Rookie Report: Not Safe Yet

It's becoming harder to find positives about the Carolina Panthers with each passing week. A lot of young talent is on display, including the two rookie receivers, but how will they solidify their spots as No. 2 and 3 behind Steve Smith?

Owner Jerry Richardson sent out a letter this week to PSL owners apologizing for the way the season turned out and reiterating that he's committed to winning. He also mentioned he's sticking with the young talent on the team.

With the draft looming in April, the Panthers have many possible routes to take with the presumed No. 1 overall pick. One option is to trade the pick for multiple selections in the first and second rounds. Another choice is to draft QB Andrew Luck.

A sleeper candidate is Georgia WR A.J. Green, who is regarded by some as the most talented player in the draft. The Panthers, however, hope their need for offensive playmakers can be addressed in-house.

Carolina's present pair of young pass catchers, David Gettis and Brandon LaFell, combined for five catches and 49 yards on Sunday in Seattle. Not exactly game-changing numbers, but the Panthers had difficulty (as usual) finding any offensive production, especially in the second half.

WR Brandon LaFell
Otto Greule Jr./Getty
Gettis and LaFell have each flashed potential. But given Carolina's offensive woes, every player on that side of the ball should feel pressure to perform or be pushed aside.

LaFell must put up some solid numbers in these last four games. His 25 receptions for 334 yards and one TD are not bad numbers for a rookie third receiver, but LaFell has received extensive playing time.

It may be unfair to ask a receiver to step up so much with a struggling team, but LaFell must solidify himself as a strong receiver and convince the higher-ups not to bring in additional talent.

LaFell has made some great catches this season and was solid against Seattle. He has improved steadily throughout the season; he has more receptions since Week 8 than he did the entire first half of the season.

Staying consistent through these last four games will be the key for LaFell, as it's about how you finish, not how you start. Life won't get any easier for LaFell going up against teams like Atlanta and Pittsburgh, so he must find a way to maintain this consistency and put a score or two on the board.

Gettis has performed better than his rookie teammate, bagging three TDs and 416 yards on 27 receptions. However, Gettis had only two receptions against Seattle.

While LaFell started slow and looks to end strong, Gettis has started to decline a bit since his 125-yard, two-touchdown explosion against San Francisco. He also scored a touchdown against Baltimore, but has only seven receptions since Week 7.

Like LaFell, Gettis has made some amazing catches this season, but he must also bulk the stat sheet in these last few games if he wants to shed any doubt about his abilities coming into next season.

On the positive side, over half of Gettis' receiving yards have come in the fourth quarter. The team may look like it's quitting, but the young receivers are competing until the final whistle.

Should the Panthers draft receiver A.J. Green? Discuss inside the message boards.

Alex Montgomery is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in Professional Writing. He has worked for the Western Carolinian and his hometown newspaper, the Kernersville News. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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