #2's or #3's. LaFell is one of the few second round projected picks who has the qualities of a #1. He is big and strong, and plays aggressively. He is like an exact clone of Anquan Boldin, and I know a bunch of you want to see Q here. He isn't very fast though, that's one of the knocks on him, and he does round off his routes occassionaly.
#3 Marshawn Gilyard, WR Cincinnati
He is the scoring threat we need on offense and special teams. He reminds me quite a bit of Smith coming out of Utah. Many view Gilyard as only a kick returner due to the goofy offense he plays in and his slight frame. However Gilyard has good hands, and can make plays. At the very least, I think he would be good in the slot.
#4 Arrellious Benn, WR Illinois
I'm not that high on Benn, but this is the farthest i could legitimately drop him due to his talent. He is big, fast, and strong. However his routes, hands, and agility leave a lot to be desired.
#5 Eric Decker, WR Minnesota
Decker is one of my favorite possession receivers. He is strong and reliable, and blocks very well. Not much upside, but he would be a great weapon in the slot or at #2 on third downs and in the redzone.
#6 Dexter McCluster, ATH Ole Miss
McCluster is small, had no defined role at Ole Miss, and not a lot of experience doing what he will be asked to do in the NFL. Now that I've got the negative out of the way, time to rave. McCluster has elite speed and agility, he breaks tackles, and he showed at the Senior Bowl he can be a WR. I said earlier that we need a scoring threat other than Smith, McCluster is the perfect player for that. Get him the ball in space and watch out. He survived three years of SEC ball, at running back. I'm not overly concerned about his durability.
#7 Andre Robert, WR Citadel
We like taking the hometown guys, and Roberts runs very polished routes. He could be ready to step into the #2 spot at OTA's.
#8 Jordan Shipley, WR Texas
Profiles as a slot receiver, Shipley would fill the Ricky Proehl role in this offense. He isn't very athletic, but he's smart and is a hard worker. Whoever drafts him will be getting value.
#9 Demaryius Thomas, WR Georgia Tech
Thomas has a bunch of negatives just like McCluster. He didn't run the route tree at GT, it was more like a bush in that goofy offense. He doesn't have great speed or hands either. However, his numbers in that offense were absolutely PHENOMENAL!!! I can't ignore that type of production. He is like Michael Irvin, not an elite athlete, but gets open deep nonetheless.
#10 Jacoby Ford, WR Clemson
Ford is a track star with great speed, and reminds many of us of another speedster from the Carolina's. He has some work to do, but he could develop from a good return man to a lethal offensive weapon.
The great thing about this dilemma is the sheer number of options. Plug in any duo of possession and speed and you have a possible scenario. And for the most part, any 2 of these guys will be the missing piece on offense. If I missed any guys you'd like, please inform us all in the comments section. Enjoy! :)