The Carolina Panthers are far from a finished product even after the NFL Draft. Numerous holes still remain on the roster, particularly on offense and there isn't much time left to fill the cracks. Now there are reports that the team could look at wide receiver Greg Little, which warrants a discussion of who he is as a player.
Little is a cautionary tale for fans of the Carolina Panthers scared of selecting Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th overall pick. He was a raw-but-promising prospect out of North Carolina that needed some time to learn an NFL offense and find his footing. Rather than giving him time and space to work the desperate Cleveland Browns thrust him into a starting position too quickly, which resulted in a lack of development.
The plug was pulled three years and a cadre of terrible quarterbacks later, though that shouldn't be confused with a lack of ability. Little's fundemental flaw wasn't in his ability, but rather misuse. Instead of filling the role of a flanker receiver or short option he was immediately expected to be an NFL deep threat. This isn't where he wins. At UNC he thrived at catching the ball in small spaces and working after the catch, using his powerful frame to fight for extra yards against smaller defensive backs.
There's a place in the NFL for this player. In fact, it's one of the best qualities Brandon LaFell displayed in Carolina during his four-year stint with the team. LaFell was rarely a burner on first and second down, but had a knack for making the big important play on third. To this end Little can be a poor man's version, with the right tutelage.
So what caused him to be so badly miscast in Cleveland? Part of this problem was his draft position. Expectations can't meet potential when you overdraft a player. Coaches and fans expect an early pick to thrive immediately in all areas, which was never his niche. Ultimately Little had no business being picked in the second round and was better suited in the fourth, where he could fall under the radar and grow. Much like former-Panther Ted Ginn, the pressure was too much.
That's not to say that Little is weak-willed or incapable of handling the mental rigors of the NFL, but rather an understanding that pressure breeds desperation, which in turn forces players into roles they're not suited for. The old Browns' regime needed to prove Little was a hit, which they tried to show endlessly without result.
Here's the rub: Cam Newton needs a player like Greg Little. Right now his potential role is filled by Jerricho Cotchery, but he'll be asked to do a lot more than be a third down chain-mover, eventually Kelvin Benjamin will become the guy but he'll need time too. It's here where Little can be successful. Give him a cheap three year contract with performance escalators and let Ricky Proehl teach him the way he never was in Cleveland. At this point Little is only 24-years old and showed he can win in specific schemes in the NFL.
It's one of those potential moves that doesn't raise eyebrows now, but wait six months and wonder how he was available in May.