Brandon LaFell's game against the Oakland Raiders wasn't his most inspired performance of the season, as the third-year receiver finished with five receptions for 38 yards. In an unremarkable game LaFell improved his season total to 615 yards, setting a new personal best in a disappointing season.
Offensive coaches showed unwavering support in Brandon LaFell when they named him the Panthers' second receiver prior to the season. Despite only having success in limited time, they were willing to roll the dice -- and it paid off. Quietly on pace for 656 yards, he's played extremely well despite missing two games due to injury. Among receivers with 15+ receptions, LaFell leads all Panthers' receivers with 15.8 yards per catch.
While he may not have the huge statistics to satiate those who still doubt whether Brandon LaFell is a long-term option, what he has shown is an uncanny ability to become Carolina's best option on third down. Of his 39 catches on the season, 22 have come on third down -- for an impressive total of 330 yards and two touchdowns. Cam Newton leans on Steve Smith and Greg Olsen to move the chains, but when he needs a critical conversion it's LaFell who finds himself open.
The unfortunate future for Carolina's receiving corps is that Steve Smith is getting older. Smitty believe he has another three years (and we're not going to doubt him) but the Panthers need to start planning for their future at the receiver position. Questions remain whether Brandon LaFell can become a future #1 receiver; his speed and route running may not be where you want a #1, however his knack for being a clutch receiver, and continuing to grow leaps and bounds puts him firmly entrenched as one of the Panthers' most valuable offensive players.