DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 20: Kealoha Pilares #81 of the Carolina Panthers returns a second quarter kick return for a touchdown while playing the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on November 20, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
After being horrid at special teams in 2010 the Panthers rebounded a bit in 2011. Well actually, no they were terrible in 2011 too except when it comes to returning kick offs. You might recall that Football Outsiders ranked the Panthers ST #32 overall in 2011 which was down from #20 in 2010.
Areas where they were particularly awful was punting, FG/XP and punting returns. The area they performed the best was kick returner where they came in 11th overall. So let's start there:
Kealoha Pilares 2nd Year - Starting kick returner; 100% chance of making the Panthers roster in 2012
Pilares is a second year player who averaged 25.7 yards per kick return in 2011, good for #8 overall for returners with more than 20 returns. Pilares also logged the first kcik return for a TD in recent memory, 101 yard beauty against the Lions:
I expect Pilares to start the 2012 season as the kick returner but there is a scenario in which he relinquishes the role. Pilares will get a shot at working the slot WR position in the offense. Also, if rookie returner Joe Adams, who we will discuss shortly, should become electric the Panthers may want him to get more touches. In the event both of these scenarios play out Pilares may be removed from the ST to allow him to focus on offense. It's not a very probable scenario but one none the less.
Let's talk punt returns after the jump...
Armanti Edwards 3rd season - 5% of Returning Punts; 20% chance of making the roster
Edwards is the incumbent punt returner but he has all but been declared demoted from the position. He averaged a paltry 5.5 yds per return for the worst punt return unit in the NFL last season. When the Panthers drafted arguably the best punt returner in Joe Adams this past draft Rivera indicated Edwards would get a shot at the WR slot position. Obviously not a glowing endorsement for his PR skills.As far as making the roster as a WR Edwards has long odds in that respect as well. I fully expect the Panthers to part ways with Edwards during roster cut downs in August.
Joe Adams Rookie - 95% Starting Punt Returner; 100% Chance of Making Roster
Outside of a case of fumblitis [knock on wood] I fully expect the electric Joe Adams to field punts for the Panthers in 2012. The Panthers don't draft a specialist like this to let him sit and learn behind anyone. Besides, the kid can be quite amazing. You've probably seen these videos of him but they are always worth another look: