UPDATE: Per Joseph Person the Panthers are not expected to sign Donnie Avery following workout
The news yesterday that the Panthers would be working out former St. Louis Rams WR Donnie Avery caught several of us off guard. After all, Avery is coming off a major knee injury and as a smaller slot receiver he seems to be something we already have in spades (Edwards, Pilares). So what role would Donnie Avery fill in the Carolina Panthers offense?
My overwhelming thought is that it would potentially foreshadow a move of Brandon LaFell into the starting lineup. This isn't about size, but rather about the type of receiver he is vs. Legedu Naanee. LaFell is a much stronger, better blocking wide receiver with more reliable hands on jump balls. Naanee may be faster and run crisper routes, but he tends to fall into the 'jack of all trades, master of none' when it comes to his ability on Sundays.
More after the jump...
Moving LaFell into the lineup would not only pay dividends for the passing game, but immediately have an impact on the running game too; especially for an offense that utilizes screen and swing passes as part of their offensive repertoire. There's never been any doubt that LaFell could become one of the NFL's elite blocking wide receivers, there were only even concerns that his hands could soften up enough to be a threat in the receiving game too, but now it seems the second year receiver has corrected those issues.
Where does this leave Legedu Naanee? As a slot receiver he doesn't really have the speed you're looking for on slant and crossing routes, and his skills as a tall, deep threat receiver have been duplicated in many ways by TE Greg Olsen who seems up to the challenge.
Enter the 5'11", 183 lbs receiver who was a 2nd round selection in the 2008 draft. Despite having some shaky quarterbacks to work with in 2008 and 2009 Donnie Avery totaled 100 receptions for 1,263 yards and 8 TD. More interesting than his total numbers during this period are how he got his yards.
In 2009 he totaled 589 receiving yards, however almost half of these yards, 261 total came in YAC. He showed an amazing ability to take a short pass and turn it into a huge gain. This is the perfect skill you want from a slot receiver to take a 5-7 yard pass and pick up 10-15 more. This causes the safeties to stay home more often, in turn opening up the deep passes and allowing an offense to flow.
Now we arrive at the 10,000lb elephant in the room... his injury. Heading into the 2010 season Donnie Avery was pegged to be the #1 receiver for the Rams, and the perfect big YAC receiver to be a safety blanket for rookie QB Sam Bradford. During the 1st pre-season game vs. New England he tore his ACL and missed the season. Hoping to make a comeback in 2011 it seems the new offensive staff led by Josh McDaniels wasn't enamored with Avery cutting him. It doesn't seem he was cut due to injury, but rather preference; he had quite a good pre-season in which he caught 6 passes for 91 yards and a TD in three games.
So, what do you think Panthers fans: Is Donnie Avery just what the doctor ordered?
St. Louis Rams
St. Louis Rams