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Mocking the Depth: Panthers post-draft analysis at wide receiver

The Carolina Panthers made a ton of moves at wide receiver after sending DJ Moore to Chicago in their trade for the 1st overall pick. Where do they stand now?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is over, and now we wait for the Panther to transition into their offseason/preseason program. The team looks very different from their 2022 iteration, however the non-QB position group looking at the biggest change is wide receiver. The Panthers traded Robby/Robbie/Chosen Anderson away in the middle of the 2022 season, and then traded former 1st round pick DJ Moore as part of their package to obtain the 1st overall pick, which turned into quarterback Bryce Young. The Panthers spent a decent chunk of capital trying to fill the void left by their 2022 starting wide receivers’ departures. So what exactly will that look like? Here’s my in depth early look at the position.

Projected Starters

Adam Thielen, DJ Chark, Terrace Marshall

The Panthers went out and acquired former Vikings great Adam Thielen on a 3 year deal, though the contract looks more like a 2 year deal unless he becomes and stays a contributor during the first 2 years of his deal. The Panthers then nabbed DJ Chark on a 1 year deal. Both contracts come with void years attached.

Thielen hasn’t had a 1,000 yard season since 2018, though he’s shown up in the TD department with 36 TDs since 2019, averaging approximately 700 yards per season entering his 10th year in the league at 32 years old. Chark, by contrast, is entering his 6th season in the league at 26 years old, and his production has been very up and down. He only has 18 TDs in his time in the league, averaging about 600 yards per season during the same span (though his 1,008 yards in 2019 certainly skews that statistic). I believe those are your WRs 1 and 2.

Terrace Marshall is an interesting case, as he wasn’t brought in by this coaching staff, but based on their moves he will be involved in the offense. Marshall showed value as an intermediate receiver in 2022 even with the basement of NFL QBs throwing him the ball. I’d like to see him take another step forward, and I think he will as an outside threat. But that’s 100% determined by how he integrates into the new playbook. He averaged 17.5 yards per catch in 2022.

Role Players/Depth

Jonathan Mingo (rookie), Laviska Shenault, Damiere Byrd

At the current moment, the back end of the depth chart appears to be dictated by what they can do on special teams/in a game plan specific role. Obviously, Mingo is making the roster as a 2nd round pick from this past draft. I do feel there’s a but of redundancy between him and Shenault. Mingo’s early role to me is “throw the guy the ball and let him run with it”, which is basically the role that Shenault filled for this offense in 2022. Mingo did a lot of the same things that Shenault did from last season at Ole Miss. However, Shenault made plays and basically won a couple of games for Carolina with those efforts, which is why my early projection is he pushes out Shi Smith (more on that later). Damiere Byrd was signed by this coaching staff as well, so between his returning skills and a bit of a similar skillset to Smith, I think he sticks, especially with the production he’s had in the NFL since departing Carolina. But it is early, so that could change.

Outside Looking In

Shi Smith, Derek Wright, CJ Saunders, Josh Vann, Marquez Stevenson, Gary Jennings

Shi Smith is the big name here. However, this coaching staff holds no loyalty to him, and unless he can really prove he’s a better return option than Byrd/anybody else on the roster who can return kicks, I think this may be his last season in Carolina. In addition, Derek Wright and CJ Saunders were training camp darlings in 2022. The only problem with that is they need to now prove to an entirely new coaching staff that they have merit. If Carolina hadn’t brought in Thielen and Chark, they might have sniffed the 53 man roster. But at the moment, the practice squad is the most optimistic I can be for them. And the new staff brought in 3 more guys to make that harder.

Bottom Line

I project that we’ll see Adam Thielen and DJ Chark as the starters, with a mix of Terrace Marshall and Jonathan Mixon as the WR3 depending on the particular play call. I think Thielen’s role will be best suited for a slot alignment in 3 WR sets, where he can use his route running skills and technique to move the chains and give the offense redzone scoring opportunities. Chark will likely be the deep threat to keep the defense from playing the short game at all times, though that hinges on his health. In an ideal world, you mix Mingo in for those catch and run opportunities early while he acclimates to trying to defeat NFL level cornerbacks. Steve Smith likes him, and he liked DJ Moore, so the optimistic side of me hopes he can make plays early and become a consistent option for his rookie quarterback. And as stated above, Terrace Marshall showed value as an intermediate threat in 2022. I would hope he becomes best friends with Bryce Young, because his skillset is conducive to the off script plays that Bryce was famous for.

Overall, I could see this unit being a top 15 receiver group. However, on the pessimist side, I could also see them being a bottom 25 group. It will be up to the coaches to scheme plays in a way that will make them successful. Because the Panthers don’t currently have a guy like DJ Moore (on paper) who can win no matter what scheme or who the QB is.

But that’s just my early thoughts. Sound off in the comments, Panthers fans!