The Carolina Panthers need a wide receiver, that much is certain -- whether that means targeting one with a first round pick is a different story. Up to this point the idea of finding a replacement for Steve Smith has been an all-encompassing discussion citing several talented pass catchers, but there would be an intriguing target right on the team's doorstep.
Have you heard of Michael Campanaro? You probably should have. The Wake Forest receiver is starting to garner attention after running faster than expected in Indianapolis and his statistical similarities to Smith in 2001 are eerie. Cap that off with connections to wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl and you have a prospect who could very well hear his name on day two of the draft and it wouldn't be wholly surprising to see him in Charlotte this fall.
Brandin Cooks has been the odds-on favorite for "comparisons to Steve Smith" up to this point. It seems that finding a guy under 6'0 who's fast immediately garners notions that he's destined to play like the fringe Hall of Fame receiver. It's not a dissimilar discussion to finding any small quarterback and comparing to Drew Brees or Russell Wilson, but comparisons stop there.
Cooks is faster than Smith was at the combine, more decorated too. His ability to separate is lauded as a sure thing in the NFL because of his initial burst at the line making him the perfect outside receiver -- regardless of size. There are a lot of great things to like about Cooks, except the price which would almost assuredly be a first round pick.
Campanaro on the other hand seems destined for the slot, with a chance he can move outside. The idea of a "slot receiver" being a dirty phrase is gone from the lexicon. NFL offenses are no longer defined by outdated notions of first, second, third receiver and are translating into the ubiquitous "weapons" moniker. Find a guy, work out where he wins, leverage it.
Smith vs. Campanaro, by the numbers
|Steve Smith||Michael Campanaro|
|Weight||184 lbs||192 lbs|
|10 yd Split||1.51||1.53|
|Final College Season||35 rec, 743 yds, 4 TD||67 rec, 803 yds, 6 TD|
Campanaro is far from a finished product. He has good hands but sometimes gets complacent, while needing to his his jumping ability to separate from defensive backs more than elite speed (sound familiar). He's not a guy who could step in and start day one, but like Smith he's a player who could contribute on special teams early then grow into a receiver role.
Proehl's connections are deep at Wake Forest and will likely know everything about Campanaro inside and out. Right now the Wake Forest receiver is trending as a mid-round pick, but I believe that will improve to a third round selection when this process is complete. Campanaro is intriguing two-fold, firstly because he wins in many of the same ways Smith did a Utah, secondly because he's a prime candidate should the Panthers double-dip at WR this draft. It would be a very shrewd move to take an outside receiver early and add Campanaro for the slot, where he would work and learn from Smith before assuming a larger role.
Take a look for yourself and see what you think. Campanaro will be a receiver to watch as the process continues.
Apologies in advance for the NSFW lyrics of this highlight video. Such is the nature of YouTube. I recommend muting before watching, unless you're into that kind of thing.