The Carolina Panthers are one of the youngest teams in NFL. During their early days, the Panthers motto was to build their roster through free agency and making big trades to help the team win immediately. However, when Marty Hurney was hired in 2002, we saw the team make fewer free agent signings, as they chose to build their team more through the draft and undrafted free agents, along with signing younger players from the waiver wire. With this philosophy of building their team through the draft, it is no surprise that there are several young players on our roster today who are poised for a breakout season. Today, I'll have a look at five young, talented players who are possibly in line for a big season. You'll notice that I did not include any 2012 Draft picks on this list, as we have yet to see what they can offer us this season. Without further ado, here's my top five list!
5. Frank Kearse
I am definitely looking forward to seeing this young Panther play this season. Kearse is a big nose tackle from Alabama A&M, and was originally drafted by the Miami Dolphins as a seventh rounder in last years NFL Draft. He was later cut by the Dolphins, and the Panthers quickly snatched him up. Kearse would later go on to play in six games for the Panthers, starting four of them as an injury replacement for Sione Fua. At 6-5 and weighing 325 pounds, Kearse could be the intimidating presence we have longed for so long in the middle of our defensive line.
Currently, it seems like he will be competing with returning veteran Ron Edwards and fellow sophomore Sione Fua for the starting nose tackle position. I'm confident he can come out as the starter, and it seems like Marty Hurney also really likes Kearse's potential this season. He'll definitely be one to watch this offseason in camp.
I'm sure we're all familiar with the story of Brandon Hogan by now. He was taken with the first pick in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, despite being previously projected as a second round talent. He fell down draft boards due to several off-field incidents, including public urination, having sex in public, a DUI arrest and another arrest due to driving on a suspended license. He also had an ACL injury which forced him to miss 13 games last season.
In very limited time last season, Brandon Hogan really managed to shine. His opportunities were not many, but when they did come, he made the most of them. In the game against the Houston Texans, Hogan forced receiver Kevin Walter out of bounds, something we usually don't see from a rookie against a veteran receiver. Other than that one play, Hogan was mainly quiet in the other two games he played; this is a good sign as you don't want to hear your cornerbacks name being called out too much!
Heading in to the 2012 NFL Season, I think Brandon Hogan is the favorite to win the #2 cornerback position. If he can win it, I expect him to do a good job to help bring our secondary one step closer to being decent again.
Read the remaining top three players on my list...after the jump.
Brandon LaFell has recently been a hot topic here at CSR. It seems like we are divided into two camps; one camp's belief is he is nothing more than a career backup receiver who will struggle with separation this season. The other camp believes he can be a decent #2 receiver for our team. Barring injury, there's really no reason why he can't put up better numbers this season. He will most likely be the unquestioned starter in Training Camp, and with a full offseason to work with Cam building further chemistry, I think there's a good chance LaFell could not just be a decent #2 option for us but a solid #2 WR behind Smitty..
2. Greg Hardy
Greg Hardy is one of my favorite Carolina Panthers. He has a nonstop motor and ideal size and speed that you look for in a 4-3 defensive end. Our coach Ron Rivera was so impressed with his abilities, he named him the starter in camp despite not seeing him play a single down.
However, last season definitely wasn't his best. Hardy often struggled against the run at times and disappeared for large periods in games. He also broke down in games late in the season, but this was a result of simply playing too many snaps due to not having quality depth behind him.
This season, I really think Hardy will be able to step up and deliver. Although he should be the starter at the #2 defensive end position, he'll be pushed by rookie Frank Alexander for the spot. This competition should really make him work hard for the spot and improve his play. The addition of Alexander will also help Hardy stay fresher in games, as they could pull him out on third down plays to give him a rest. Furthermore, he'll finally have a full offseason to learn the complex defense, and spend time working with the defensive line coaches on improving his technique. Hardy will also benefit from having a better rush up the middle of the field, as our defensive tackles should improve their play this season after gaining some much needed experience in the NFL.
With all of these factors, I think Hardy has a very good chance of having a breakout year and I think he can develop into a quality #2 defensive end.
1. Greg Olsen
Given the fact that Olsen played quite well last season, my #1 breakout player may come as a surprise to some of you. However, I really think Greg Olsen will reach his full potential this upcoming season. Like the other tight ends and wide receivers on the roster from last season, Olsen will have the benefit of having a full offseason to fully learn the offensive playbook, and build more chemistry with Cam Newton. If you look at his measurables, they are simply off the charts. Olsen measures in at 6-5 and 255 pounds, and he displayed great route running abilities and good hands.
Last season, he had 540 yards receiving and 5 touchdown catches, pretty good numbers considering he shared the tight end responsibilities with Jeremy Shockey the entire season. With Shockey gone, I think he can make up for the lost production and step it up to become a top ten tight end in the league. I think he could get 60 receptions, 750 yards and 8 touchdowns. I'm definitely looking forward to watching him play this season!
This concludes my top five list of Panthers who are possibly in line to have a breakout season this year. So, what does your top five list look like? If you have any comments or have anything to share, feel free to comment!