The departure of DJ Moore has left a gaping hole in the Carolina Panthers depth chart. Terrace Marshall Jr, Laviska Shenault, Shi Smith, and Preston Williams are the only wide receivers currently under contract. Factor in the unproven talents of Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble at tight end and Raheem Blackshear and Chuba Hubbard at running back and the Panthers skill positions have become a clear priority for the Panthers and their soon-to-be-drafted new quarterback.
Trading up for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft was a bold—and likely necessary move—but the Panthers aren’t one piece away from competing. They aren’t even one offensive player away from a good team for a developing quarterback. That’s why the Panthers will be looking at some of the following names with their newly cleared $23.5M in cap space. The following list includes both top and likely names that Carolina will pursue at the wide receiver position in free agency, as well as a couple of high risk, high reward bets.
The big names
- Jakobi Meyers
Meyers is a UDFA breakout from New England. That story usually never ends well outside of Foxboro, but he has flashed enough talent to get a shot and get paid by another team. In four seasons of inconsistent quarterback play, Meyers has posted 235 receptions, 2,758 yards, and eight touchdowns. He’s no Moore, but nobody on this list will be. He might just be the best of what’s left.
2. Juju Smith-Schuster
You last saw Smith-Schuster being held by James Bradberry in the Super Bowl (or did you see that?). Fresh off a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star is looking for a new team and a longer deal as he enters his seventh year in the league. Smith-Schuster isn’t known for his speed, but has more than made up for it by using his height and body control to his advantage en route to catching 401 passes for 4,788 yards and 29 touchdowns.
3. Mecole Hardman
Another former Kansas City Chiefs receiver, this time it’s the speedy one. Hardman was the talent that gave Kansas City the confidence to let Tyreek Hill walk away in free agency. He hasn’t been a full time starter, but he was a key cog in Andy Reid’s offense and will bring championship experience in the form of two Super Bowl rings to his new team. He would also bring return experience to the table, and his speed would be the best complement to Marshall on this list.
The familiar names
4. Parris Campbell
Campbell might well be one of the top names on this list, but the former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver suffered from a season-ending knee injury in 2020 and from aggressively inconsistent quarterback play. 2022 was the closest thing he has had to a breakout year, when he posted 63 receptions for 623 yards and three touchdowns. He does have familiarity with Frank Reich after their years together in Indianapolis, but a true number one receiver role will be a big step up for him.
5. Julio Jones
The NFC South tour could continue for a guy who used to terrorize fans at Bank of America Stadium. Jones isn’t the receiver that he was in his prime, but he might prove a valuable, veteran voice in a locker room that might be asking a young quarterback and an unproven number one wide receiver to step into the limelight together. I’d be happy to see Jones with the Panthers, but I’d be worried if he were the only wide receiver the team signs in the coming weeks.
The big question marks
6. D.J. Chark
A prove-it year with the Detroit Lions was derailed by an ankle injury for the former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver. That’s a huge red flag as ankle injuries have severely impacted two consecutive seasons now. Chark might be one of the best talents available in free agency this season, but teams are going to be wary of his medical history.
7. Darius Slayton
Slayton has risen above his fifth round draft position, but not so high as to top this list. Slayton has shown flashes of being a complete receiver but the question remains as to whether or not his ceiling is as a number three option or if he was limited by the unenviable quarterback stylings of Daniel Jones while with the New York Giants. Somebody is going to bet on him having a higher ceiling this year, I’m just not sure I want the Panthers to be the ones taking that bet.
8. Jarvis Landry
Landry has been perennially on the cusp of breaking out as a mega star wide receiver since he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2014. He’s only 30 and could have plenty of gas left in the tank, but he’s looking for his fourth team and has only topped 1,000 yards three times in nine seasons. Despite abundant opportunity, he hasn’t proven himself as the type of talent who can elevate a quarterback. He has the resume, as much as anybody else available this year, but he seems an unlikely fit with a rebuilding Carolina Panthers team.
The money question
I don’t have estimated contracts associated with any of the above names because the market for wide receivers has yet to be set this season. None of these guys are worth breaking the bank for, but somebody is going to start overpaying, what with this being the cream of the free agency crop and the draft having a shallow class.