Carolina Panthers WR Legedu Naanee was asked to take an often overlooked and under-appreciated role during the 2011 season. For Naanee, his contributions went beyond catches, yards and touchdown(s). It was Naanee's innate ability as a blocker, and his experience in the offensive system that proved to me most valuable.
Let's examine Naanee's role, his statistics, his best and worst moments, and make a predication about his future with the team.
Legedu Naanee's 2011 stat line is not eye-popping:
In 15 games he caught 44 passes for 467 yards with one TD.
His average reception was a very possession-receiver esque 10.6 yards and his longest reception (on a simple WR screen) was 28 yards. Naanee was not very explosive with the football in his hands, as only 20 of his 44 receptions resulted in a first down.
...more after the jump...
His role in 2011:
It would not be difficult to make the case that Legedu Naanee's receiving production could be replaced--and replaced easily. Whether it be a new #2 WR, the trio of third-year players in Brandon LaFell, David Gettis and Armanti Edwards, or the tight-ends, Naanee's 44 receptions could be distributed elsewhere--and possibly yield more favorable results. But in a Rob Chudzinski offense, we've seen that a #2 WR is asked to do a multitude of things. This player is asked to block like a TE, but is still expected to contribute like a WR in the passing game.
To elaborate, the Panthers' #2 WR is often sent in motion pre-snap--just like a TE. He is asked to block defensive ends and linebackers at the line of scrimmage, which is also the primary responsibility of a TE. Every so often, the #2 WR will be responsible for 'setting the edge' or being a lead-blocker in the run game--which is traditionally something WRs are not asked to do. Naanee was steady, if unspectacular as a key contributor in a running game that set a franchise mark in total rushing yards.
In the screen-game, the #2 WR is charged with sealing-off defenders so the primary receiver and running backs can gain valuable yards after the catch. Naanee, with his ideal size (6-foot-3, 225 pounds), was also very effective in this role for the Panthers.
In short, Legedu's ability as a blocker helped to compensate for being dispensable in the downfield passing game.
Best Three Moments/Worst Moment:
1. Week 10: Naanee catches a team-high eight passes for 75 yards in a 30-3 loss to the Titans. He was targeted nine times on his eight receptions for an impressive 88% catch-rate. Sadly, his best effort was wasted on a dud of a game.
2a. Week 13: Legedu catches his only TD of the season in a much needed win over Tampa Bay. The 19-yard pass--dropped in the bucket over two defenders--was the only non-rushing score of the day.
2b. Week 13: In what was the Panthers' most exotic play to this point in the season, Legedu Naanee catches a quick screen (technically a lateral) from Cam Newton, only to throw it back to Newton who had several blockers in front. Newton rumbled 27 yards, but was stopped a few yards short of the endzone.
In a week 2 loss to Green Bay, Naanee was flagged for three penalties. Each one, (an illegal shift, an offensive pass interference and a holding call) seemed to come at the worst possible moment. He was also targeted 7 times, but only managed 2 receptions for 14 yards. Naanee also broke-off a seam route prematurely, resulting in an overthrow and a key interception.
"Legs" was also known as "Leg-a-don't" and "Leg-a-doo-doo." But remember: the existence of a nickname means you have been accepted. I'm not sure, but I think we even saw "Legetron" being thrown around (although that one seems to be a bit of a stretch). Maybe it's just me, but I tend to reserve nicknames for players who earn them. Frankly, in this case, Legedu will be Legedu.
Naanee's ability as a blocker and his understanding of the system where assets to the team in 2011.
Taking a peak into the offseason, it is not entirely clear if he will be back with the Panthers for a second campaign. In fact the writing may be on the wall for Legedu Naanee. By the end of the season, we saw Brandon LaFell emerge and perhaps outplay Naanee in that #2WR role...
In Brandon LaFell, it seems the Panthers have a player who is three years younger, is just as capable at blocking and is significantly better as a receiver. In the minds of most Panthers fans, LaFell has earned his place as the #2 WR. David Gettis is also returning from an ACL tear. Marty Hurney needs to see if Armanti Edwards can contribute something before the experiment is over. Kealoha Pilares showed some ability as a KR, and there might be some curiosity in what he could do in the offense. With all of these factors considered, we would put Legedu Naanee's chances of being on the 2012 roster at less than 30%.